This afternoon I bought a copy of a book I have been coveting for some time from the dangerously excellent Unity Bookshop in High Street. Banksy's Wall and Piece (now with 10% more crap).
You may not have heard of Banksy, though his fame is legend in street culture around the world and is growing in the art-literate mainstream.
Banksy is a stencil artist. He creates his work on the street. Like graffiti, but different. Some would say he is a vandal. One of the measures of his work is how long it lasts before it is painted over or cleaned away by the authorities (buffed).
He is more than an artist though. His work drips with ironic, anarchic narratives. He has something to say and the message is as clear as any advertising campaign. At the start of the book - which only has a spare amount of copy, the work speaks largely for itself - Banksy says:
I'm going to speak my mind, so this won't take Long.
Despite what they say graffiti is not the lowest form of art. Although you might have to creep about at night and lie to your mum it's actually one of the more honest forms available. There is no elitism or hype. It exhibits on the best walls a town has to offer and nobody is piutt off by the price of admission.
A wall has always been the best place to publish your work.
The people who run our cities don't understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit, which makes their opinion worthless.
They says graffiti frightens people and is symbolic of the decline in society, but graffiti is only dangerous in the mind of three types of people: politicians, advertising executives and graffiti writers.
The people who truly deface our neighbourhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff. They expect to be able to shout their message in your face from every available surface but you're never allowed to answer back. Well they started the fight and the wall is the weapon of choice to hit them back...
Sniff around the web and you will find plenty of Banksy material.
I wonder whether the transition from notoriety to fame will lesson his edge. He has begun to exhibit his art in a more conventional art-world model. A show in Los Angeles earned po-faced scorn for his concept of body painting an elephant to attract attention to world poverty (I guess it was a double entendre; images of poverty have become invisible like wallpaper and, possible that poverty is the 'elephant in the room'). Ironic that, though no elephants were harmed in the making of the art, animal welfare activists, which underscores the original point - an elephant that was in no danger whatsoever is more important than the unpleasant reality of world poverty.
This video piece from 'the Culture Show' is an interesting take on the Banksy phenomenon. The modified audio, supposedly the voice of the man himself is interesting, as are his own videos of the guerrilla expeditions to place work in museums to see how long they would remain in place.
The British Museum added their endowment to their permanent collection.
"Being certain about things doesn't help. We're basically fish that crawled out of the swamp and learned to walk and talk and play football, so how can we be sure of anything?" Banksy
As with any underground phenomenon that captures the imagination there comes a point when the revolutionaries become the establishment. The angry young post punk U2 evolved into the rebels with a cause (only to seem dilettantish and self important).
But in spite of his celebrity, Banksy remains underground - literally - he still hasn't been photographed or interviewed in person. His fame is the opposite of Paris Hilton's, it resides in talent not tout. One of his stunts was to place 500 copies of a reworked Paris Hilton CD into London's record retailers with modified cover art and remastered tracks.
He's a great talent - the One & Only. I wonder if it causes him conflict that his works are selling for tens of thousands of pounds, probably to Paris Hilton, Brangelina and a queue of eager advertising executives on whom the irony is probably entirely lost.
Blogger Stan Lee left a link to an interesting commentary on 'The Banksy Effect', which I read and recommend you do too. It, naturally, added another link, this time to a video of the The Banksy Effect in a CNN report....which will link when you click it...
Gotta love this interweb thing.
Now shush, I have to watch this chick flick talk fest : Friends With Money. All culture, all the time,...that's me.
Speaking of which - ironically: Happy Birthday Paris Hilton, the invite didn't arrive, I guess it was lost in the post...