Thursday, May 26, 2011

Banksy. The Legendary Street Artist

“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city were everybody could draw wherever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall ––it’s wet.”- Banksy

Banksy is one of the most famous street artist today. Most of his work is in London, but his witty, humorous, influential street art can be found all over the world. When researching Banksy, I read his book, Wall and Piece.  He starts off his book by claiming the importance of street art. His intro is too good to abridge.

 He says,

“I’m going to speak my mind, so this won’t take very 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 art forms available. There is no elitism or hype, it exhibits on the best walls a town has to offer and nobody is put 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 say 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.

Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”

His book was full of photos of his work, and his own thoughts or comments that accompanied his works. I found the book to be very smart, witty, and clever. His thoughts and stories also helped illuminate the importance of street art.

For example, his mural on the train bridge over Portobello Road in West London shows the revolutionary figure, Che Guevara eventually getting wiped off the page.  

Banksy said he was trying to poke fun at the market, which sells Che Guevara items every Saturday. He was “trying to make a statement about the endless recycling of an icon by endlessly recycling an icon.” This sarcastic, cynical message from simple street art is what intrigues me about Banksy. There is also more to his art than the image that appears before the viewer. It’s one example of when the artist’s intentions can help develop a work. One of my favorite quotes relating to this piece is, “People always seem to think if they dress like a revolutionary they don’t actually have to behave like one.” I believe that Banksy is not only dressing like a revolutionary (being a street artist is revolutionary in itself because of the legal dangers involved), and he is acting like one because his street art is provocative.

And in addition to his work being provocative, most of his street art is plain funny. He claims that, “tourism is not a spectator sport,” so to voice this opinion he created these works.

The photo in his book exhibiting his Big Ben Clock tower in London is a photo of a group of tourists taking a photo in front of his graffiti. If the work wasn’t already funny enough, this photo is a complete satire on the characteristics of tourists, and proves Banksy’s dislike for tourism.

Another reason why I love Banksy’s work is that if it’s not humorous or intelligent, it strongly represents something he believes in. For example, he describes the wall between Israel and Palestine as horrid: “Palestine is now the world’s largest open-air prison and the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti artists.” When Banksy sees something he doesn’t like, his immediate thought is to go there, and voice his opinion despite the dangers and what other people think.

Here are some photos of his work on the Palestine Wall.

This last work is my favorite on the Palestine Wall because it shows a human struggle to fight this wall and what it represents, and that freedom and peace can be seen on the other side. Thus through great human effort and coalition, justice, freedom, and peace can be possible. This piece just seems very hopeful to me.

And if defacing the separation wall between Palestine and Israel wasn’t ballsy enough, Banksy also recants a story of breaking into the Central Park zoo in Barcelona. He was successful in leaving his mark, but unfortunately got no pictures. The next morning the zoo had erased or covered up most of his work. He finishes this story by saying, “It’s frustrating when the only people with good photos of your work are the police department.” If I could ask Banksy one question it would be, “How does it affect you when your art is erased or covered up after you spent so much time on it, and took the enormous risks to produce it?” I have no idea what he would say, but if I ever get the chance that is the one question I would ask him.

While I find most of Banksy’s work intriguing and I applaud it, he does take it too far at one point. He says, “If you grow up in a town where they don’t have subway trains you have to find something else to paint on.” Well Banksy, animals should not be victim to spray paint.

You would never spray paint a human, so why should these animals have to exhibit your thoughts and work? I also found that even though he was trying to be funny, some of his most offensive work was on these animals. I found all of his work on animals to be offensive and crossing the line.

This photo to me was the most offensive. While I can see that Banksy may have been trying to be ironic, satirical, and funny. It just seems inappropriate to have a message like, "Fuck Pigs" on an actual pig. The pig had no choice in displaying this negative message about its own kind. It just makes me feel uncomfortable. However, I'm sure Banksy would say something like, you're taking this too seriously. But regardless, his work is inciting a negative feeling from me, and I don't like it.

Some would also say that his work of spraying over already existing paintings is offensive too. This I don’t have as much of a problem with however because it’s very representative of the modern mindset of art today, which tries to break all possible boundaries. Sure it’s a little offensive to but the baby Jesus and Madonna with a suicide bomber pack strapped to them, but it’s also very modern because it breaks down the traditional Madonna and Child paintings and strives to provoke a reaction from its viewers.

Suicide Bombers just need a hug

My favorites of these types of Banksy’s paintings were:

Silent Night

Mona Lisa with a Smile

I liked both of these because they simply made me laugh. Sometimes art is purely about the experience one has with it.

Some more of Banksy’s work, that I liked simply because of a chuckle or an intriguing thought that the work inspired, are…

You told that joke twice

I Fought the Law and I Won

Edgeware Rd, London 2005 (Lasted six days)

Vandalized phone box, soho square, London 2006

McDonalds is stealing our children  (Lasted Nine Hours)
This work entailed a blow up doll being hung from a McDonalds Balloon, which was fastened up in the air. This was placed over Picadilly Circus for everyone to see. It was a criticism of how McDonalds is stealing the lives of children through obesity and other health issues.

Banksy has forever brought street art to life for me. Before I would pass it and awe at the vibrant colors or the cool letters or the composition as a whole, but now I look for deeper meanings, secret messages, and most importantly the humor and experience I get from seeing street art. Banksy is the articulate street artist that is keeping this type of art alive. Banksy, no matter how offensive or provocative some of your art is, you are doing a good deed. Keep up the good work.

The last quote of your book is, “People either love me or they hate me, or they don’t really care.” I find that Banksy does care about a lot of issues and ideas in the world, and he is strong enough to do something about it by voicing his opinions through spray paint and design.

For more information about Banksy please click here.

For additional information please view Banksy's documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.


  1. You are right but more wrong about the "Fuck Pigs" art, see Banksy creates art to mock the people that accept it as art, that is his entire objective. Its good you feel negativity about the pig and the paint and words, that is the point of the irony, he wants to make people say "that is so wrong and humiliating" but yet people and society only see pigs as a commodity to eat, they don't appreciate their existence and beauty, which is exactly why the pig is stunningly beautiful in the photo. The point of that particular piece is to mock the world and their view of pigs not to be funny, yes that view is wrong, that's the irony and that is the purpose of the artwork: to question what you are seeing and to reflect why you feel the way you do. These animals were not caused any distress if you research the account from the farm these animals were from, but the reality is that all the animals at this farm have a fate of an inhumane death for human consumption, hence society's view of pigs... fuck em. It's very wrong, Banksy wants people to reevaluate their stance on violence and morals.

  2. We've long been inspired by urban art and have finally created a collection that pays homage to this secret addiction of ours!

  3. "Suicide Bombers just need a hug" with an christian icon? - Too afraid to say the truth!

  4. Things can be interpreted differently by different people. I am shallow and like his/her/their work because I think it is hilarious. I Have seen "FUCK PIGS" (meaning 'Fuck The Police') or similar graffiti on walls before. I think a pig saying that is hilarious on its own - then of course there is other meanings. It is simply a sign placed in the wrong location.