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Alternative Issue: Old Walls come to Life with Injection of New Culture

Submitted by on March 5, 2013 – 2:46 pmNo Comment

The Bangladeshi Girl by the artist Cosmo Sarson in London's Brick Lane.

Illegal street art has been plastered on the walls of London’s East End for many years. The formerly known working class district is slowly transforming into a street art Mecca.

You only have to take a turn into a side street along Old Street to find a piece from the movement. That’s where Alternative London Founder Gary Means has set up shop. Or stop.

His white graffiti covered Alternative London double-decker bus is parked in a lock on Rivington Street, EC2.

Alternative London provides street art tours, bike tours and workshops led by street artists, which takes place on their double-decker bus.

Means explained more about his business, he said: “Street art is just a visible aspect, something that people can appreciate. As far as the tour goes, it’s getting across serious issues, and trying to show people that [East London’s] a really amazing area.”

Some, like Means, believe street art is simply a form of expression, whilst critics see it as a nuisance that wastes taxpayers’ money. London’s councils are left to deal with having to remove the majority of work that’s not commissioned, and by law illegal.

With the likes of Banksy and SickBoy producing thought-provoking pieces, they have slowly begun to change the public’s perception of street art. With street artists’ selling canvases in galleries for thousands, and documentaries like Exit Through The Gift Shop the culture is becoming accepted, and
revolutionised. It’s no longer people spraying ugly tags, but a range of political and opinionated ideas.

Some pieces (such as Edgar Mueller’s Lava Burst and Cosmo Sarson’s Bangladeshi Girl) have been known for bringing communities together, countering claims that street art has no purpose.

Means believes that street art has an importance in society, and burgeoning East London especially.

He said: “Kids here [in the London Borough of Hackney] don’t have access to art. They don’t go to galleries, and they don’t have art in their lives. So to have this kind of art, I think it’s important they’re exposed to some kind of creative talent.

“To have these things just brighten up their day, [it] takes them out of their world for a moment.”

Means believes the East Ends’ link with culture and diversity is the main reason why street artists have adopted East London’s streets as their giant canvas.

He said: “Waves of immigration has really shaken the area. [Street art helps] people realise the importance of social diversity and creative freedom, and that’s two things East London has.”

Street art has recently seen a change in the form, as many unknown artists have stepped into the limelight. Some, like Means, believe it’s changing the art.

He said: “A couple of years ago the majority of street artists would paint purely for other people to enjoy. But now, you’ll get more artists out there painting on the wall to promote their show or to paint on a wall to sell a canvas.”

So with the commercialisation of the art, what does that mean for the future of street art? Means said: “It all depends. A lot of street artists are very protective of street art. They like it because of what it stands for, and it’d be very difficult to change that. I hope.”

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