Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Rise and Fall of Banksy (in my eyes)

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It seems like such a short time between my initial enchantment with Banksy and his fall from grace in my eyes. I first stumbled upon pictures of his street art on Flickr when I was doing research on London and Brighton for my trip. I thought he was great -- his biting social commentary, amusing and/or powerful images, the subversive way he worked (stenciling on walls by night, sneaking his own works into museums and hanging them by day).

When Spooner asked me this summer what I wanted to do when I came across the pond, my immediate reply was "Look for Banksies." "Banksy," he growled. "What's Banksy?" I explained and the next thing I knew he was sending me a link to a front page article in the NYTimes about the opening of Banksy's
show in Los Angeles. Clearly, my say-so that something is cool means nothing, but the NYTimes has all the cred in the world.

We did have a great time looking for Banksies, and we found three -- one in Southwark, one in Chalk Farm, and one in Brighton. We also discovered a gallery in Brighton that sells limited edition prints. The three ghetto rats that were on display in the window drew us in and we talked for a while with the gallery owner. He told us that a Banksy print that went a year ago for £95 would fetch over a thousand quid today. Unbelievable!

In the gallery, we also looked at prints by some up-and-coming graphic artists. When he saw me looking at several postage stamp prints, the gallery guy told me about James Cauty, a musician-turned-artist. He creates stamps of mass destruction -- satirical pieces about the war, the monarchy, global warming, and the roles the US and the UK are playing in All Things Evil. He's run afoul of the Royal Mail with his stamps depicting Queen Elizabeth wearing a gas mask. One of his series is about 5/ll, the day Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament. Another, called America Self Destruct, shows Bugs Bunny with dynamite strapped to his waist and a detonator in his hand. Dolk Lundgren, a Norwegian street artist similar to Banksy, has done a great print of Prince Charles wearing a Burger King crown. All brilliant stuff, and still (somewhat) affordable.

So, what's my beef with Banksy? He started out as an artist of The People, going about at night with spray paint and stencils, giving the masses of London something to look at, think about, or be amused by on their daily journeys around the city. Now, he's the darling of the celebrities, and Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie pay tens of thousands of dollars for his works, which they will hang on their private walls in their guarded homes, kept far away from the grit of the streets and The People. But the power and the joy of his images comes from seeing them in the context of those streets. These aren't so much fixed images as they are temporal and transitory ones. How they are seen and perceived varies with the day, the weather, the traffic, the news, the crowds. The images change over time as they fade, are painted out by building owners or tagged over by other graffiti artists. Hiding Banksy away in the homes of the stars is just wrong.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:33 PM

    its not that they buy the walls. its just a print and if you can afford to travel somewhere to look for his stuff you might not know that some ppl like me can hardly afford to pay the rent and if he can sell some prints to some assholes for some (more)bucks, to buy paint for more walls (not that the painting (on canvas?) with the landscape and the sprayed car aint fabulous aswell)i dont see a problem in it.