According to poet William Blake “Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed”. He is more famously known as the author of the poem ‘The Tyger’, with the legendary first stanza:

“Tyger, tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

A giant blue man walking through the streetsA man being crushed by large peacock feathers

His words and paintings have been immortalised in a series of mosaics that inhabit the railway tunnels of Waterloo in South London, just around the corner from the former site of the artist’s residence. It’s one of many art exhibits that provide a lovely adornment to the streets of this large metropolis and one best experienced as part of an alfresco walk. The Southbank Mosaics group of artists took over seven years to create the seventy works that decorate Centaur Street, Virgil Street, and Carlisle Lane.

Sheep, birds and butterfliesSparkes and someone drawing triangles

They are living in an interesting juxtapose – dark, dingy, unloved corridors that have been repurposed as urban galleries, free to view, touch and appreciate. The mosaics themselves feature emotionally charged scenes, based on spiritual and mythological themes. The best part of the show was the accessibility – open all hours, tactile and crowd-free, it is a fitting homage to one of Britain’s finest artists.

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An old man with an impressive beard in chains

Having whetted my appetite on classical romanticisms I was in need of something a little edgier. East London fits that bill, especially the walls around Brick Lane, Hoxton and Shoreditch are large canvases to graffiti artists, most notably Banksy, Stik, and Robbo, amongst others. As the streets are overflowing with murals it’s easy just to wander around, keeping an eye out for the works.

tribal painted manA graffiti heron
Colourful street and camelman and his shadow

The best part of the self-guided walk is there are lots of tasty eateries around, especially places selling south-east Asian curries. My favourite is the legendary Jasmine, formerly known as Cafe Bangla. This Indian restaurant serves up some banging food and although alcohol licence free they will fetch you proper size beers. They also display some very special artworks, which may seem a little more risque than they appear at first glance. Plus a large portrait of Princess Diana, randomly.

There’s lots more public art hanging around London’s street corners, loitering in random spaces. Often one of the most controversial spots is the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. It was originally meant to host a statue of King William IV but there wasn’t enough money and so it remained unoccupied.

Since 1998 a rolling series of sculptures have graced the space, often causing a good old public debate, as well as an interesting contrast to the other statues.

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Large sculpture of a thumbs up

When I visited the plinth there was a giant ‘thumbs up’ with an elongated thumb, a nod to the social media ‘like’ symbol. I really enjoy how these platforms bring art to the people – it’s not hidden away in a stuffy gallery and really relevant to today’s increasingly online obsessed society.

There are more open-air sculptures dotted all over London, so keep your eyes peeled for a goat on top of some boxes, for example.

Goats on boxes

My favourite piece is one that marries art with science. Richard Serra’s ‘Fulcrum’ is made from five massive sheets of steel that are perfectly balanced against each other, only using the fulcrum principle. The sheets were simultaneously lowered individually by five cranes and delicately positioned to provide an impressive display of physics.

Situated outside Liverpool Street train station, busy commuters rush past this huge monument every day without much of a second thought, much like the laws of gravity and physics that feature on this planet. Standing at 55 feet high, the inner space echoes a cathedral spire and is a mini sanctuary from the pressures of the surrounding ‘work hard, play hard’ office environments.

A bit of a marmite structure (i.e. you either love it or hate it), I just think its super cool.

Picture of Fulcrum by Richard Serra

Lastly, I bet you didn’t know there was an art project that spans the whole of London’s underground network? Each tube station has its own little puzzle on display. Entitled ‘Labyrinth’ by Mark Wallinger the dispersed collection of mazes is a celebration of the underground’s 150th birthday and echo the iconic design of the tube roundel and stylised map. It’s a fun addition to your journey and there are 270 to ‘collect’.

If that’s not enough, Art on the Underground has other projects and events for visitors to explore, and a handy guide of where to find them.

One of the mazes on the UndergroundOne of the mazes on the UndergroundOne of the mazes on the UndergroundOne of the mazes on the Underground

Next time you are in London there is no excuse for not getting cultured up, it’s almost everywhere you look. Enjoy!

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If you need travel advice, request a free 30 minute coaching session. In the chat Annie will help you choose a destination, create your itinerary and review safety precautions. Or she can discuss how you can incorporate more travel into your life by saving, making money, travelling for free or being paid to travel.

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