BEST LONDON STREET ART SPOT YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Street art has come a long way since young New Yorkers started spraying their names on the side of subway trains. Do you remember when a couple of years ago Banksy’s Girl with a Red Balloon sold by a million pounds through one of the biggest auction houses in the world? In London you can now book street art tours around Shoreditch or Notting Hill and even have a go at producing your own artworks. But whilst these areas are home to some awesome artwork for sure, today I’ll let you in on a little local secret and tell you about an urban art hotspot that almost nobody knows about!
Head south of the river, all the way to zone 4 and the neighbourhood of Penge. This pocket of the city, nestled between hip Crystal Palace and up and coming Croydon seems to have mostly escaped the wave of gentrification. This is suburbian London at its best with wide tree lined streets, family run no fuss butchers and grocery stores, friendly neighbourhood pubs and an abundance of green spaces. It’s quiet and relaxing: a perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the inner city life which never really slows down, no matter the day of the week.
The street art in Penge is an initiative of a group of locals who wanted to share their passion for street art and breath some creativity and life into their neighbourhood. At first they just documented it on their London Calling Blog. Then, they started liaising with local businesses and residents to facilitate legal paining of murals which resulted in more than 100 unique pieces. The murals are well thought out and curated, and really inject some energy and personality into the sleepy neighbourhood. Some of them are a bit cheeky making you smile to yourself as you walk by. Some offer a satirical commentary on the city’s social issues and emerging trends. Others focus on the craftsmanship resulting in stunningly intricate works of art that look like they should be impossible to conceive with a spray can.
Today Penge has the largest concentration of street art outside of East London and in this post I share with you some of my favourites.
Some of the largest and most impressive pieces are on Southey Street, just off the High Street. I love the moody black and white painting of a gorilla holding the flowers hanging from a lamp post. The level of detailing is just amazing! The neighbouring mural of a young black woman is a study in female empowerment. The brightly coloured subject evidently exudes confidence and being at peace with who she is through her meditative pose.
While you’re there stop by the Southey Brewing Co. A local microbrewery building acts as canvas to some interesting paintings including a little boy peeking out of a designer handbag, an origami rose and a little Mexican girl.
Whilst a lot of the street art’s proudly displayed along the main streets, some of the most awesome pieces are hidden in the narrow alleyways. I love this purple angler fish that’s so realistic it’s actually a bit terrifying.
Just around the corner from Alexandra Nurseries (a local garden centre with a great cafe) you’ll find a beautiful black cockatoo painted on a driveway gate. Jane Mutiny’s murals often feature endangered or extinct animals from around the world to bring people’s attention to the importance of conservation and protecting our natural habitat. She also uses eco friendly paints and brushes. The beautiful black cockatoo is native to Australia where unfortunately it’s threatened by loss of habitat and removal of nest hollows, and their population decreased by more than 50% in under half a century!
Just a short walk away, this little painting of a cheeky dancing skeleton makes me smile every time I look at it! Also I’ve just found out there are a few more of those skeletons around the neighbourhood so I must look for them next time I’m in the area.
I also love the stencilled pile of rubbish on the side of a Polish delicatessen. There’s a Supreme plastic bag on top of it and a Nike paper carrier bag on the side. It’s thought provoking and makes you question the shopping trends of today and how we’re conditioned to constantly buy new stuff by the culture of ‘drops’ - exclusive product lines released in limited editions and for a short period of time making people feel like you have to make a purchase now otherwise you’ll miss out. Its aim is to encourage people to be a little bit more mindful of how much they consume and how much rubbish they generate.
The best time to visit is on a Sunday morning when all the shops are closed as many of the best quality works have been painted on the shop shutters. My favourites are the painting of a pair of puffins, the lion’s head and the mama elephant with her little baby. The detailing on those is incredible and they look like they wouldn’t be out of place in a gallery.
The street art around Penge is constantly changing with some works disappearing and new ones being added. So every time you’re in the neighbourhood you can be sure to discover something new and exciting. It’s great to see the community embracing the initiative and becoming more and more colourful, like a living canvas.
I hope you enjoyed this little guide to street art in Penge and it inspires you to explore this great neighbourhood. I’d also love to read in the comments which of the murals is your favourite!