Leake Street – London’s Street Art Tunnel

leake street sign

I feel almost embarrassed to admit that I’m not a huge fan of ‘street art’. One can admire the draughtsmanship, say, or the use of colour, but (for me) there’s rarely anything that gives any sort of emotional engagement. I can find it impressive on one level, but superficial (literally) and frequently trite.

And these days if an area is developing commercially, but wants its market to still think of it as ‘edgy’, it will commission big name artists to do their thing and so encourage visitors to come and spend at local outlets. (“Turning rebellion into money” as Mr Strummer sang)

If that’s your bag, then a stroll around Brick Lane and Shoreditch is well worth your time, but a more full-on experience can be had across town in Waterloo, at a venue even a naysayer like me can find impressive.

This is Leake Street, a pedestrian tunnel under the lines of Waterloo Station that connects York Road to Lower Marsh. Here, every single surface – walls, ceiling, floor, pipes, junction boxes – is painted upon, with an ever-changing mass of artworks, because these aren’t commissioned, they lean more towards the original guerilla philosophy of street art (although in Leake Street the painting is encouraged, not prosecuted).

It emerged from a 2008 street art event called ‘The Cans Festival’ that was organised by (the ludicrously overhyped stencillist) Banksy, and is now a free for all gallery. Artists pitch up, spray their stuff, and there it stays until someone comes along and paints their stuff over it. You can even sign up for an ‘experience’ and do it yourself with the tunnel’s own ‘artist in residence’.

As mentioned, I don’t tend to find much street art that engaging, but the sheer volume of work in the Leake Street makes it an exuberant place to work through. Lower Marsh has got a substantial street food market during the week, so if you find yourself around Jubilee Gardens at lunchtime, forsake the chains on the river side of York Road and head through the tunnel for a more eclectic choice.

A selection of pics from my saunter through the space today is below, but of course, by this time next week you’ll be able to experience a wholly different set of works.