“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish. But that’s only if it’s done properly.” BANKSY
It’s created by revolutionaries, gang members, vandals, advertisers, and artists. It’s cheap. It’s not-quite-legal. And it gets larger audiences than most traditional art forms. It’s graffiti. And it’s here to stay. Well, until someone paints over it. Or knocks it down. Or removes it to show in a gallery.
Look past the who-slept-with-whom on the bathroom stall, the angst-ridden commentary on the train, and the harried tags marking territory and you might just find something beautiful. Thought provoking. Real. You might just see the marks of the young, the crimes of those who know no better. Graffiti still divides critics and polarizes city officials. Rope it off or rub it off? Curate it or cull it? Every city is different.
Banksy, arguably the most celebrated graffiti artist in history, has seen his work unceremoniously scrubbed into oblivion one day and sold in the finest auction houses of Europe the next. Perhaps the ephemeral, rebellious quality of his work and the mystery behind his anti-establishment character is all a part of the appeal. Or maybe it’s just his cool name.
However, with price tags increasing, greeting card reprints available at every corner store, and celebrity fans hanging his works in their plush Hollywood mansions, has Banksy sold out? Or is he simply enjoying the fruits of his labor? Banksy still works anonymously in the dark of night to create art to inevitably be photographed, blogged, flickred and removed within days. But is it still rebellious when you can buy the T-shirt four days later? What happens when subversive art becomes part of the mainstream? Does mainstream art become subversive?
Gareth Williams, a specialist at Bonhams, suggests this confusion of purpose may very well be the appeal. “Perhaps the most incredible aspect of the Banksy phenomena is neither his meteoric rise, nor the substantial sums of money that his art now commands, but that as a self-confessed guerilla artist, he has been so wholeheartedly embraced by the very establishment he satirises. We are sure that this irony is not lost on today’s buyers.”
Angelina Jolie spent $226,000 for “Picnic,” which depicts a white family lunching under an umbrella whilst a group of starving Africans look on.
Like Andy Warhol before him, Banksy provides an entry point into art. By redefining what and where art is, he’s become a cultural icon and an urban myth/hero of sorts. His subversive pranks have made headlines and forced the establishment to take notice. And in some cases accept. In 2003, he snuck a piece into The Tate Britain’s collection, where it stayed for two and a half hours before being removed. Two years later, he repeated the prank at the British Museum. When the second piece was discovered, the British Museum added it to their permanent collection. Just a year after that, he sold a set of Kate Moss paintings for £50,400.
Call it the “Banksy Effect” or call him a sell-out, the sneaky British artist has helped create a market for an entire category of street art. But don’t despair. Not all grafitti costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are many more affordable options. Like Blu, Phil Frost, Seen, Adam Neate, and Australia’s own Mini Graff. And if you can’t afford any of the alternatives, you could just paint your walls white and hope for the best. You never know. Your local crew may just be harboring the next Banksy? Probably not. They’re probably just kids with nothing better to do. But we can always hope.