Art News & Views



‘Banksy’: Stencilised Protests

By Anurima Das

Please feel free to

1.    Copy any Banksy imagery in any way for any kind of personal amusement.
2.    Make your own Banksy merchandise for non commercial purposes.
3.    Pretend you drew it yourself for art homework.

Though the above statements seems quite peculiar and baffling but, they are true and precisely what you come across whenever you try the 'Shop' link in the official Banksy website. The artist in question is that world famous artist, who has achieved his fame and recognition resting upon his false or pen name 'Banksy'.  Believed to be born in 1974 and raised in Bristol, England, Banksy was born as the son of a Photocopier father and was trained to become a Butcher. However, Robert or Banksy chose otherwise and instead of working as a Butcher he turned his profession and simply worked with his ideas to give birth to a new ideal of stencil art. The 1990s Bristol Underground Scene formed the basic platform for the subtle yet bold political and social expressions of the artist.

"Art should have your pulse racing, your palms clammy with nerves and the excitement of creating something truly original in a dangerous environment," Banksy once said. His graffiti art and the way he addresses trivial issues subversively truly brings out the reckless protestant artist in him. The subjects of Banksy's protest art painting are rats, children, apes, policemen and the elderly and to add to his list of peculiarity the artist does not really require a canvas or a paper to bring out his expressions and thereby raise his voice. He takes pride to call himself a British street artist who nurtures the capability of demonstrating his art at every possible place. When someone requests to purchase a Banksy painting they have to simply decline their interest as the artist strictly believes that his art form does not require any copyright and anybody can reproduce the same for their personal interests.

Apart from the ongoing controversy surrounding Banksy and his art form he has a constant league of celebrity fans. In August 2004, Banksy produced a spoof of British £10 notes substituting the picture of the Queen's head with Diana, Princess of Wales's head and changing the text "Bank of England" to "Banksy of England." This was later put up on eBay and was sold for about £200 each. In the year 2006 after Banksy held an exhibition 'Barely Legal' Christina Aguilera bought an original of Queen Victoria as a lesbian and two prints for £25,000. The idea behind this exhibition was World Poverty and spelling out truth in the way it is rather than coating the same with tender wraps, just like the phrase 'Elephant in a Room'.  After the grand success of this exhibition on 19 October 2006, a set of Kate Moss paintings sold in Sotheby's London for £50,400, setting an immense auction record for his works. The silk-screen prints, featuring Kate Moss painted in the style of Warhol's Marilyn pictures, sold for five times their estimated value. Along with that, his stencil of a green Mona Lisa with real paint dripping from her eyes sold for £57,600 at the same auction.

Banksy has redefined and brought Bristol into notice through his subtle ideas and his politically correct way of expressing himself for the social and political causes. One of his murals awaits us as we make our way to Bristol. The piece is named The Mild Mild West and it depicts a gigantic, smiling teddy bear holding a Molotov cocktail in his paw, who faces three police officers with riot shields. He is extremely famous in his hometown and only handful of close friends and family seem to know who the real 'Banksy' is, while the world tries to decipher the same riddle using loads of speculations. The artist takes immense pride in his work technique and completely relies on stencils for his graffiti work, as he believes the procedure is smart and time saving. While he initially started off with graffiti, with time he found the process cumbersome and there was fear of being caught in the midst of the work. Thus, he replaced his technique and brought about a makeover to his work. Banksy works on several themes ranging from poverty to child abuse to antiestablishment to anti capitalism etc. However, to sum it all he voices a protest through his work and thereby tries to pull out those unsaid statements that normally people fear to spell out.  One of his most recent works is the Cardinal Sin which he unveiled in the December of 2011 at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. A "pixelated" effect using bathroom tiles on the bust statue of a priest's face is the simple yet bold protest work that worked as a statement on the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.  After this work was unveiled in a statement to BBC, Banksy said: "I'm never sure who deserves to be put on a pedestal or crushed under one."

The walls, bridges, car parks, buildings and every odd and even place across the streets are an inspiration for Banksy and he can completely transform these places using his own protest ideas and techniques to deliver subtle subversive imageries.  To take a step ahead Banksy had organized the Cans Festival in 2008. The festival was successfully held from 3-5th May 2008 in an abandoned tunnel on Leake Street, London. Pertaining to the idea of the extravagant Cannes Film festival the artist gave shape to the entire dark, underground art festival.  Artists like Blek le Rat, Broken Crow, C215, Cartrain, Dolk, Dotmasters, J.Glover, Ben Eine, Eelus, Hero, Pure evil were invited to showcase their work and join the movement initiated by Banksy.

Recreating the famous and the originals with a twist has always remained a hot favourite with the artist and he has quite naturally reproduced and created successful work of art by simply replacing and altering certain portions of the famous paintings or photos using uncommon and unrelated objects. One such work is of course Banksy's 2007, famous depiction of a scene from Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. His mural depiction near Old Street Tube Station displayed Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta clutching bananas instead of guns. The London Transport Workers later removed this work as according to them this work depicted a social decay. In 2006, Banksy left a life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee at the California theme park Disneyland to create a similar social statement. Moreover, in 2005, he decorated Israel's contentious West Bank barrier with mocking images of life on the other side of the barrier.

Banksy's Napalm is yet anther outstanding and breathtaking work of the artist that truly deserves a proper mention and has actually raised many eyebrows until date. A famous photograph taken at the site of the American army's napalm attack on Vietnam during the war worked as an inspiration for the artist and helped him compile his work on the same subject in May 2008. Banksy uses contrast to depict the truth and bring out the question of reality as the real and the other reality or the perceived one. In his work he keeps  the hunger stricken poverty ridden naked little girl as the imagery of the truth and thereby brings her out as the central character and replaces the soldiers on her sides with American commercial figures Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse. The idea is to draw attention to the populist, commercial and consumerist America who, on its whims and fancies is vulnerable and is thereby the perceived side of the reality, while the real is the poor girl.

To fight dishonest financial organizations Banksy took part in the Occupy London Protest in the November of 2011 and pulled out a recreation of the Monopoly game at the St. Paul's Cathedral depicting the famous Uncle Pennybags sitting in the middle of the Monopoly board with the hat in his hand, looking upset and waiting for some alms. Even though Banksy has been successfully delivering his protests and his works are also being auctioned at several pounds but the artist is not ready to let the world know who he actually is. He strictly maintains a no social media presence and even on his official website, he maintains a rude and anonymous form. Until date, he has published many books, which are a collection of the images and writings of his own work and thereby carries his own critical writings as well.  published by Random House in 2005 is one of his recent publications and it contains an amalgamation of descriptions and photos from his three previous books, as well as some brand new material. The book has remained a best seller in the arts category even after several years of its release.

Bansky has never stopped himself from active participation or kept himself away from protests when on the one hand, his identity and his actual existence is a brewing question but his work is a real proof that the stencil master lives on to surprise the world with his protest epigrams and stencil arts.

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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.