My home might be no palace … Berlin street art

A few years ago, in an act of angst-ridden destruction, one of the artists who created a couple of Berlin’s more famous pieces of street art, spent a night painting over them. This he explained, was done as a symbolic gesture against the role the artworks had in aiding and abetting the gentrification of Kreuzberg, an area of the city regarded as a mecca for artists thanks to its cheap housing and counter-culture cool. That ‘coolness’ attracted well-heeled residents and was appropriated by property developers to push up prices.

For those who worry about such things, the green shoots of gentrification are but the harbingers of worse to come: full blown capitalism in the form of high street brands. I recently walked down a street in Kreuzberg on my way to a good Mexican restaurant (an act that itself is probably gentrifying), and overheard someone telling their visiting friends how a Subway in the neighbourhood had been repeatedly vandalised. There was pride in the way he told the story, an emblem of his own coolness. Subway seemed to be selling plenty of sandwiches when I walked past it later.

My home might be no palace, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

My home might be no palace, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Don John, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Don John, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

A year before the iconic Kreuzberg art was painted over, British artist, Grayson Perry, stated (probably tongue in cheek) that artists were “the shock troops of gentrification”. It sparked a debate that has yet to subside, and which has become the focus of serious study. Gentrification, the narrative goes, pushes up prices and pushes poorer residents (artists included) out, creating cultural wastelands and become the very opposite of the vibrant neighbourhood that attracted people in the first place.

Worse than this though, neighbourhoods often experience a sort of social apartheid, becoming exclusively for those with the cash. Just take a look at what has happened in parts of London, New York and most other major cities. This is a fate that many fear for Berlin, a city already teeming with hipsters, as more and more digital start ups descend on the city. For many, that is a good thing. Berlin is catching up with the 21st century, but for those who would prefer a different type of change, it is a challenge.

Whether street art is partially to blame is an altogether different question. Against this backdrop, and with a little trepidation that I might be contributing to the social version of coral bleaching, I’ve been photographing random bits of street art as I’ve made my way through the city. It would be fair to say that Berlin doesn’t disappoint. Like many other ‘global’ cities, street artists have been attracted in their droves, Berlin’s unique history making it a strangely glamorous canvas.

That’s not to say it’s all glorious, building-sized pieces that transcend the mundane. The plague of ‘tagging’, a form of street art that I just don’t get and which singularly fails to engage me, is virulent. It depends which bit of Berlin you’re in, but tagging can be found on a lot of buildings. More interesting for me, there are hotspots of more substantial art pieces in several neighbourhoods. These range from the whole side, front or back of buildings, to small sticker art pieces.

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Dancing Women, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Dancing Women, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

As a newcomer to the city, it’s interesting to explore new areas where there is a strong and creative street art scene. It makes aimless wandering more rewarding and much more fun. I occasionally stop in these neighbourhoods for food or a drink, even to visit the occasional museum. Hopefully this isn’t contributing to malicious changes in the social ecosystem. If it is I apologise, but the real culprits are surely the street artists?

Hamburg, street art in the European capital of cool

Many parts of Hamburg’s urban landscape can really only be described as “gritty”. That grittiness often comes accompanied by small oases of street art, both the glorious and the mundane. Whole buildings are frequently used as vast canvases, while small scale pieces can be found just about everywhere. The epicentre of the Hamburg’s street art scene seems to be, predictably, in the streets of St. Pauli, coming with a distinctive dose of social consciousness. You don’t have to go too far to find interesting pieces in other areas of the city though.

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Fittz Kola street art, Hamburg, Germany

Fittz Kola street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

I saw quite a lot of street art that was anti-gentrification, a pretty huge social issue in every Germany city I visited on this trip, but it seemed especially political in Hamburg. I came across numerous pieces by the same artists, one of the most identifiable being El Bocho, a street artist from Spain now resident in Berlin, whose Citizens pieces could be seen in several places. Another street art ‘brand’, literally in this case, is Afri Cola – an actual fizzy drink produced since the 1930s and still on sale today.

Afri Cola was famed in the 1960s for its provocative advertising campaigns, including a poster that featured some very attractive nuns wearing habits and red lipstick. In fact, I’m not actually sure they were bona fide nuns. It was scandalous at the time, and that 1968 advert gets a reprise as three even sexier nuns towering over the Reeperbahn’s Red Light District. Afri Cola isn’t the only fizzy drink to have taken to the walls to get their ‘message’ across. Fittz Kola is big on street art advertising, including a depiction of Delacroix’s Revolutionary icon, Marianne, near Hamburg station.

