The Urban Gallery

By - Monday 6th May, 2013

Exploring the East End of London on one of my street photography walkabouts I came across graffiti executed to the highest level. I decided this was something I was going to have to capture. I assumed this was something that was located only in the more obvious locations of Bethnal Green Road, Brick Lane, and the Great Eastern Street, but on further exploration of the myriad of back streets to the west of Liverpool Street station almost every street had beautiful murals.

On a totally unrelated cycle ride past the ill-fated Heygate estate by the Elephant and Castle station I stopped in my tracks at the burst of colour adorning the empty demolition site. This wasn’t the photo-realistic airbrushed work I had seen in Shoreditch and was no less endearing. More cartoon-character in style – like the images Berliners painted on the wall after the fall of the former communist East Germany. Again I got the camera out and starting snapping away ready to upload to Instagram. When I got home that evening I remembered what I had seen as I took pictures; other people were stopping to do the same and post to various different forms of social media.

Cycling around Croydon I’ve found that we have three such examples of the type of street art that I wish was a lot more common. When I thought back to what I had seen in central London I also realised there was another great thing about it. As I stood taking my pictures on Brick Lane I wasn’t the only person at each spot doing the same thing. When I uploaded and added my many hash tags I saw that the #heygateestate, despite being a ghost town and only really being decorated with this art work, had attracted others who had felt compelled to photograph it and thus highlight it to others in London and effectively the world. Imagine Croydon trending all over the world for something other than ‘least satisfying place to live in Britain’ or ‘one of the most obese towns’.

The addition of a graffiti scene would show to outsiders that there is creativity living here. For the people living and working here it adds the colour and visual interest that you need on the journey we are taking towards being a third place. This can be as permanent or temporary as we want; artist Aakash Nihalani uses masking tape and cardboard to create geometric forms that interact with their environment. Village Underground employs the traditional spray paints but onto boards in the alcove of a wall. The boards are painted white and a new art piece is sprayed. Temporary art is a great way of allowing us to dip a toe in and to then decide as a community what does and doesn’t work for us. It also means the art is worth making the point to come to see before it’s gone.

I write in the hope that those owning buildings, multi storey car parks, or vacant sites enclosed by hoardings read this article, look at the pictures, Google what’s being done successfully in other parts of London (and has historically been executed very well here) and take the decision to add to it. Let’s shake off the tag of concrete jungle for concrete gallery. I’m sure there will be no tearful candle-lit vigil for most of the concrete in this town and we have more to gain than lose in exploring such a future. If the idea of the urban gallery appeals, we as a community can come together to get such a project off the starting blocks. Having seen how great the Tate Modern looked with with murals covering its riverside facade, I close this article with my own impression of how cool it would be to see something similar on such a canvas as Leon house.



Street photographer, 1st of the Frohicans and Croydon's No.1 fan according to my parents. I graduated in Transport Design at Coventry University summer 2012 and made my way back to the town I love to continue working on my Croydon facebook page. I eventually met some of the other local creatives with the same enthusiasm and soon knew it was my mission to engage with and hopefully help to get the word out about the creative potential and future of Croydon.

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  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    ‘Imagine Croydon trending all over the world for something other than
    ‘least satisfying place to live in Britain’ or ‘one of the most obese
    towns’. Oh, imagine indeed.

    And this is how to make it happen. I’ve not read anything in the Citizen yet that has given me such a lift. Stunningly imaginative idea – love it. Congratulations to Wes on a terrific piece.

    • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

      Thanks Liz I’m seriously thinking of approaching landlords of buildings with the idea of using say an end of terrace wall then starting a kickstarter campaign to fund it.

      Maybe Leon house would be overly ambitious but test it on a small scale, maybe one wall then see the reaction. Jubilee bridge seems to of been well received so hope others would jump at the chance.

      • Kake

        You should definitely do this! I’d like to see more end-of terrace advertising signs for shops, too. There are a couple on London Road: Kerr Optometrists (current), Bryant & May (old).

        Metalwork is fun as well, though obviously more expensive. See London Road again: building with a tree on it.

        You mentioned three sites in Croydon — I see Jubilee Bridge and Reeves Corner in your photos. Is the third the hospital site on London Road?

        • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

          Cherry orchard festivals positive arts work on the menta hoarding.

          I see the one by the half moon all the time. Would be great to see it restored.

  • Philip George Harfleet

    Britain’s got talent, and not just on the TV! Just seen a wonderful mural of The Home and Colonial Stores, found by Kake in Woking. Marvellous stuff.

    • Kake

      Here’s the link to the mural, for those who didn’t see it in the comments elsewhere on the Citizen!

      • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

        There are so many empty shop units in town how cool would it be to replace the plain boards, stock whitgift/centrale graphics or ignored window displays of stores that seem to virtually never have any customers with such work. Maybe you have some permanent and some change each month or people vote as to what like and don’t.

        • Kake

          Christo was talking a while back about doing pop-up art displays in vacant shops — might be worth having a chat to him.

          • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

            Definitely gonna do that. Imagine getting art college students displaying work as well as more established people. I want to start screen printing again since I have this vast library of photography. Would be great to get a unit as a studio. I envisage it being like Andy Warhols studio lol. Its a great way to get work produced quickly and en mass if needed.

            There is an idea for another article. well series of articles about my ideas for uses of vacant plots of land, derelict buildings and then there was this being the empty walls and hoardings though these would be a bit more specific to key places like the proposed chroma office on george street and segas house.

            I was thinking St Georges walk the grants end could be great for art studios to produce work being displayed in town. The old mad house unit would be a great size just got to see how much the rent is and see if I could assemble others who would want to pay to use such a place to make it affordable for all. How nice would it be to be able to stroll down the street and see work being created.

            Getting the Cherry Orchard Fest off the ground and The Bake Off I’m confident he would be great for this.Will def get in touch.

  • Andrew Dickinson

    Hi Wes. I would love to see some choice examples dotted around town. Imagine coming round a corner and WHAM there’s this great piece of art to impress the eye.Or the works were centred in one area so it became like a gallery itself.I didn’t like the Leon house mock up here but on reflection I do like it now. I may have dreamt it but at one time the Council were projecting holograms on select buildings of the Manhattan skyline and it was quite a sight so in a similar vein I would like to see some of these.What are the next steps?

    • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

      I finally went to a few shops in Thornton heath with the idea of shutter art. There’s not much to attract people to the north and I live here so feel with no plans for redevelopment it could be a great place to do it.