I don’t pretend to be a lover of graffiti in general or Banksy in particular. I don’t particularly know if Banksy makes art or politics or is just some arse with a spraycan. But his works are generally far more interesting than the usual crap that grafiti-kids create and there are examples of his work peppered all around London so I decide to spend a day, trusty camera in hand, using the works of Banksy as an excuse to explore some areas of London that maybe I wouldn’t otherwise (and some that I would).
There really aren’t that many of the London Banksys still standing, as the fantastically well researched map of artofthestate.co.uk shows; those that are still there are generally covered in perspex to save them from being vandalized and are often heavily tagged. So if you’re planning a Banksy walk don’t be expecting many of his more famous London works to be still standing.
I start at the centre of tourism at Westiminster Abbey. I haven’t been here before and am looking forward to it but am very disappointed when I arrive and find it’s £16 in and you can’t even take photos.
The main space of the Abbey aside, Westminister Abbey is a strange mausoleum to the history of Royalty in Britain. It reminds me of a stuffed attic, with great kings and queens stored in little side rooms filled with marble effigies and with very little walking room. It doesn’t really feel that grand a burial for such illustrious characters of history.
I’m sure if you’re a royalist this is like the holy grail (and there are some great little finds like some of the older, more historic chapels and the beautiful little garden hidden away at the back) but personally I found the Abbey a little overpriced and annoying that you weren’t allowed take pictures.
It’s an amazing sunny day so as I head up towards my first Banksy of the day I cut across The Mall and Green Park. The Queens front garden is filled with many people relaxing in the sunshine, on benches and sun loungers provided. I pay £4 for a very overpriced and underwhelming ice cream, reminding me that I should have grabbed a Magnum in a store before entering the Mall. I cross the main Mall road where they are setting up for Sundays Sports Relief mile and there is a beautiful relaxed air.
Up through Green Park and by the Ritz, I head up Berkley Street towards Berkley Square. Behind Berkley Square House is a little lane called Bruton Lane and it is here where I find my first Banksy, “The Falling Shopper” on the side of a disused office building. It’s definitely the most impressive Banksy of the day.
Up New Bond Street, plush expensive shops and art galleries (including one selling overpriced street art (ironically enough)) and onto Oxford Street, I get the Bond Street tube to Ladbrook Grove via Baker Street (my first time in Baker Street Station, I stop for a minute to admire the little Sherlock Holmes tiles in the main station)
It’s Saturday so Portabello market is booming with life. A hearty mix of hipsters and the hip, tourists and regulars; the sun only brings out a bigger selection. My second Banksy is hidden away behind some market stalls, covered in perspex beside a pub on the corner of Portabello Road and Cambridge Gardens.
I wander down Portabello Road all the way, checking out the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of the Saturday market. Notting Hill Gate station and right around on the circle line to Monument, I head down to the embankment and wander along by the river for a while.
Passing the Tower of London and up on over Tower Bridge, my next Banksy is a little more out of the way; I head down Tower Bridge Road, taking a left at Grange Road and down to where it meets the Grange, here it is (probably a little less impressive) “Choose Your Weapon”.
I wander back down Grange Road and Long Lane to Borough station and I continue up the Northern Line up to Euston Station.
Working my way down from Euston station I follow my art of the state map down Maple St behind the BT Tower for my last Banksy of the day; If Graffiti Changed Anything. A little kid stands around admiring it, coming up to the perspex and touching it, as if to make sense of it. He reminds me of a character from a Banksy himself, so cocksure and free and out on a backstreet in the evening on his own.
As I take a few photos a man in his late thirties, his family in toe, approaches me.
“Excuse me, is that a Banksy?”
“Oh, how did you know where to find them.”
I point him to my iPhone and my artofthestate.co.uk map, explaining my plan to use the tour as an excuse to see some things that usually I wouldn’t.
“Do you think you’ve achieved it?”
“Yeah, actually, I think that I have. I’ve made the most of a really nice day, explored some places in London and had a little adventure. You can’t ask for much more than that from a sunny Saturday afternoon.”