Like many ‘global’ cities, Hamburg hosts an art festival, Knotenpunkt, that has a strong emphasis on street art. There are many pieces around the city that come from various editions of the festival. They tend to be statement pieces, with perhaps my favourite piece being Cross-section of a Black Widow by Nychos, an Austrian artist. More than 40 international artists took part in the most recent Knotenpunkt, attracting over 10,000 visitors to the city. Street art is big tourism in the 21st century.

Another great piece was the giant image of three blue people in a river by a waterfall by Sao Paolo-based artist, Cranio. They reminded me of the beings from the film Avatar looming over a small park filled with people chatting and drinking. One artist you can’t miss in the streets is St. Pauli resident, Ray DLC, who paints images depicting the area. You can book tours, like many places, but just wandering the streets in and around St. Pauli offers up reward after reward … and you can stop off in some of the areas many fun cafes and bars as you go.

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Street art, Hamburg, Germany

Existence is misery, Buenos Aires Street Art

Buenos Aires is a veritable smorgasbord of street art. There are hotspots to be found in Palermo, La Boca and San Telmo, but you can find street art, large and small, almost anywhere in the city. There is a vibrant mix of street artists, the majority of whom seem to be home grown with foreign artists added to the mix. The effect on the city is huge, with artworks frequently found covering whole buildings. Given the global nature of street art, and competition between cities, Buenos Aires must be in the street art premier league.

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Lionel Messi, La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Lionel Messi, La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

I’ve been fascinated with urban art of the more or less illicit type for years, ever since I moved to Hoxton in London, the former stomping ground of Banksy. While much street art in Buenos Aires definitely falls into political and socio-economic categories, there is also plenty that is purely decorative. Businesses commission works to promote hotels, restaurants, bars, galleries and boutiques. It makes for a melting pot of messages and styles, freedom of expression seems paramount.

The city authorities have actively promoted street art in recent years, but even without that support life is made easy for artists as they only need the permission of a buildings owner to create a work. It explains why there are so many massive artworks dotted around. If there is a lot of political work, there is also a lot that is whimsical and surreal, not to mention out-and-out baffling. This is Argentina, so it’s also no surprise to come across the country’s most famous number 10s, Maradona and Messi, adorning walls – especially in La Boca.

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Street art has been around in Buenos Aires since the mid-20th century, largely used to promote political parties – as it still is today, occasionally with stencils handed out to political cadres. A decade of military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s extinguished free speech and crushed freedom of expression, but there was a slow flourishing in the wake of the overthrow of the junta. Street art in the city came of age in opposition to the financial crash of 2001 which dispossessed millions. The city still seems to be riding that wave today.

The sheer scale of work makes walking through the city an exercise in discovery, where street art reveals itself at almost every turn. There are plenty of companies providing tours to some of the more famous works, but I enjoyed stumbling across pieces of art by chance. Given the transitory nature of an art form designed to have no permanence, randomly exploring a city that has transformed itself into an open air street art gallery seems fitting.

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Street art, La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Street art, La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Buenos Aires Street Art, Argentina

Street art in London’s East End

Attitudes to street art seem to be changing. I was taking a photo of some wall art in an alleyway just off Hoxton Street in Hackney when an old woman, carrying her shopping into a nearby housing estate, walked past. “Lovely init,” she said in a Cockney accent, “a nice bit of graffiti for a change.” We stood together, two amateur art critics, admiring a strange supernatural-themed piece of art for a moment. “Not my cup of tea”, I said, “but it brightens things up.”

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

We went our separate ways, and I walked towards Shoreditch High Street and Brick Lane. This area has changed dramatically over the last few years, and now hosts more painfully trendy, upmarket bars, restaurants and private members clubs than you can shake a stick at. Prices have shot up and the demographics of the area have changed accordingly. It’s still a haunt for street artists though, and the area’s walls provide a rich canvass for expression.

It’s an area that has had a long association with street art. When I lived in the area seventeen years ago it was home to numerous Banksy artworks, including a dribbled white line of paint along Curtain Road that led into an alleyway where a cocaine snorting policeman was painted on a wall. More famous were Banksy’s acid house policemen on the railway bridge over Old Street.

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Like all of life’s transient pleasures, both vanished, removed by Hackney Council. You don’t see so many Banksy pieces any more, his fame has driven up their value and many have been torn from walls and sold. You do see a diverse range of other street artists though, and they have lent the area a new dynamism. So much so, that you’re fairly likely to bump into walking tours taking people around the area’s street art highlights.

