Banksy: creative artist or political polemicist?
Sort of stand-up comedian, isn’t he?! He’s got a lot of one-liners. He is funny, to be fair to him. But also, unfortunately, he’s quite predictable. It’s quite easy to almost guess what he’s going to do next. But you know what, that’s his “thing”, and that’s alright. A lot of people hate Banksy. He’s such a problematic success. He brought a kind of humour and knowing-sarcasm in, which was needed.
A kind of Hogarth of our day?
Yeah, because it’s very male, laddish, competitive, names, tagging, aggressive, bleurgh! You kind of need more than that. A lot of people object, the fundamental thing being about stencils. People couldn’t deal with it, because everything is about hand styles and controlling your spray can. That’sthe craft, that’sthe skill. Stencils are “cheating”. And they thought “Who’s this middle-class guy? What’s he doing?” Graffiti has a set of codes, values and principles, but once street art blows up it’s a free-for-all; you can basically do whatever you like. I think what’s interesting there is when Banksy really took off and was kind of immediately taken on by middle-class, white, young, media hipsters, people who were a little bit uncomfortable with graffiti loved Banksy. So in a sense he’s a crossover. He’s quite problematic, but refreshing and pretty funny. Part of the “thing” is how high you can get up a wall, how you can climb up under a bridge and get something up there, where nobody else can get to it and Banksy is a master at that.
Is Banksy’s self-shredding artwork a marketing gimmick rather than a radical statement about art’s ephemeral nature?
I don’t think it’s just one thing. If you go back to the original ethics, it’s about how audacious you can be, and to take it that far is amazing. But also, for many people it’s stupid and not interesting at all! But that’s the weird dichotomy of Banksy. Many think he’s a sell-out, but actually a lot of his achievements are exactly what graffiti artists and street artists set out to achieve. And he does it with quite a bit of flair, sometimes. He changed everything; he’s a pivotal figure in the whole story, there’s no question of that. When your parents know his name, that’s impressive!
If you could have one piece of graffiti art in your life (irrespective of size or value), which would it be?
I’d have a piece by Dondi White or Futura, or one of the real pioneers. Lady Pink, maybe. One of the real people who changed everything. There are about 10 people who, I would say, are kings or gods.
And one piece of street art?
I’ve got a Banksy! And I’ve got a beautiful Miss Van piece, which is an enormous painting. But there are just too many to choose from! That would be more of an aesthetic choice. Whereas with graffiti, that’s historic. I want an iconic person! It would probably involve spray paint though, because I’m kind of embedded in that, it’s what I grew up thinking about. And I think that’s probably true in the book; that it’s maybe a bit weighted towards graffiti culture and graffiti history. But it’s important because it’s basically the springboard for everything else. So yeah, I’d be more after a piece of graft than a stencil. There’d be only one of them, and not 500!
Words by Saskia Jiggens