Since Transport for London began clamping down on graffiti on the Underground, one of the few places you can be assured of seeing paintings on Tube trains is on the carriages stranded high above Great Eastern Street.
Village Underground, the social enterprise that owns the carriages, secured the location from Hackney Council with the intention of providing not-for-profit desk space for the creative industries.
In 2007 the six former Jubilee line carriages were winched into place. Today they are home to a mixture of artists, designers and writers including the Punch Drunk Theatre Company and Submarine author Joe Dunthorne.
Now halfway through their ten-year lease, and having transformed the railway arches below into a concert and exhibitions space, Village Underground is set further to develop the site with a permanent space for public art.
Since opening, the venue has allowed artists including D*Face, Peter Fowler and Hackney’s Stik to paint both the walls and train carriages, turning the exterior of the venue into a showcase for their work.
The commissioning process has so far been somewhat haphazard, with most artists either being known to people working at the venue or approaching the owners directly.
When Ben Eine, the artist whose brightly painted letters adorn many East London shop fronts, emailed Village Underground about painting a mural, they said yes.
Within days and without any further contact, he had covered the building in huge letters spelling: ‘VANDALISM’. “We just turned up after the weekend to find it there!” reported one of the staff.
Remaining anonymous whilst painting their work across a 25-foot-high wall in broad daylight proved tricky for some artists whose designs have frequently appeared in less legal locations. Many of the artists who have painted the venue have established successful careers from their work.
However, some were more cautious about painting in public, making efforts to disguise themselves from crowds of camera-phone-wielding onlookers.
Whilst keen to continue hosting large-scale murals, Village Underground has a new project to develop the Great Eastern Street side of the building into an open-air gallery showing painting and work in a variety of other media.
Thousands of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists pass along the congested road next to the gallery every year; the work shown thus has the potential to reach a huge audience.
A series of offers from commercial advertisers interested in the site were rejected. Instead the owners turned to crowd-funding to pay for four large glass screens to host pieces without having to paint over the previous work.
Over £20,000 has been secured through donations, which will enable the display of large scale print and photographic work as well as a new website that will aim to open up the commissioning process, allowing people a say in what’s shown.
54 Holywell Lane
Shoreditch EC2A 3PQ
020 7422 7505
For more information go to The Wall./ 13 January, 2012