Street art in Hackney was always complemented by commercial art. Hoxton Square was home to Jay Joplin’s White Cube gallery, which did much to encourage an infamous crop of Young British Artists like Tracey Emin, Gilbert & George, Anthony Gormley and Damien Hirst. The area is still home to plenty of independent art galleries, but rising property prices have pushed many young artists out of the area.

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Hoxton Street, Shoreditch, London

Hoxton Street, Shoreditch, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

On Great Eastern Street, hoardings around building works had been turned into a temporary canvas. I took a few photos and noticed a security guard walking towards me. I thought I might be in trouble (some ridiculous companies report photographers to the police, or demand photos be deleted because of terrorism fears). It transpired that he just wanted a chat. He said the graffiti changed most nights, and thought the painting of a rabbit-person was the only interesting piece.

Later, in the streets surrounding Brick Lane, I came across a feast of ever-changing art. I bumped into a fellow street art aficionado, who turned out to be a lecturer at a Tel Aviv university. We compared notes from around the world, and agreed this area of London was pretty special. I made my way back along Brick Lane and, my day of street art spotting over, went to get a real ale in one of the area’s nicest pubs, The Carpenter’s Arms.

Caught in the act, Street art, East End, London

Caught in the act, Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Street art, East End, London

Perth, a cityscape transformed

P.J. O’Rourke, the right wing political satirist, once made the observation that if you don’t like your city cluttered with advertising billboards, try looking at what they hide. This thought occurred to him when he was a foreign correspondent in the concrete brutalism of communist-era Warsaw. A time when, not only were there no billboards to hide the ugliness of the architecture, but there was nothing actually worth advertising.

You could take a similar view of street art. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but would you prefer your city with only bare brick and concrete? When I lived in London, I daily walked past Banksy’s Girl with a Red Balloon on a building near my flat in Hoxton. It was a sight to uplift the weary traveller. That was, until the building’s idiot owners painted over it. For several years it remained faintly visible underneath the whitewash.

Australian rapper MC Hunter by E.L.K, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Australian rapper MC Hunter by E.L.K, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art in China Town, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art in China Town, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Street art, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Seeing a huge piece of urban art can be breathtaking. It’s rare to see art on such a grand scale anywhere else, and Perth has done much to encourage artists to use the blank spaces of the city as a giant canvas. In the Northbridge area of the city there are a number of large pieces of artwork adorning buildings. The result is often spectacular, rarely less than exciting.

Without getting too philosophical, street art on the scale that Perth has promoted it changes the way people interact with the city. It goes way beyond adding a splash of colour to an otherwise dreary urban landscape; it can become a focal point for communities and bring a new vibrancy to neighbourhoods. For residents and visitors alike, it becomes an interactive experience that makes exploring the city more fun.

I won’t quickly forget the moment when I turned around and saw the massive painting of rapper MC Hunter by Australian artist, E.L.K. I almost missed this enormous work. I had my back to it and, had I carried on in the same direction, it would have passed me by entirely. The area around here has museums, theatres and art galleries, a cultural hub with lots of street art.

Nearby is Perth’s Chinatown, which is also home to numerous artworks dotted around car parks, alleyways and on warehouses. I spent a couple of hours wandering this area, stopping in at a couple of the areas many good cafes and bars. Finally, I flopped down in the shade of a tree in Russell Square, just one of the many green spaces scattered around Perth.

Italian artist, Pixel Pancho, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Italian artist, Pixel Pancho, Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a Sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Galloping Horses in a Sea of Words, Northbridge Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Not every city could achieve what Perth has done. For one thing, Perth has the advantage of an excellent climate. I’m not sure a venture like this would work so well in colder, wetter climes. It had been a good day of art hunting, and had given me a new perspective on how transformational urban art can be when thoughtfully curated. Time to sample a little of Northbridge’s famed nightlife.

Perth, a city embracing street art

Street art has become a marker of how sophisticated and cutting edge a city is in the 21st century. The quality of a city’s street art acts like a barometer of its ‘hipness’. City councils have stopped power-washing ‘graffiti’, and turned to promoting it as part of the cultural matrix. There’s never been a time when it’s been more fashionable, or the lines between street art and commercial interests have been so blurred.

Street artists can expect commissions that see them travel the world to create their distinctive pieces on walls thousands of miles from home. Businesses commission artworks for the interior and exterior of their buildings, helping to define their brands in the process. Festivals of street art are held to entice leading artists and, on the back of their work, street art tourism.

