If you’re going to see street art in London, there’s probably a few areas you’ve got on your list. Shoreditch and Brick Lane. The Leake Street Tunnel – but there’s another area you might want to add; Penge in South London.
And to explain why Penge is one of the best London street art destinations I’m going to hand you over to guest poster – street art guru, and my friend, Jane Murphy, to explain EVERYTHING.
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And perhaps, more to the point, where‘s Penge? It’s a previously much-underrated (at least in my opinion) corner of suburban south-east London.
It’s actually well-connected. London Bridge and Victoria are both less than 20 minutes by train – while the capital’s former street art hotspot Shoreditch is half an hour’s ride away on the Overground.
Back in 2015, graffiti and street art blogger Steve from London Calling Blog was regularly making that hour-long round trip to Shoreditch when he came up with the idea of luring some of his favourite artists to his native Penge.
And so SprayExhibition20 – a play on the area’s SE20 postcode – was born.
More than five years on, the streets of Penge now provide the backdrop to hundreds of works of art. Some of the world’s top artists – including Jimmy C, Alice Pasquini, Dan Kitchener, Fanakapan and Irony – have left their mark here, turning SE20 into an ever-growing gallery of amazing walls.
The street art in Penge is entirely volunteer-run and free of commercial involvement. None of the artists are paid. Penge residents and businesses alike simply offer up their walls, gates and shutters on the understanding that they have no say in what’s painted there.
The one and only rule? Trust the artist – and you won’t be disappointed.
How I Got Involved in Street Art
My love of street art was inherited from my dad, Gordon Gibbens. After my Mum died of cancer in 1995, Dad retired from his job in a sports shop and began to spend more time out and about in London with his camera.
Dad loved photographing anything new or unusual. When Banksy’s works first started popping up across the capital, it gave Dad something new to look out for. He always seemed to be first on the scene when a new Banksy appeared. For a while, my husband Tom and I thought Dad was Banksy.
Dad soon got to know lots of other graffiti writers and street artists. His days were spent wandering around the alleyways and skate parks of Brixton, Shoreditch and Hackney, searching out new walls.
Even when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, he continued to indulge his passion. I spent half my life worrying about him. In the end, I started to join him on many of his graffiti-hunting trips.
But as Dad’s health deteriorated, I began to wish we didn’t have to travel quite so far.
So when Steve’s StreetExhibition20 began to unfold on the streets of Penge – where Tom and I live – nobody was happier than me. With the possible exception of Dad, that is.
Dad was admitted to St Christopher’s hospice in neighbouring Sydenham in March 2017, shortly before his 86th birthday. But even then, he insisted on being taken out in his wheelchair to see the new murals that were popping up in Penge.
It is no exaggeration to say that the local South London street art kept Dad going right to the end.
Where to See Street Art in Penge
Prior to the lockdown, there was new street art popping up on every corner of Penge on pretty much a weekly basis. And as soon as the current restrictions are lifted, Steve already has artists lined up for prime spots around the area.
As long as you walk round with your eyes open, you’re guaranteed to see some amazing street art in Penge. But quite a few of the best works are tucked away in alleyways or in unlikely spots on residential streets.
So, the best way to find everything is to use the London Calling self-guided tour which starts at Penge East station.
Another tip? Try to visit on a Sunday. That’s when a lot of the shop shutters are down, so you get to see more art.
Steve also leads occasional street art tours, telling the story behind every wall. Keep an eye on the website for details. These tours are completely free to join but Tom and I are there to sell books and shake a bucket to raise funds for St Christopher’s hospice.
Five Unmissable Street Art Works in Penge
I know I’m biased, but I think ALL the art in Penge is unmissable. However, Helen has asked me to pick just five, so here goes…
Raven by Airborne Mark
This beautiful work was painted in memory of Dad by one of his favourite street artists Airborne Mark.
Mark is known for his origami-themed murals. And this one on Ravenscroft Road is just round the corner from our house.
Molly by Irony
This is a portrait of Molly the bull terrier, whose owner Kevin has been one of the biggest supporters of the SprayExhibition20 project right from the start.
Irony is a hugely talented artist, who’s responsible for some of Penge’s most popular pieces. This one is Parish Lane but also look out for his giant puppy peeping over the wall next to The Maple Tree pub, too (pic above).
Alice Pasquini on Maple Road
I can’t tell you how excited I was when Italian artist Alice Pasquini made the trip to Penge in January 2018. Alice left not one but three small-but-perfectly-formed stencil works across the area, including this beauty on the side of a tattoo shop on Maple Road.
Psycho by TRUST.iCON
Hidden away in a yard on Southey Street, I’ll let this one speak for itself. It’s one of a handful of tongue-in-cheek works by TRUST.iCON around Penge.
I only wish he’d made it here earlier.
We once had to make a five-hour round trip across London with Dad in his wheelchair to see a new piece by TRUST.iCON.
Mimi by Dreph
Everyone loves this epic wall on Southey Street. It was painted in April 2017 as part of Dreph’s ‘You Are Enough’ series about female empowerment.
Its subject – Mimi Fresh – is the artist’s friend and dance partner. It was finished the day before Dad died, so sadly he never got to see it.
What Else is in Penge?
As I write, we’re still in the midst of lockdown. So all the pubs and cafes I’d normally be visiting are currently closed.
But when the pub doors of SE20 are finally flung open again, I can heartily recommend The Goldsmiths Arms on Croydon Road and The Alexandra, both of which have plenty of street art within staggering distance. Alexandra Nurseries has a lovely café, too.
Also don’t miss Crystal Palace Park. Despite its name, a large proportion of it is actually in Penge. And that includes the bit with the dinosaurs in. Yes, dinosaurs. And that’s something else you won’t see in Shoreditch nowadays…
Shameless Book Plug
How Graffiti Saved My Dad’s Life (At Least For A While) is a little book of Dad’s street art photography with text by me. Click here to see more or to place an order.
The new updated version also includes a couple of photographs from the Anything’s Better Than A Blank Wall paint jam, held in Dad’s memory. All profits from sales go to St Christopher’s hospice. And before you ask, yes… we’re happy to ship worldwide.
Find out more about the Penge street art scene by signing up to the newsletter at pengestreetart.com.
So, there you have it – an awesome guest post from Jane on London’s less-touristy street art scene. The pictures here don’t even touch the surface about the sheer amount of murals, paste-ups and other art to be found in the area. So, final question is over to me…
How Do You Get To Penge?
The self-guided walk Jane suggests begins at Penge East station so,heading here is your best bet.
To get here from Central London you can catch the Southeastern line from Victoria which takes about 17 minutes.
If you fancy a bit of a street art day and want to combine Shoreditch and Penge, then jump on the overground at Shoreditch High Street station and go to Penge West. You can then walk to Penge East in about eight minutes.
If you’re in the Southbank area – checking out Leake Street Tunnel or the Banksy close to Borough Market (click here for more on that and a heap of other cool London sights you might walk past if you don’t know they are there), you can catch Southern Rail from London Bridge to Sydenham. Penge East is about a 12 minute walk from there.
It’s in Zone 4 so covered by your Oyster card or a daily all zones Travelcard.
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