Banksy’s Street Art paints the city | TABlog

Graffiti has been around for thousands of years in the form of rock paintings. He decorated the walls of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman buildings as protest poems and illustrations. Since the 1960s, it has adorned tunnels, subways and building facades, especially in New York and Europe. Qualifying graffiti as art or vandalism has sparked intense controversy. However, over the years recognized artists have emerged, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, who began spraying art on the streets in the late 1970s, followed by Blek le Rat and Keith Haring in the 1980s. Banksy, the mysterious British artist who has consistently avoided public identification since his debut in the 1990s, has continued to set the world on fire with his bold expression of artistic freedom and deliberate messages of political and cultural satire.

Who’s Banksy ?, currently on display at Warehouse Terrada on Tennozu Island until December 5, arrived in Tokyo less than a year after another Banksy exhibit started in Yokohama. After Tokyo, the spectacle will continue to Nagoya, Osaka, Koriyama and Takaoka. His works come largely from the traveling exhibition “The Art of Banksy”. Perhaps what makes Banksy resonate among several generations is his dark humor and occasional use of subversive symbols. As designer Paul Smith noted, Banksy talks about the “corrupt truth” in human society that many of us are too nervous to express. His exhibitions number in the thousands and his works are auctioned off at shocking prices. They obviously echo people’s doubts about our current political, social and cultural states.

The girl with the pierced eardrum (2014, Bristol, UK) appears on a replica of a wall at the Albion Shipyard in Bristol, England, where the original art is located. A different version of Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring”, Banksy’s version replaced the girl’s earring with an outside security alarm. In 2020, the same mural was given a face mask to reflect the global pandemic, but it has not been verified whether the addition was indeed executed by Banksy himself or another person.

The current exhibition is particularly attractive with its cinema-like installations, which escort the visitor through the streets, alleys and tunnels of the UK and US decorated with Banksy art. Visitors can also walk through a recreated street scene of Gaza, Palestine, showing the appalling conditions around the Separation Barrier. Next to this exhibit is a scene from the “Walled Off Hotel” in Bethlehem, Palestine, with interiors branded by Banksy. The presentation style provides a realistic experience of works of art on a life scale.

Banksy, 'Spy Booth' (2014, Cheltenham, UK), Installation view

Another intriguing fresco is Spy cabin (2014, Cheltenham, UK), which shows three 1950s spies listening to a conversation in a phone booth – widely believed to be Banksy’s criticism of government surveillance. Two of the three spies are believed to be depictions of whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLinks founder Julian Assange. The wall art originally appeared on the side of a building in Cheltenham, England, not far from the government communications headquarters of the British Intelligence and Security Organization. The work caused a stir when it mysteriously vanished in 2016 after the state legislature decided to rebuild the entire building to protect it from aging. This year, the heads of the spies were found and auctioned off by entertainment label Cosmic Wire.

Banksy, 'Laugh now' (2003), Private collectionAmong the artist’s must-see private collections are humorous caricatures of monkeys and rats, Banksy’s most frequently used animal figures depicting the human spirit. Laugh now (2003) is one of the artist’s most popular and oldest works. Originally, it was a six-meter spray-painted mural, with the silhouette of the monkey repeated ten times in a row as the backdrop to the Ocean Rooms nightclub in Brighton. The expression of the chimpanzee with the slumped shoulders and sunken eyes is dark and sad, evoking oppression. It may also have been a critical message about the way animals are treated harshly by humans. The provocative words seem to imply an anticipated uprising. Similar thoughts are evoked in Parliament of the Apes (2009), illustrating chimpanzees in place of parliamentarians in the House of Commons in London. Banksy published this work in the same year of the parliamentary spending scandal.

Banksy’s rat subjects were meant to be his homage to the so-called father of stencil graffiti, Blek the Rat. In Rat Gangsta (2004), the rat wears a chain locket necklace and NY Yankees baseball cap. It sits next to a boombox. The character portrayal of the underground New York lifestyle that prevailed across the UK in the 1980s and 1990s is quite unmistakable.

For those who have followed the corporate legacy of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, The son of a migrant from Syria (2015, Calais, France) is a powerful message of irony surrounding the Syrian migrant crisis and the accumulation of wealth. Banksy painted the mural in a migrant camp in Calais, France. He used the character of Steve Jobs, whose father was a Syrian migrant in the United States, as a ridiculous statement to deny public opinion that migration is a drain on a country’s resources. Jobs are seen carrying a bag of his stuff and his first Apple Mac computer, which made him rich as his company paid more than $ 7 billion in taxes a year.

Banksy, 'The Son of a Migrant from Syria' (2015, Calais, France), Installation view

Finally, no one can fire Girl with a balloon (2002, London, UK), considered to be Banksy’s most identifiable ‘trademark’. The figure of innocence of the little girl who drops a red heart-shaped balloon in the air was first drawn on the stairs of Waterloo Bridge in London in 2002. Banksy had used this image several times in social campaigns, such as those to save Syrian Children in 2014. In the exhibit, the words “There is always hope” are written on the wall next to the image. The famous piece of art sparked a worldwide buzz at a Sotheby’s auction in 2018, when it was sold for a million pounds, but was shredded by a mechanical device that Banksy had hidden from the inside the frame. As a result, the coin was given a new name, ‘Love in the Bin’, and was auctioned again in October 2021 for £ 16million.

Banksy, 'Girl with a Balloon' (2002, London, United Kingdom), Installation view

Despite the enormous wealth and fame that Banksy has gained over the past 30 years, he remains intangible, often appearing as an ordinary street performer in sneakers and a hoodie. His creations tell us about certain illusions in societal norms, the shortcomings of political and social systems, and the perpetual human struggle to understand the existence of life.

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About Walter J. Leslie

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