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Artist in London Waterloo Graffiti Tunnel

You Can’t Step in the Same River Twice

There is a secret place just next to an underground car wash, which itself is just next to the busy Waterloo train station near the Thames River in London. Even if you know what you’re looking for, it may be difficult to find. It’s known as the Graffiti Tunnel on Leake Street, and I took the photo above on a Sunday afternoon a few years ago.

If you can survive the fumes from spray paint cans and nearby traffic, you’ll see thousands of modern cave paintings by artists who come there to express themselves every day of the week. If they need more space on the wall, they just paint over someone else’s work. That is one of the few rules in the Graffiti Tunnel, which is sanctioned by the city government.

Each time you visit the tunnel it’s a different place, with different themes and memes, depending on what’s happening in the world. It regenerates. It reminds me of the quote by Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” I’ve been to the tunnel a few times and have found it to be true.

Been There, Done That

The phrase “Been there, done that” closes the mind. It’s similar to another phrase we hear, usually at work: “We’ve always done it this way.” The world is not the same as it was when I was in college, when I started my first job, or now. And neither am I.  Sometimes ideas must wait until they suit the current situation, and so it may be better to say, “Not now” instead of “No.”

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

No Place for Critics

Those who feel the need to critique also must understand that the world is evolving around them, and that their objections to a new painting or new idea or new product are usually grounded in decades-old training and experiences that shaped who they are today. I think the world needs fewer ‘thought leaders’ and more ‘do leaders’ – people who would rather pick up a can of spray paint and start working instead of criticizing what others have made.

We Never Outgrow the Need for Play

Play is usually not a popular idea to verbalize in a work meeting with other grownups. Sometimes at work we have sanctioned, simulated play activities we call teambuilding or brainstorming, but most of these don’t provide the benefits or fresh thinking that result from real play. I often ask myself if I make enough time for play, but sometimes I’m too lost in busy-ness to answer.


I hope you get to experience the Graffiti Tunnel near Waterloo, and other amazing places in the world where people are empowered to find their voices and express themselves in their unique styles and choice of media. Just remember if you go more than once, both you and the place will undoubtedly have changed.


Author: Joe Shields

Photo credit: Joe Shields