Under the tag ‘VLong’, street artist Vanesa Longchamp is one of many women redefining art for Femme Fierce: the UK’s largest female street art festival, taking place in London next month. It will see her take over the infamous Leake Street tunnel with 150 international and UK based graffiti artists in aid of children’s charity Plan UK on March 7 and 8 – International Women’s Day.
Today Vanesa chats to The London Word about London literature, her favourite east London haunts, Camden, and getting creative on the streets.
‘East London is my favourite area for sure, although I’ve always liked Camden too, and it has lately become a great place for painting.
I used to live in Shoreditch 15 years ago, when it was still affordable to live off Kingsland Road. The whole area was so vibrant and it was still unspoiled. The Mother, 333, Vice Magazine, Coffee at Brick Lane, the George and Dragon, free local illustration newspapers. They were all so different back then. I remember how amazed I was at the street art in the area; getting out of the house just to find a new art piece every single day and thinking: “These guys are so creative, and they’re doing it for us”. I think the impact the area and its street art scene had on me was crucial for what I love doing today.
My perfect London day out would involve meeting my friends for a paint jam, probably in Camden. Then going for tea and a healthy meal at Inspiral or My Village, on Camden High Street. Followed by a concert. I should go to concerts more often, I feel so alive when I do. I like small places for a gig, like Oval Space in Bethnal Green, Koko in Camden, XOYO in Old Street or The Shacklewell Arms in Dalston.
London’s open-minded and multicultural. There’s so much culture if you care about it. I’m also a linguist so here’s the perfect place to practice different languages.
You can find anything you want in London; things from very remote places. And there are all types of people here; any sort you can think of, from the most serious person to the craziest ever.
I think we quite often take this city for granted and forget how wonderful it is and how much it has to offer. But hey, I would say we often do that with life in general!
I love summer. Who doesn’t? People change in summer, they’re utterly happy and they don’t even know why. Besides, there’s plenty of light so it’s perfect for painting walls.
I feel most creative on the streets. Wall hunting is a habit, it’s constant. Every time I see a nice wall I think what I could paint on it. But also at galleries. They inspire me because they make me get in touch with my inner self.
I’ve never been to Kew Gardens. It looks like such a great place. Full of nature, and I’ve never been there.
Fran is my favourite Londoner. He’s the only person I knew when I moved to London. He knows a lot about this city and he’s always on top of everything. Oh, and the wonderful Stephen Fry, of course.
If you’re looking for great food, then you should head for Petitou, just off Bellenden Road in Peckham. And while you are south of the river, in summer, Frank’s Campari Bar has amazing views, but I guess that’s not a secret anymore. Also the Brick Brewery on Blenheim Grove is a great place to hang out with friends, but my local is the Peckham Pelican. It’s very near the Camberwell College of Arts (UAL) so they’ve got student prices and everyone is very friendly.
Books that best encapsulate London: if you like old London, there’s Dickens and some of the classics. For twentieth century London, W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage describes it quite well. For present London and the gentrification we’re witnessing, there’s a book called Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London, written by Gareth E. Rees and illustrated by Ada Jusic. It’s set in Hackney Marshes, in east London, and it’s a bit surrealist. I’m half way through it now.
My father is a man of few words but he once said to me: “Remember, if you don’t do it for yourself, no one else will ever do it for you”.
The workshops on Waterson Street, my first home in London, is two minutes’ walk from the Columbia Road Flower Market. I would go there to revisit my past.
I go to The National Gallery, with my headphones on, to relax. It’s been my temple, my refuge, for ages. El Greco, Renoir, Van Dyke… they’re all there. It calms me down. It’s grounding.
My sister is my biggest inspiration in life. She’s naturally pure at heart. And Björk. I think the latter is self-explanatory.
Both for your own good and for the sake of those who love you: slow down and stop working so much. You only live once!
At the end of March I’m flying to Berlin to paint at a festival, and after that I’m hoping to paint in as many summer festivals as possible and to travel to different cities around the world to paint bigger and bigger walls.
Photo by Stuart Holdsworth