ROA, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

ROA, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Omega by Beastman & Vans, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Omega by Beastman & Vans, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Fashion industry, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Fashion industry, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Pixel Pancho's Mine Train Future, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Pixel Pancho’s Mine Train Future, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

We’ve come a long way from Rudy Giuliani’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy in 1990s New York, when graffiti was seen only as a precursor to an ever escalating series of more serious crimes. Giuliani would have conniptions if he was to visit modern-day Perth.

Perth, long considered a street art laggard in Australia, has spent the last few years trying to make up ground on the more illustrious street art scenes of Sydney and Melbourne. Since the ground-breaking Form Festival in 2014, Perth has been trying to set the pace in Australian street art. It’s thanks to the Form Festival that I came across a very familiar ‘face’, the work of Belgian artist ROA.

The giant snake that took up the side of a large building was as instantly recognisable as it was impressive. A true statement piece. Later on, as I wandered around the centre of Perth, I came across another ROA trademark animal, a big rat on the side of another building in the Central Business District. This area is a hotspot of urban art, and there are several streets filled with works by different artists.

There are a couple of other areas of the city where street art has proliferated with the official blessing of the city authorities. They all have a wide variety of national and international works. Starting with the Form Festival in 2014, this was a deliberate strategy to raise the city’s profile, and to make Perth a rival for cities more famous for urban art.

Mahi Mahi or Dolphin Fish by Amok Island, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Mahi Mahi or Dolphin Fish by Amok Island, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Pigs by Jae Criddle, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

UK artist Phlegm's Creation Myth, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

UK artist Phlegm’s Creation Myth, Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Street Art, Perth, Western Australia

Hyuro, Art, Perth, Western Australia

Hyuro, Art, Perth, Western Australia

This public flourishing of street art has left Perth with a newly transformed cityscape. At times it feels a bit like you’re walking through a curated city, like an open air gallery, at other times it’s a bit like being on an art treasure hunt. A walk around the city will unearth a wealth of artworks; alleyways are turned into canvases, and nondescript buildings become the site of art pilgrimage.

At its best, this is what makes street art so exciting and, in Perth, it’s done well. It may lack a little of the anti-establishment meaning that made urban art ‘cool’, but these striking images make a stroll through the city more of an adventure.

 

Parisian Street Art: Beware the Kraken

All across Paris you find street art by the same artists so that, even after just a few days, you start to recognise the works even if you don’t know who’s behind them. One artist, who we saw almost everywhere, draws distinctive images of that terror of the world’s oceans, the Kraken. This is less Beware the Kraken and more Love the Kraken, the artist signs some of his or her works, Kraken Je t’aime, or with a love heart.

The artist behind Kraken Je t’aime remains a mystery. No one seems to know who they are, or why they take inspiration from a legendary but mythical sea monster that was the terror of the oceans, dragging ships and their crews to the crushing briny depths of the sea. For someone who remains such an enigma, their work is pretty prolific.

Kraken - Je t'aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken, Je t’aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken - Je t'aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken , Je t’aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken - Je t'aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken – Je t’aime, Street Art, Paris, France

This selection of Parisian street art was mostly spotted around the Le Marais or Sainte-Avoye. So rich is the street art scene that you can see works almost everywhere in Paris. We saw more work by Invader, who must be one of Paris’ more frequently spotted artists, small pixellated ghosts, potted plants, and much more appear all over the place. There were more works from Fred de Chevalier, as well as more wheatpaste art and posters. Enjoy…

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Invader, Street Art, Paris, France

Invader, Street Art, Paris, France

Invader, Street Art, Paris, France

Invader, Street Art, Paris, France

Fred de Chevalier, Street Art, Paris, France

Fred de Chevalier, Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

I’m not sure if this toilet was intended as street art, it’s hard to tell. It seemed to add a certain something to the street as we walked down it so I’ve included it.

Street Art? Paris, France

Street Art? Paris, France

Parisian Street Art: Montmartre

As well as being a hotbed of tourism, Montmartre is also a vibrant area for street artists to ply their trade. It adds a dynamism to a walk around the district, and seems fitting for an area that has such strong associations with subversive and provocative art over the centuries, and was the former haunt of Dali, Picasso, Modigliani and Mondrian, to name but a few.

It’s definitely worth exploring some of the back lanes and alleyways to uncover Montmartre’s newest wave of unconventional artists. Besides, it’s a generally accepted inter-galactic rule that you should always do what Yoda tells you.

