Cans Festival

Cans Festival, Leake Street tunnel, London, 2008

Over the May bank holiday weekend in 2018 London got a new art gallery in one of the least likely locations you could think of.

The Leake Street tunnel runs under Waterloo station and was for years a route for Taxis picking up passengers. It was a pretty dismal place, notorious for reeking like a toilet for good reason. In the past it had been home to a couple of Banksy works – a cop snorting a line at it’s entrance and further inside, in a doorway, lurked a monkey detonating bananas. It was the kind of place you wouldn’t want to linger, a cut through you never quite felt safe walking through.

Leake Street closed
Leake Street closed for essential maintenance work

All that changed in a few days at the beginning of May 2008. First the tunnel was shuttered off at both ends to prevent access and then Banksy got to work creating several new pieces before hosting with Pictures On Walls a bunch of curated stencil artists from all over the UK and many from far beyond to fill several hundred yards of walls with their best work. A few days later it opened to the public and they came in their thousands to see the Cans Festival. At one end of the tunnel an area was set aside for anyone to try out their own stencil work. It’s probably fair to say that quite a few stencil artists careers were launched that weekend.

Cans Festival - free for all area
Open wall stencil area at the Cans Festival

Ever since that time it has been a transformed place. It’s now a kind of cool cultural hang out and is a permanent legal graffiti space that street art tourists from all over the world flock to. It has bars, gig venues and other flexible spaces (Banksy also set up his temporary Leake Street cinema for the release of his film Exit Through The Gift Shop in one of the ancillary tunnels). And you can walk through it quite happily. Funny how the idea of graffiti making a place seem uninviting and dangerous was totally flipped on its head by the Cans Festival….

Banksy’s art at the Cans Festival:

Banksy tagger leopard
Banksy tagger leopard
Banksy Buddha
Banksy’s Buddha at the Cans Festival
Banksy wallpaper roller
Banksy wallpaper paint – Can festival
Banksy Living Room - Cans Festival
Banksy living room at the Cans Festival
Banksy cave painting buff
Banksy Hoodie with knife, Cans Festival
Banksy Cans Festival

Other artists at the Cans Festival

Eeelus at the Cans Festival
Eelus at the Cans Festival
Blek Le Rat at the Cans Festival
Blek Le Rat at the Cans Festival