Keep London Weird
A.k.a the non-Banksy street art of London
Written while listening to: “Spinning Wheel” — Black Honey
I went to London for all the wrong reasons.
I wanted a souvenir of a British boyfriend and to get adopted by the BBC. Instead, I got three different versions of Adele’s “Someone Like You” stuck in my head and some tea…that I forgot on the plane.
Just kidding. Between the friends I made along the way, growing immensely as a person, and the newfound knowledge that “spotted dick” is an actual real dessert, I took countless things from my time abroad.
But the most important thing I learned? London is super weird.
I found weird in a hopeless place. Which, in hindsight, should not have been new information. Where there is art, there is weirdness. And while we may have been staying in Spitalfields smack dab in the middle of the financial district, we were constantly surrounded by art.
And yes, there were Banksy prints and copious amounts of “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters everywhere. But that’s only because the markets that carried them were also everywhere. Markets had people selling their art, their goods, fresh food, all weekend every weekend? That’s just something we don’t have here — not even on a Chicago summer day.
And then? There was the street art.
I know that gushing over street art is kind of in line with someone who loves Dave Matthews and thinks shirts that say COOL STORY BRO are a good idea.
But there’s something profoundly different about the street art in London. You constantly feel the ebb and flow of modern vs. archaic. Just outside the city you have the mystery that is Stonehenge. And in the middle of the city is the Tower of London, where Monarchs lived and people were tortured. The past is an inescapable shadow interspersed and ever-present, only broken by the shine of modern skyscrapers.
But London’s art also carries a deeper meaning. From The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Queen, to the modern folk kings Mumford and Sons, London is the birthplace of multiple genre waves of music and art. It’s (arguably) where pervasive and infamous modern street art originated.
Much London’s street art is fueled by politics and social commentary, from the ominous, Orwellian “CCTV is Watching” signs everywhere, to the monarchy (see “God Save the People”). Banksy is the most famous street artist to date, many other artists inspired by his work. And his pieces constantly carry a dark commentary on modern society.
Even the use of “Keep Calm and Carry On” in modern artwork carries the weight of what that phrase actually meant. It was WWII propaganda designed to keep the morale of the people up after the German invasion of Britain…but it never happened. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters were only seen by the public post-WWII when one was discovered and since made into a heavily popularized print.
London was not what I expected. It was something completely different. People walk weird on the sidewalks. The weather sucks balls. There are garbage bags lining the streets. But sometimes what you don’t expect about a place is what makes you appreciate it that much more, makes you grow from it. Because this wasn’t the city out of the pop-culture phenomenons I had come to know it through. And yet, it was refreshingly impossible to escape the art and music and narratives that it inspired.
And what else is awesome — they embrace the two things that shamelessly inspired me to fall in love with London in the first place: Doctor Who and Sherlock. And when you get off the train to go to the Sherlock Holmes museum, you’re immediately greeted by a giant tile Sherlock mural…that’s made up of tiny Sherlocks.
Lacock is a town preserved to look like it has for hundreds of years. Oxford has a hall that inspired the Dining Hall in Harry Potter. It’s also where “Lewis Carroll” was inspired to write “Alice in Wonderland.”
Being in this city, you’re walking and breathing in a place that dances the line between modern and ancient, fictional and real, magical and muggle. And it’s a surreal experience I’d never trade.
So here’s to you, London. Next time I promise I’ll visit you without the hopes of snagging a British gentleman, because you have so much more to offer than that.
And lots of places with the word “cock” in their title. That was pretty great too.
I went to London definitely not passing the Bechdel test, my psych teacher’s premonition of “I think you’re going to find love in London” echoing in the back of my head.