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Proving that there is plenty of living artists – and not just the water colourists and caricaturists selling their work to tourists – Montmartre is home to plenty of interesting and creative pieces of street art. It seems to add to the spirit of the place, and flies in the face of the overwhelming commercialisation that dominates around the main streets and plazas.

If you’re interested in street art, Montmartre is a good place to visit. It also provides a good reason for getting off the (heavily) beaten tourist track to explore a few of the less visited streets and alleys that make up the area. You never know, you may be uncovering some new masterpieces…

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Parisian Street Art: Canal St. Martin

If Paris is home to a treasure trove of artwork, and the inspiration for artists over the centuries, during our meanderings it soon became apparent that it’s also home to a wealth of the art world’s poor cousin, the art of the street. The city is filled with a huge variety of work by numerous street artists, enlivening grubby buildings and dark corners across Paris … and providing proof that the City of Lights is still the inspiration for subversive art.

To be fair, street art is increasingly mainstream, and some street artists are definitely more financially successful than Vincent van Gogh was in his lifetime. For all the street art that has crossed over into public art though, mostly it remains the preserve of those working in the shadows.

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

We saw a lot of wheatpaste art works – where the artist creates a piece of work on paper and sticks it to a wall with a mixture of flour and water. Very practical and also bio-degradable. Much of this type of work was by street art collective, Le Mouvement. Their work can be seen just about everywhere in Paris, frequently featuring normal Parisian couples underneath umbrellas.

The work of ‘Invader’ was all over the city. It’s very distinctive. Mosaics made from ceramic tiles become pixellated 1980s-style computer game images. Early game motifs – Pac Man ghosts and Space Invader aliens – appear in odd places. Occasionally, you see other styles, like a woman in red underwear on a balcony. He once sold a piece of work for $250,000, which subverts the perspective of what you’re seeing.

Generally, I think street art is a positive force for making the cityscape more attractive, but I know that many people view it as akin to vandalism. This debate makes the crossover from graffiti to public art all the more interesting, and in Paris it’s clear that businesses are beginning to see the benefit of commissioning street artists to beautify their buildings. Long may that continue.

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

Street Art, Canal St. Martin, Paris, France

A Rotterdam street art jamboree (inside)

The contrast between the bright sunlight, pounding music and creative frenzy of street artists outside a crumbling old factory in Rotterdam, and the calm, dark interior of the very same abandoned building couldn’t have been more striking. Stepping through the doorway into the cavernous interior was like entering an alien world, one not meant to be discovered by most of humanity.

You can almost imagine future generations of archaeologists excavating this site with their tiny brushes and trowels, pondering over the meaning of artworks this elaborate in a location this obscure, far from the heart of the city. Was it a religious site? Were rituals performed here to the gods? Which gods? What do these paintings tell us of a civilisation long vanished?

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Inside, the building was transformed into a world populated by creations as weird, wonderful and elusive of meaning as the Nazca Lines or Lascaux Cave paintings. As I wandered around, it struck me that not unlike the stained glass windows of churches, the bright and bizarre paintings inside this decaying building made it into a street art cathedral. There was probably more pigeon crap on the floor, but that’s also found in cathedrals.

Some graffiti inside the building dated from well before the street art event happened outside. Some pieces were tagged from 2015, others from 2012, although judging by the state of decay, the building had been abandoned for much longer. This will only add to the confusion of future archaeologists.

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

We’d come to this anonymous part of Rotterdam because of a promotional event for a tattoo shop. Walls and Skin were hosting a street art party to celebrate the opening of their new shop, and numerous well known Dutch street artists were taking part. While everyone else was painting, we were just hanging around drinking free cocktails, and watching the artworks transform the brick exterior of the building.

The funny thing about all of this is that none of the creativity on display in the old factory would ever see the light of day. Even the works on the outside of the building wouldn’t be seen by many. This isn’t art for public consumption. Instead it seems intended for personal satisfaction, or for the community of artists and followers who know where to find it.

One of the most interesting things about seeing all these different artists and artworks side-by-side, was just how varied the styles are. For someone whose street art education only began when they moved to London’s Shoreditch – where Banksy made his name painting anarchist rats and ecstasy-faced policemen – it’s fascinating to see this collision of different work.

It may be that I don’t understand the subtleties of the work, but most street art I’ve seen in the Netherlands doesn’t seem overtly political, or to be making any obvious social commentary. It’s a striking difference between the work I knew in East London and here, but maybe that’s just because Britons have more to be pessimistic about …

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Street art, Marconiplein, Rotterdam, Netherlands