London: Street art beyond Banksy

By Alex Robinson
January 27, 2022
Courtesy Alex Robinson

The world's most famous graffiti artist since Basquiat, Banksy, launched his first feature film this past weekend. "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is premiering at cinemas throughout London and the U.K. before launching overseas. The artist made his name on the streets of London and his graffiti remain daubed on walls from Camden to Croydon.

But there's far more to London street art than Banksy. Many of London's graffiti crew see the Bristol-born, middle-class artist as an imposter. Along the Regent's Canal in the north London borough of Camden his work has been defaced by another cult graffiti artist Robbo, angry at Banksy artist painting on what he has long regarded as his patch.

London's street art—arising out of an illegal and often destructive hobby—is some of the most creative and vibrant in the world. And whilst some borough councils (a.k.a. local government officials) paint over graffiti almost as soon as it appears, others leave the quality daubs, or even positively encourage their creation. Hotspots include Camden, Hoxton, and Whitechapel. Look out for Banksy's little boy fishing on Regent's Canal in Camden (22 yards east of Camden market, subway Camden Town), and his painter apparently inscribing the name of a rival artist, Robbo, 300 yards east of the market.

In Hoxton (nearest subway, Old Street) take a stroll down Rivington street and around to see the distinctive shop shutter work of graf stalwart Eine, with huge cryptic letters and single words in corporate brand iconography. Hundreds of artists have painted nearby streets, especially Brick Lane in Whitechapel.

Perhaps the most exciting new street artists are the Cut up Collective, who dismantle giant advertising hoardings in whole or part and re-assemble them as mosaic pictures—of hooded teenagers, urban landscapes, alienated children…

You can even find street art indoors. Mainstream galleries throughout London have begun to showcase street artists, most famously the Tate Modern in 2008 , which invited "graffers" the world over to cover its iconic brick walls with their images.

You can catch Banksy's new movie in his own-self created space (for a week only)—a makeshift theater in amongst the street scrawl and under the dripping railway arches in Waterloo. Full details of showings are on Bring a warm coat.



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China to build high-speed rail link to Europe

It may be that—other than wanting six-weeks of vacation a year and aspiring to speak more than one language—there's no clearer sign of an un-American sissy than someone who's thrilled by high-speed trains. And if you're as big of a fan of trains as I am, the latest plans for high-speed trains probably make you drool. London to Madrid in 8 hours? Beginning in 2012, the two cities should be linked by high-speed rail. You can already speed between London and Paris in a little more than two hours. This route will be connected to a new high-speed train to Madrid, which will be reachable within five-and-a-half hours. But even more surprising was the news this week that China is in negotiations with 17 countries to build a high-speed rail network to Europe. From London, you could visit Beijing in about two days' time, according to Daily Telegraph. From Beijing, you could connect Singapore or Vietnam via planned high-speed railways. Of course, all that is more than a decade away. But what's pretty astonishing is that the plan seems serious. China sees the rail link as a "New Silk Road," reports China's official news agency. Cargo along with passengers would be carried. But the trains in and of themselves would help China re-brand itself on the world stage as a cutting-edge technological power. Think China isn't up to the technological challenge? Think again. In January, the country opened the world's fastest high-speed rail line between the cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou. The train travels at an average speed of 217 m.p.h. In its first months of service, the cars have been 98 percent full, suggesting that ticket prices may eventually cover the costs of operations. (See a video, here.) Another high-speed link, between Zhengzhou and Xian, home of the Terracotta Warriors, opened in February. So what do you think? Traveling two days between London and Beijing would still be much longer than the current 11 hours of flying time between the two capitals. If it was built by 2025, would you take The Trans-Eurasian Railroad? Or would you prefer to fly?


San Francisco: Gourmet to-go windows

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Safe storm-chasing, here I come!

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Rome: Where to eat when you need a pasta break

I had lunch last week with a new press attaché for the American Embassy in Rome, and he asked a question that boggles the mind of most new residents. "Why aren't there any ethnic restaurants in Rome?" In fact, for a city synonymous with good eating, there is an often shocking lack of choice. The reason is a combination of bureaucracy and lack of interest. It's extremely difficult to open a restaurant in Italy, and foreigners have it much harder than Italians. But few Italians have the culinary background to open an authentic ethnic restaurant, and there's no real drive to offer choice. Tourists mostly want to eat Roman cuisine, and the local population isn't what I'd call gastronomically adventurous. It's even difficult to cook ethnic food in Rome. The vegetable market on Piazza Vittorio near Termini station has the largest selection of dried spices and vegetables, but it's almost impossible to get fresh items like snow peas, Thai basil, lemon grass or fresh cilantro with any regularity (or at reasonable prices). Luckily, over years living in Rome, I've uncovered some satisfying ethnic restaurants for times when you just can't eat another noodle. My go-to Indian restaurant is Surya Mahal. The owners are wonderfully friendly (though they have a tendency to lower the heat on the vindaloo), and there's outdoor seating in a garden overlooking Piazza Trilussa. Via di Ponte Sisto, 67, 50; 011-39/06-589-4554. I recently discovered Green Tea near the Pantheon, which has a great ambiance and authentic Chinese dishes. Via del Pie' di Marmo, 28; 011-39/06-679-8628. Zen Sushi is a sceney place for Japanese; the decor may be obnoxious, but the sushi is great. Via degli Scipioni, 243; 011-39/06-321-3420. The best Mediterranean fusion option is the super-swanky Ketumbar, just beyond Trastevere in the nightlife-centric district of Testaccio. Via Galvani 24, 011-39/06-5730-5338. While calling it authentic "tex-mex" would be an exaggeration, The Perfect Bun does serve up a great plate of nachos and spicy wings—right by the Pantheon. Largo del Teatro Valle, 4, 011-39/06-4547-6337. A long-time favorite for Vietnamese food is Thien Kim, which is on a quiet street near Campo dei Fiori. Via Giulia, 201; 011-39/06-6830-7832.