Loading the Canon #24 by Helena-Anne Hittel
What do you do when you think the Tate Gallery in London needs a little extra “something” on the wall? If you’re Banksy, you take that something and hang that “something” up there yourself. It will only remain there for an hour before the gallery gets wise and removes it, but you know you’re a genius, and they’ll be missing it soon enough.
In October of 2003, Banksy graced the walls of the Tate with a piece called Crimewatch UK Has Ruined The Countryside For All Of Us (2003), featuring a landscape with a cottage in saturated, saccharine colors reminiscent of Thomas Kincaid’s work, and stenciled crime scene tape over it. According to an article on BBC News’ website from October of that year, the piece represents the way Britain’s “obsession with crime and paedophilia” was marring the country. The work was moved to the lost property section of the gallery.
I’d normally give you a biography of the artist here, but Banksy is anonymous. The artist has concealed his identity from friends and family, for obvious reasons.
Banksy ran with an underground artist group known as DryBreadZ. He was almost apprehended by police at age 18 while tagging a train with DBZ, but started thinking up ideas about stencil art. Some of the artists from DBZ became lifelong friends of Banksy’s, and individuals who Banksy continues to work with. In 2000, his work began appearing as album covers for a friend’s record label. The neighborhood in which he lived in London began seeing an increase in street art, which led to Existencilism–his first international exhibit in 2002 at London’s 33 1/3 Gallery.
2003 saw another notable exhibition, Turf Wars, in an old warehouse that featured works spray-painted on animals. This wasn’t to last, however, and was shut down. Animal activists protested the exhibit, but the irony here is not lost as it raised awareness of the exploitation of animals. Additionally, Banksy’s only talent doesn’t just lie in spray paint. Oils and various works of sculpture have been featured internationally.
Banksy is famous for his ironic, sardonic, and provocative graffiti art, but not many take too kindly to the paint on their buildings. These are mostly (and unsurprisingly) people in places of authority, and probably the best example of the subjectivity of art. Has Banksy defaced your building, or has he merely decorated it? Many of his works have been cleaned off or painted over. One such work in Australia was covered over with a plexiglass plate in the hopes of preserving it, but was destroyed when artists managed to pour silver paint under the plate.
And what’s to be said of the political and social commentary Banksy is famous for? Is the destruction of his works solely the removal of illegal graffiti, or is it turning a blind eye to the societal ills that Banksy only wants to magnify?
2006’s Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles, for instance, featured a live elephant painted with a sumptuous red and gold design, aptly titled Elephant in the Room. Scattered about were fliers that read, “There’s an elephant in the room…20 billion people live below the poverty line.” Animal activists were once again out in force, and authorities called for the elephant to be cleaned of its design. It makes sense that you can’t leave paint on a live elephant, but whatever your thoughts on Banksy’s methods, he knows how to get a point across.
Helena-Anne Hittel (Episode 35, essay) earned a B.A. in Art History at the University of Central Florida.