Edinburgh attracts millions of tourists during August for its major festivals, providing a stage for the world’s best musicians, artists, composers and actors.
But its steadily emerging street art scene gets little in the way of acknowledgement from these overwhelming commercial successes.
While nobody is deluded enough to suggest that our small scene rivals the likes of London, Bristol, or even Aberdeen (particularly following its partnership with Nuart), it has many merits and rewards those who spend the time seeking it out.
Unlike some of these other cities, our scene in Edinburgh is built largely on the work of emerging and established local artists, something that in the days of huge international urban art festivals is becoming increasingly uncommon.
I’ve spent the last few years creating self-guided street art tours of many of my favourite European cities, so penning one for Edinburgh is long overdue. I love my city and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the highlights with you!
Edinburgh is a city that is best explored on foot, however bus travel is cheap and all of these sights lie not far from major bus routes.
We’ve also welcomed a bike hire scheme in the mould of Paris’ Velib or London’s Santander bikes – so you can pick up a Just Eat bike and see these on two wheels in double-quick time!
Drummond Street / Pleasance
If arriving in town by bus, train or tram, the first stop is not too far away.
Edinburgh is strewn with small standalone structures that were once used by the city’s policemen and policewomen as office space.
Now no longer property of Police Scotland, many have been turned into micro businesses selling food and drinks. This particular box, set back slightly from the main road, has been transformed into an unusual canvas.
The piece on show when I took this photo was created by Cambridge born artist Mr Penfold – a mainstay of London’s vibrant public art scene for many years, and collaborator with local clothing brand Pieute.
This was one of his first paintings in Edinburgh, and signaled a major change in approach to the artist’s work
Make sure and drop by to see what new work covers the outside of this unusual structure.
Next up, the site of the iconic Studio24 nightclub, now sadly no more.
Late in 2016 local arts organisation Spectrum Arts gathered together some of Edinburgh’s creative minds to cover the full building in a mural paying homage to Edinburgh institutions and legendary club nights held within its four walls.
See if you can spot the nearby Scottish Parliament, fish and chip takeaway Bene’s and the Bongo Club scattered across this enormous and impressive piece.
Spectrum Arts also work in partnership with Mainline – a fantastic shop on the Canongate which includes a very cool gallery space – make sure and drop by if you have the time.
Abbeyhill / Abbeymount bridge
A short walk onwards to this mural situated beneath the busy railway tracks that lead into Edinburgh’s Waverley Station.
Painted by Fraser Gray and FiST this was painted in collaboration with the help and design inspiration of local elderly residents via Viewpoint Housing and Edinburgh’s public art pioneers, Leith Late – a name synonymous with Edinburgh’s public art progress.
The stories and memories of the elderly residents of the area heavily influenced the eventual outcome of the mural, which certainly still retains the flavour of Fraser’s previous mural projects.
This artwork was also made possible thanks to the help of the anti-graffiti initiative A1derful Abbeyhill that works closely with local businesses, schools and residents to clean up the area.
Leith Walk – Bier Hoose
The most recent addition to Edinburgh’s street art scene.
Bier Hoose stakes the claim as the first bar in Leith focusing specifically on German and Belgian beer and street food. KMG’s design, like many of those painted on the shutters of Leith Walk, pays homage to the business they adorn.
The triptych / triple shutter piece was painted in KMG’s signature style, playful characters each with a nod to the German and Belgian focus of the bar – pretzels, beer and bratwurst.
Making the trip downhill and further into Leith your next stop is 1 Halmyre Street for the Blameless Collective’s mural titled The Leith Aquatic.
Like the Abbeyhill mural this was also painted in collaboration with an older people’s housing association – their memories and direct input guiding the finished artwork which features references about the area both old and new.
Hear from Fraser who was involved in this particular piece in my interview with him in this video.
The artists involved in this were Rabiya Choudhry, Fraser Gray, Martin McGuinness, Richie Cumming, DUFI and Fraser Douglas – together known as the Blameless Collective.
Leith Walk – Lovella
Elph is one of Edinburgh’s most impressive talents, his work can be found dotted around various locations, but it’s this particular one that I’ve chosen to highlight – organised once again by LeithLate.
The colour scheme helps this piece blend into the shop it sits on. A key part of the LeithLate project is not to just drop artwork onto the city, but pay keen attention to the surroundings.
It also draws on that Japanese pop culture vibe, something that features regularly in Elph’s artwork, with the figure at the centre of the piece seemingly taking strong influence from the country’s comic book scene.
Edinburgh has been the birthplace of many famous writers, inventors and artists – notably pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi.
We’ve got a beer named after him, several of his larger than life statues across the city, and this stunning piece from Russell Dempster that pay homage to the Scottish Italian.
The shop front that is now home to this artwork was at one time an ice cream shop – a nice link back to Paolozzi’s childhood in Leith where he lived above, and helped out in, the family ice cream business.
The shattered glass effect looks amazing, and is reminiscent of some of Paolozzi’s sculpture works, for example those at the top of Leith Walk with their disjointed overlapping appearance.
The final stop of this tour takes us to the shoreline – and the UK’s longest legal graffiti wall – Marine Parade.
It goes without saying that this space sees a pretty regular turnover of art and many of the pieces I’ve highlighted here will no longer be up by the time you visit.
Nevertheless, you should still make time to seek out this space. The organisers of the wall hold regular graffiti jams, and if you time it right you might be in town for their latest project.
Some of the artists featured above often join in here to provide a blend of styles from the abstract to figurative, letters to characters.
Tat’s us for this tour. Of course, this is not the only art on display in Edinburgh. You can keep an eye on the UKB Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest work popping up across the city.
If you use this tour, remember to tag us @urbankulturblog and #urbankulturblog so I can see what you found on your travels!