Whenever I see Graffiti or Street Art on concrete walls, under bridges or on trains, my first thought is usually “Cool!” followed by a taunting, grandmotherly voice saying similar words to the title of this blog, followed by “Get off my lawn!” We have been socialized since childhood to think that graffiti is defacement, and that real art is seen only in an educational or gallery space. In order to get your artwork known “the right way,” you play the system, go to the right schools, network with the right people, get your art seen as much as possible and even then, pray that you find someone who finds your art as valuable as you do, get it in a gallery space and hope that other people will then shell out money for it. Doesn’t that all seem a little bit exhausting (and slightly unnecessary) if all you want to do is showcase your talent and try to get your message seen by as many people as possible?
“the people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit…the people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff….any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you, its yours to take, rearrange and re use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.” -Banksy
Banksy is probably the most well-known street artist in the world. His work is anti-establishment, incredibly creative, original, poignant and, more often than not, hilarious. Adding to the allure of his artwork: he is completely anonymous. All pictures or videos of Banksy show him with a hood covering his face, his voice altered, showing only his hands, and usually from behind. I could google image Banksy pieces for days and never be completely satiated. Here are a view examples of his Street Art:
As another example of his playful, anti-establishment style, in 2004, Banksy went into the Louvre and hung his own various reinterpretations of masterpieces.
My personal favorite “museum piece” of his was in Bristol’s City Museum & Art Gallery, which had a show in 2009 titled “Banksy vs. Bristol Museum” that intertwined Banksy’s work with their collection:
Banksy and other street artists make us question why it is that we think that good art can only be found in museums and galleries, both of which are settings that involve either an admission ticket or encourage art sales. Why can’t freedom of artistic expression be truly free and public?
Perhaps his most famous artistic stunt, and the one that increased his international intrigue, was spray painting on the Palestine/Israel Segregation wall. His scenes point out the state of distress in the conflict between the two countries through the ironic hopeful images.
From his website, a conversation that Banksy had with an old man while painting:
Old man: You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful.
Old man: We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home.
Banksy also recently released a film called “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” a documentary about a street art filmmaker turned popular artist, “Mr. Brain Wash.” Banksy does “appear” in the film and narrate bits of it, along with other street artists. While this film does come in the form of a documentary, in knowing Banksy’s humor and playful, tricky artistic style, you can only help but wonder if this whole thing is only an elaborate act. I encourage you to go see it to learn more about street art, the methods and meaning behind it, and to gain a deeper understanding of this fantastic artist and his colleagues. The trailer is pretty entertaining in and of itself:
“Graffiti ultimately wins out over proper art because it becomes part of your city, it’ s a tool; ‘I’ll meet you in that pub, you know, the one opposite that wall with a picture of a monkey holding a chainsaw.’ I mean, how much more useful can a painting be than that?” -Banksy