In many countries, these street art objects are outlawed. The hooligans paint under the cover of night, and the next day they carefully paint over the city services. However, often scandalous and witty graffiti becomes a work of art.
Graffiti has become not only an integral part of modern street culture – today these elements are used in the arrangement of urban spaces, facades of residential complexes and interior design. But despite its practical application, the art of graffiti remains one of the most relevant forms of expression for artists, reflecting their social and political position.
USA Art News presents the most famous street drawings by Banksy all over the world.
“Girl with a balloon”. Banksy, London
English graffiti writer Banksy became one of the most scandalous street artists. His works are considered works of art, and their destruction is vandalism, despite the fact that for many people the very fact of graffiti application is vandalism. The graffito “Girl with Balloon” appeared in London in 2002. Banksy drew two versions in different parts of the city. On one of them, the artist left the inscription “Thereʼs always hope”. In 2014, the painting was cut out of the wall and put up for sale for £ 500 thousand. The same year, graffito became a symbol of support for refugees from Syria: specifically for this campaign, Banksy drew another version of graffito, where the girl wrapped in a handkerchief. Huge projections of the drawing on the anniversary of the Syrian conflict appeared on the Eiffel Tower in Paris and on the Nelson column in London.
According to a survey by Samsung in 2017, the image of a girl with a balloon the British called her favorite work of art. And in October 2018 the author’s version of the work, made by acrylic and spray paints on canvas, put up for auction Sotheby’s. Immediately after the purchase of the painting for $1.4 million it was cut by the shredder built into the frame. A few days later the author demanded to rename the work and name it Love Is in the Bin.
The first personal show of the same Banksy was held in Los Angeles in 2002. Street art and the world of official art have been looking at each other for many years: in the United States, in the homeland of graffiti, the relationship of “vandals” with official institutions began in the 1980s. At that time, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat invested in the authority of street art: both began with what the city authorities considered vandalism. The first art performance of Basquiat was a poetic and incoherent statement on behalf of SAMO©, an enraged alter ego that the future artist shared with his school friend Al Diaz, while Haring honed his psychedelic style on the streets and in the subway. In the ’90s in New York and other cities, there are exhibitions devoted to graffiti and “post-graffiti” – more skillful and meaningful works, which are now called street art. By the middle of zero interest in street art loses its marginal flyer, and in the United States and European capitals, there are galleries that exhibit and sell recent “vandals.
Today stars of street art tour no less than rock musicians, launch their own brands of clothing and souvenirs, accept orders from city authorities and corporations. Perhaps the apotheosis of such cooperation is the collaboration of OBEY creator Shepherd Fairy with Hennessy, which caused indignation of the artist’s fans, but certainly increased his already considerable fortune.
The prestige that street art has acquired over the past few years, effectively turns some of its properties inside out. Previously, the abundance of graffiti was considered a sign of a dysfunctional neighborhood; today, iconic works of art, on the contrary, become the county’s business cards – and developers of elite neighborhoods invite artists to paint the building to increase its value. The works considered valuable are preserved (for example, they cover the wall with glass, like a picture in a museum), and the tags of famous artists accidentally found by builders are perceived as important archaeological finds. Street art, grown out of “vandalism”, becomes an instrument of gentrification – and neighborhoods like London’s Shoreditch or Parisian’s 13th arrondissement are taken on themed tours. In addition, for a couple of decades a huge industry has been formed, serving graffiti writers and street artists of all colors – they produce special paints, clothes, respirators, sketchbooks, backpacks and other things that, in addition to practical benefits help to feel belonging to the “party”.
Sometimes the work can even be stolen, as it happened with “Child labor”: a stencil drawing of Banksy with a boy and a sewing machine disappeared from the wall of the store “All for one pound” in northern London, which “very upset the residents of the district,” and then resurfaced at an auction in Miami. Banksy himself, however, disapproves of this kind of vandalism. In the documentary “Exit through a souvenir shop,” the artist says that the paintings should remain in the area and on the wall where they were made, and not “hang over the fireplace at some financier. The artist urges “to buy only those works that were originally made for sale. However, this does not prevent the owners of buildings whose walls have turned into gold thanks to Banksy, to put them up for auction or at least to break the prices of real estate next door.
Collecting street art is not only pleasant (this segment of the art market is not as conservative and snobby as all others, and always happy to new faces, especially if they are accompanied by money), but also profitable. Steve Lazarides – the famous art dealer, who first brought Banksy to the market and has long specialized in street art – explains that it is worth investing only 5% of artists, but these 5% practically guarantee an impressive return on investment. Works of the same Banksy, which could be bought for 200 dollars ten years ago, are now worth 400 thousand. At the opening of the Moscow exhibition, one of the foreign guests tells how his friend “sold one of his Banksy to pay for his daughter’s university”. This is easy to believe: a residential trailer, which Banksy painted in 1998, paying the owners for the “canvas” tickets to the music festival, ten years later sold for half a million dollars at a cost of one thousand. If the owners of the treasure had waited another ten years, the price would have probably reached a million, or even two – now such bars are taken by Banksy at auctions.
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Despite the auction records of street art stars, not all street artists are able to earn their living by art: most of them do “guerrilla” work at night, and during the day they go to the office for regular work, do graphic design or draw to order. “You can sell your works, or you can earn dubious artistic hackwork, not to advertise it and claim the mythical status of a “real artist”, – said Dmitry Aske. – Everyone makes his own choice. Illegal art turns into expenses rather than potential earnings: at least an artist spends on paint, and at most – on fines and bribes to police officers.
