Who's Behind London's Street Art?

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 76 months ago
Who's Behind London's Street Art?
Street art in Camden in 2015. Photo: Gary Etchell

Ever seen a piece of street art and wondered about the people who paint it? With Londonist HQ in Shoreditch, we see our fair share of street artists at work, so we put our questions to Lee Bofkin of Global Street Art.

Global Street Art is a small organisation which organises legal street art murals in London, as well as running street art festivals and showcasing online the work of street artists from around the world. It currently looks after several hoardings in the Shoreditch area, including at the construction sites on Great Eastern Street and Willow Street.

Who can do street art?

Anyone, is the short answer. There are options for everyone whether they've been painting for decades or are just starting out. The Leake Street Tunnel in Waterloo is the first training ground for beginners street artists in London. Global Street Art's main focus is helping more experienced street artists access places to paint in public spaces.

Great, so I can just pick up a can and start spraying?

The majority of people who approach Global Street Art are already from the street art community, but there are other options for beginners, as mentioned above.

At some of the sites which Global Street art works with, the site managers ask to know when artists are coming down to paint. They don't dictate the subject matter, and most of the developers are pretty relaxed.

Photo by Dave Mason in the Londonist Flickr pool

What can (or can't) I paint?

Generally you can paint what you like, as long as it isn't sexist, racist or violent. Some artists do include wry political statements or ideas — mostly it works out. Only once or twice in 1,000-odd murals has Global Street Art received any complaints, with Lee once having to paint a spliff into a pen. Seems reasonable enough.

How long will my work stay there for until someone sprays over it?

There's no set rota for who can paint which wall when. Generally, artists are respectful of each other's work, so the best stuff lasts longest.

Is there any money involved?

When Global Street Art began it was without money — artists painted their own work because they wanted to paint, and Global Street Art's focus was predominantly on finding spaces for them to do so — walls where pieces would last longer and be seen by more people. So it was all without money then, and artists had to provide their own painting materials.

As Global Street Art grew, brands began requesting street art works. In these cases, artists are paid well because it's commercial work. If it's got a brief, it should be paid for.

An additional bonus is that these projects often mean left over spray paint and emulsion, which can be used to supply and support artists on non-commercial projects. A lot of artists who paint outside also fund their careers through selling prints and canvases through galleries.

Global Street Art believes that artists deserve to be paid for all of their work. In other cities around the world, artists can increasingly make a living from totally unbranded murals but London is lagging behind, although several people are trying to change that. Global Street Art hopes to work more with developers in the future to fund even the "free art" on hoardings. Street art contributes to the city, so deserves to be recognised financially.

Want to know more about street art in London? Take a look at Global Street Art.

Last Updated 19 January 2016

Continued below.