The Street Art I Desire: Light & Power in Shoreditch

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To step out of your front door into an always open, free-for-all, continually shape-shifting art gallery is one of the true pleasures of living in Shoreditch, East London.

There are downsides (for every Londoner, wherever they are in this kaleidoscopic city, there’s always a downside – that’s the joy of being a Londoner). I’ve lived in Shoreditch for over a decade, and, in that time, I’ve seen ‘the village’ (London really is nothing more than a collection of villages) transform from a slightly seedy, slightly forgotten hinterland into a rampantly-modified, elaborately-gentrified, spectacularly-affluent, sort of Disneyland version of urbanity.

Whereas once the streets only came alive at night, now there are throngs of people in Shoreditch any time, any day. In particular, a booming development over, I’d say, the last five years, has been the emergence of the Street Art Tour.

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Once, during daylight hours at least, I practically had the streets to myself. Now, whenever I pop out to get food shopping, or a birthday card, or to fulfil any number of mundane domestic chores, I find myself fighting my way through crowds of photo-taking, ponderous tourists (I suspect I exist, hatchet-faced and out of focus, in many a shot taken by said tourists as I steam on through with the slightly hostile air of ‘someone who actually lives here you know’ – an air I developed living in Knightsbridge many years ago, where, again, I had to fight with throngs of people on the Brompton Road in order to buy a pint of milk – the downside of having Harrods as your corner shop).

Not that I can blame them for their curiosity – if I’m being sincere, I champion it. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to see it every day. Some of it really is quite spectacular. Most of it is, in fact. All the more so for its temporary, transitory nature.

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When I set up this blog, it seemed the easiest and most logical thing for me to do was to use the art on my door step to illustrate my musings on the nature of work. I like the fact that the art work I use is also ‘out of the cage’ – walking the streets, rather than confined within a gallery. Plus, of course, literally one quick walk around the block with my camera and I can capture weeks of content.

I do worry about accreditations. I’m not sure of the protocol here and implore any artist who stumbles across their work on this blog, and would rather it wasn’t, to contact me. Likewise, please contact me if I can give your work an accreditation as I’d be more than happy to.

That said, I do feel a little entitled to make of my ‘manor’ what I will. The edginess of the Shoreditch Street Art scene has, in part, driven the gentrification and ‘destination coolness’ of a place that has, historically, always been on the city limits, on the edges, rather than enveloped into the City.

That’s changing, and I do worry about the continued desire for further development here. It’s already lost much of its soul. Its true diversity. It runs the risk of losing it altogether.

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There are another couple of factors that feed into my sense of entitlement. Putting up with the street tours being one. Being kept awake in the summer, not by the hissing of summer lawns but by the rattling of spray cans, hard at work in the dead of night in the alleyway three stories below me, being another.

Having people walking across my roof (again in the dead of night) in order to paint FREE GAZA in six feet high letters also springs to mind (the free political expression doesn’t bother me, but it is a bit alarming to realise someone is above you where there should only be sky).    

Like most Londoners not in the one percent, I have my moments of wondering if I should, or want, to stay here. Those downside days. Would I even like to live in another part of London again (I’ve been here longer than I’ve resided in any of my other London villages).

But there’s still something about Shoreditch that I can’t quite even contemplate pulling myself away from.

Yes, it’s central and convenient to get around. Despite my sniffiness about its gentrification, I still shop in the shiny new shops, drink in the glamorous bars and eat in the fancy restaurants. It might even be in my blood (in a weird ancestral echo, I live a stone’s throw away from where some of my Huguenot forebears probably spun their yarns in Spitalfields).

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Like Vince Noir, in fact, I rarely leave Shoreditch (people are always happy to come to me, another real boon of living here).

More than any of that, though, I think the real stickiness of Shoreditch, for me, is the perpetual provocation and inspiration its living creativity provides me.

The very walls talk to me – and they have a lot to say.

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One thought on “The Street Art I Desire: Light & Power in Shoreditch

  1. As a real Northerner (!) I have to say that I love wandering around Shoreditch and Spitalfields, but even I can see the downside – it’s packed!! That’s the price of success I guess? I would love the chance to walk round when it’s quieter – I’m sure there is loads to see that the visitors miss! I would stick it out, Matthew, the caravan has to move on eventually…..

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