What would Banksy say?
One of the works presented at the Moscow exhibition is very much like to be considered the author’s comment on everything that is happening. The “Big Golden Frame” is not typical work for a skillful stencil artist, in which Banksy’s visual handwriting is not immediately recognized, but his wit is easily read. One has a schematically drawn man asks another: “Does anybody take such art seriously? – and gets the answer “Do not underestimate the power of a large golden frame. Naturally, the work is exhibited in a large golden frame.
For Banksy, the “big golden frame” – art institutions, auctions, exhibition spaces, and market situations in which everything becomes more important than it actually is – is a cause for sarcasm. The millionaire painter is known for his pranks on the art market. His most famous prank happened in 2013: during the day, an elderly man who wasn’t known to anyone sold stencils “under Banksy” walking in Central Park, and then it turned out that all this was the originals. Pictures for $60 were bought by only three passers-by, and one woman even negotiated a 50% discount: the buyers did not even suspect that they had just concluded the most profitable deal of their lives.
The whole “month of street art in New York City”, which Banksy announced in advance on his website, promising the citizens every day during this time to draw a new work or arrange a performance, turned into a “rat race” – the pursuit of expensive works and attempts to profit from them. The artist posted photos of his new works every day, offering fans to find them faster than the police, and observed the results from the outside: those who were the first to get to the new drawing immediately tried to make money from it, collecting fees for photos, or even breaking down the sharply risen walls, hoping to sell them to some gallery. All this was filmed by Chris McCarbell, who later released the movie “Banksy’s Business in New York.
While other street artists are accused of being corrupt, dissuaded from cooperating with corporations, and scolded for participating in auctions, Banksy remains a symbol of protest and an ideal to follow – perhaps his ability to sincerely criticize capitalism without being shy about his millions is his main talent.
Mona Lisa with a bazooka
The first version of graffiti in SoHo was painted just a few days after its appearance.
The Mona Lisa is an ideal of femininity and serenity. Perhaps the artist wanted to emphasize the dissonance between the gentle smile of Jokonda and the powerful weapon of destruction… But there is another interpretation: the calmness of the Mona Lisa reflects the satiety of a prosperous society with news about wars that are taking place somewhere far away…
Which one will you choose? It’s up to you…
Love in the air
“Love in the air” – graffiti, on which a street protester is going to throw flowers instead of a cocktail Molotov. One survey in 2017 showed that this is one of the most recognizable works of Banksy.
The first such work was made by the artist in 2003 in Palestine.
Banksy wanted to show that any issues should be resolved peacefully. Otherwise, one violence generates another. Or maybe the artist wanted to say with this graffiti that protest against capitalist or military regimes is as useless as throwing flowers during riots?
The artist does not like cops very much, to put it mildly. Since graffiti is considered vandalism, Banksy became the object of persecution. Therefore, the artist has a whole series of works that ridicule police officers.
One of these graffiti is “Smiley Cop”, or rather a policeman with a smiley instead of a face. Banksy made this work big enough for the viewer to see the policeman in full size. Never before has the face of a cop in graffiti artist been so friendly. Banksy proposes to perceive this work as a kind of utopia. The question is what lies behind this smile, what is really on his mind?
Banksy has a series of works with the image of shopping carts from the supermarket. The artist ridicules the consumer essence of modern man. On the graffiti “Flying Buyer” a woman holds onto the cart so tightly that she is ready to crash with it, but not let go.
The work appeared on an abandoned building in London in 2011. This place immediately became popular. However, the building has long been empty, and it is going to be demolished. It is symbolic, you should agree because graffiti is so short-lived.
In 2014, graffiti “Mobile Lovers” appeared on the door of the Youth Center, which works with the youth of Bristol. The topic of work is social networks, in which people are immersed with the head and can not be distracted at times, even during a date.
Interesting fact: this work saved the youth center from bankruptcy. The staff removed the door and charged a fee for the opportunity to see the work of a famous artist. Banksy was not against it. However, the city authorities intervened. They took the work and exhibited it in the Briston Museum. Then, Banksy intervened. It all ended with the fact that the work was sold at an auction, and all the proceeds went to the rescue of the youth center.
Angel and Pulp Fiction
One touching story from Banksy’s life and work is connected with these works. In 2007, in London, workers were painted one of the famous works of the artist “Pulp Fiction”. Then Banksy wrote in the same place a new interpretation of this scene. Now the heroes of the famous film were holding real guns, and they were dressed in banana costumes.10 works of Banksy, which should be known about.
Just a few days later, the new work was also painted. But this time not as workers, but as a young graffiti artist under the pseudonym of Ozone. At the bottom he left a signature: “If the work is better next time, I will leave it. However, the young artist did not have time to appreciate the new work, he died under the wheels of a train trying to draw another graffiti in the London Underground.
Banksy was not indifferent to Ozone’s death. And one of his best graffiti appeared on the place of ‘Pulp Fiction’ – an angel in a flak jacket with a skull in his hands.
“When we lost Ozone, we lost a fearless graffiti artist and, as it turns out, quite a perceptive art critic,” Banksy wrote on his website after the tragedy.
Not everyone will see real art in Banski’s work, but his works are long and expensively sold, they are collected. Of course, the “Banksy phenomenon” is the result of competent marketing, nevertheless, his works reflect the spirit of the time.
The artist’s works often have political and social connotations. Banksy sometimes roughly ridicules the vices of our time, protesting against the dogmas and ways of modern society. His works make us think about the problems in our world.