Flying into Heathrow is the most effective way of seeing the finest piece of street art in Acton. If you don’t have a pal who can lend you his private jet, the approach to Acton Town tube on the Piccadilly line also affords the impressive vista.
At over 125 ft high and painted on a condemned 1960s tower block, street artist Stik’s simple figures of a mother and her child look out despondently onto luxury redevelopments being built around them. Social commentary, and sometimes criticism, is a common thread amongst the graffiti, art and murals that decorate council estates in this part of London.
Inner city tower blocks that were built in the 1960s can be depressing, dingy and oppressive at the best of times. The South Acton estate was no different prior to the emergence of murals and art work that began filling up the concrete spaces to create a gallery for local street artists to exhibit and for residents to enjoy.
Wandering around the estate, you are greeted by large and colourful political messages such as the glorious tribute to Nelson Mandela by French street artist and illustrator, Zabou. Dotted throughout the tower block maze are birds but not the kind that you need your binoculars for. Part of the ‘Big Birds’ series, an impressive mammoth grey partridge stands on a turquoise brick wall. Around the corner, a large snipe peers at you from a bright crumbling facade. The artist ATM does not use caricature or any sleek styling but a hyper-realist effect to present these birds as you would see them in nature, the message being that the growing urbanisation of the environment is harming Acton’s wildlife.
The quality of the street art here is such that it now garners national attention for its sheer scale and concentration of worthwhile pieces. Tunnels become corridors of detailed illustrations, art creeps out of doorways and vast murals leap from the walls. Tours are offered with local residents who can explain first hand the impact that this street art has had on their lives.
The street art in Acton is temporary. Over the next two decades the walls and buildings that are populated by the eclectic collection of street art will be replaced by a new collection of buildings which may have little or no space for local community art. How this will affect the community identity of this little pocket of the city is yet to be seen.
Unlike other areas where street art is prevalent, Acton actively welcomes the contributions of street artists and supports their creativity and ambition. The Acton Arts Forum has fostered an effective relationship between street artists and Ealing Council. Artists such as Stik, ATM and Zabou can propose designs for particular sites that the council can then approve. In Acton it is less of a rebellion with graffiti appearing overnight but rather a worked negotiation to achieve stellar street art and community cohesion.