Review: Croydon’s first official street-art walking tour

By - Friday 11th May, 2018

Taking to the pavement to admire the borough’s quirky collection of murals, installations and paintings

Artwork by Dreph.
Photo author’s own.

I have, for a long time, marvelled at the beautiful piece of street art on the corner of Park Street and St George’s Walk – a stunning depiction of his wife by the Ghanaian-British painter Dreph, painted on Valentine’s Day.

This work is just one of many that brightens up parts of central Croydon, which now has the biggest street-art collection in Europe. RISE Gallery has been a catalyst in encouraging and facilitating this street-art scene, as well as being responsible for the excellent Warhol month in September 2017, among other events. The gallery also hosts events such as the popular ‘graffiti grannies’ classes!

The artworks will be documented and become part of the ‘Croydon collection’ and, one day, will become part of our heritage.

The work was repeatedly tagged by other anarchic graffiti gangs

St George’s Walk is home to several pieces, a favourite being Gnasher’s ‘Baby Groot’, one of his late mother’s favourite Marvel characters. The work was repeatedly tagged by some of the more anarchic graffiti gangs, despite the unwritten rules of respect, so Gnasher got one over on them by tagging ‘Groot’ over and over again on his own work.

The pedestrianised part of the high street has two council-commissioned works by Adam Halliday, not so much to my taste – I’m not sure if the pink and green combination works that well – but they are certainly eye-catching, and you will recognise Croydon architecture among the inspiration for the works.

Little works by Artgod appear around Park Street and St George’s Walk – small, often humorous, pieces.

The mural of Churchill was created at night with the help of a projector

David Hollier’s Churchill dominates the corner of High Street and Park Street. An impressive work, created using extracts from Churchill’s speeches, it was created at night, with the aid of a projector – no mean feat, especially in central Croydon on a Saturday night! This piece was voted number one of the top ten murals in London.

There are several pieces in Park Street, including a Roy Lichtenstein-style work by Rich Simmons (though the artist vehemently denies this influence!) and a large, impressive work by Dan Kitchener, of a wet night in the city. It evokes the rush and chaos, and is particularly apt as I am writing this on a horribly wet Monday in April!

There is a trend in street art called ‘graffuturism’ and an example of this can be seen in Park Lane, across from the Fairfield Halls, in a large-scale work by Mr Jiver – another one of my favourites.

One piece was painted over by the council soon after its creation

In Katharine Street, we have several works, including at number 20 an ethereal, atmospheric work by Ben Slow, a hard-hitting, political #JusticeForGrenfell piece by Edwin, which was unfortunately painted over by the council soon after its creation. After the error was pointed out to the council, the artist was invited back to re-create the work.

An important work by Hugo Kaagman and Artiste Ouvrier, politically powerful with an amusing comment on Brexit, exists outside the Fairfield Business School. This was one of the earlier works of street art to be created in Croydon. Kaagman was the first stencil street artist, pre-dating Banksy, and he is exhibited globally, with works included in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Museum.

Otto Schade’s masterpiece, ‘Her Hometown’, is painted on the corner of Katharine Street and High Street, using a theme of multi-coloured ribbons to create a face whose eye contains various iconic Croydon buildings.

Neon installations and anti-war pieces mean there is more to street art than just paintings

There is more to street art than painting. In Surrey Street, we have Schoony’s ‘Boy Soldier’, an anti-war piece highlighting the horror of children fighting in wars. Also under the Surrey Street bridge is a neon installation by Lauren Baker – ‘A simple hello could lead to a million things’ – which was lampooned by some when it was first installed.

Rich Simmons, who painted the mural of Batman and Superman kissing, has created another work on the side of Don’s Café in Surrey Street. Simmons uses his paintings to promote equality and there have been worryingly negative reactions by a few people to these brilliantly crafted pieces. Simmons’ work also appears on the old water pumping station in Matthews Yard, with a painting of Princess Diana on the upper level, with two paparazzi on the lower level. The right-hand photographer is Simmons himself!

Around the corner, there is a vast work by Ben Eine, covering one whole side of Green Dragon House. It spells out ‘Mesmerising’ in his trademark ‘circus’ font.

Kaos Crew tagged the work – then they were persuaded to come back and repair it

The first two large-scale works in Croydon are opposite Green Dragon House in the high street. Both are by Brighton-based Dotmaster; one is titled ‘Astro Boy’ and the other, ‘Ragdoll’. ‘Ragdoll’ is spraying the word ‘TOY’, and in the world of graffiti ‘TOY’ means ‘throw over yours’, an invitation to other artists to paint over the work if they think that they can do better. Unfortunately, the local graffiti gang Kaos Crew tagged the work. RISE Gallery does have a good relationship with the graffiti gangs (note the vast legal graffiti wall around the Taberner House/Saffron Central site), and they were persuaded to return and repair the work.

One of the last works that we saw on the walk is a recent mural called ‘Rhino’ by Sonny, on the corner of Fell Road and High Street. Sonny is from South Africa and incorporates endangered species in his works. This is currently his only work in the UK.

This was a fascinating walk and certainly opened people’s eyes to the variety of street art on display in Croydon. Next time you walk around Croydon, stop looking at your phones and look around you instead – you’ll be inspired!

Croydon’s Street Art tours run on various Saturdays throughout the year. See the Rise Gallery website for details.

Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson

I have been a Croydon resident for over 30 years, and have recently retired from a career in banking. Whilst appreciating many aspects of the regeneration of Croydon I do have a number of concerns about its effects. My main interests are rock music, walking, travel, and last but not least, good pubs and quality beer!

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  • Jeannegenius

    On the whole I like the street art around Croydon but absolutely loathe the messy anarchic stuff on the hoardings around the old Taberner House site. I was also sad when the “scribblers” daubed the Punk Rock installations at the top of St George’s Walk. – somewhat ironic in that punk was itself an anti establishment movement.
    The author of this article has mentioned nearly all of my own personal favourites – Churchill, Dan Kitchener’s Park Street rainy street scene and Rich Simmons’s work – but missed off Dan Cimmerman’s great portrait of Amy Johnson which fell victim to the “scribblers”.
    Has anyone thought of doing a book/ catalogue about Croydon’s Street Art? I have lots of photos. Cards and other relates merchandise would be great to really publicise this great art.

  • Jeannegenius

    Sorry, I wrongly attributed Churchill and Amy Johnson to Dan Cimmerson (who has done other great work!) but these two were the work of David Hollier.