Exploring the street art is just one of many unique things to do in London. The art is everywhere: vibrant graffiti, colourful murals and even carefully crafted mosaics. You’ll find it on the sides on buildings, on old walls, and beneath once-neglected railway arches. I spent some time exploring the street art of the South Bank, some of it ever-changing, and some more permanent.
Waterloo Graffiti Tunnel
Probably the best place to start is at the Waterloo Graffiti Tunnel (also known as the Leake Street Arches). Previously a rather dismal series of arches beneath the railway line, the tunnel has now been revitalised as a shopping and entertainment area, with London’s longest graffiti wall.
Every available space (including the ceiling) is covered with paintings and slogans. The scene changes regularly, as new images are piled on old. As I walked through the tunnel – trains rumbling overhead – I saw some people adding to paintings, and others videoing a short dance sequence with a backdrop of colourful graffiti.
Southbank Skate Space
The South Bank Centre and adjacent riverside promenade have become an increasingly popular place for Londoners to congregate. One of the many attractions is the skatepark in the undercroft beneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where crowds gather to watch seemingly fearless skateboarders whizzing up ramps, jumping and spinning. This is said to be the oldest skatepark in the world.
The spectators are as likely to be looking at the graffiti as watching the skaters. Despite efforts to clean up the area, the wall and columns of the skate space are covered with vivid designs. Again, they are constantly being painted over, so you are unlikely to see the same combination of images twice.
Other Street Art Of The South Bank
Walk beneath the Hungerford Bridge and you are likely to spot a row of stick people against a bright yellow background. These were created by graffiti artist Stik (known for his large stick figures), as part of “Celebrating Street Art Culture”, a street art festival held in 2013.
And you will see lots more art – both graffiti and individual murals – as you wander the neighbouring streets. For a slightly different type of public art look at the light displays in the railway arch on Westminster Bridge Road.
You might not immediately associate street art with mosaics, but the work of Southbank Mosaics (now the London School of Mosaic) certainly qualifies as outdoor public art. As a social enterprise, they have been responsible for a number of mosaics around London, including a memorial seat for homeless people in the gardens of St John’s Churchyard in Waterloo.
Possibly the most ambitious project from Southbank Mosaics is the 70 mosaics that make up “Blake’s London”. This is another innovative way of brightening up old railway arches, a celebration of the art and poetry of William Blake, who lived in Lambeth at the end of the 18th century. The mosaics, which are mostly representations of Blake’s pictures and writings, were created by a number of local artists.
The Blake Mosaic Trail occupies three arches beneath the railway line. It begins at Virgil Street, with pictures of Blake and a bit of description of his life and works. Then it moves on to Centaur Street and Carlisle Street, where you can see mosaic copies of his poems and illustrations from Songs of Innocence and Experience. Over time graffiti has appeared on the tunnel walls, a sort of counterpoint to the mosaics.
Do you have any favourite pieces of street art in the South Bank area of London? Let me know in the comments below.