Street artist Banksy (1974 – ) is England’s answer to America’s Basquiat and is probably more famous because of his global reputation and more accessible imagery. Banksy’s satirical and distinctive stenciling technique combines works of political and social commentary with irreverent dark humour. His work can be seen on walls from post-hurricane New Orleans to the separation barrier on the Palestinian West Bank.
“How illegal is it to vandalize a wall”, asks Banksy in his website introduction to his Wall project, “if the wall itself has been deemed unlawful by the International Court of Justice?” The Israeli government is building a wall surrounding the occupied Palestinian territories. It stands three times the height of the Berlin wall and will eventually run for over 700km – the distance from London to Zurich.
The “guerrilla artist” Banksy has helped to transform the security barrier that surrounds the town with more than a dozen satirical images painted, plastered and sprayed on to the 8m-high (26ft) concrete.
Always controversial, Banksy inspires admiration and provokes outrage in equal measure yet his works have sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Many Banksy art images have moved off public walls and into private collections in the form of limited edition prints. These often generate large sums at auction houses.
Even the Banksy works that have remained on walls have been sold at auction, with some being dismantled. A house in Bristol with Banksy artwork on the outside was sold through a real estate agent as: ‘a work of art with a house attached’
Banksy is also known for his headline-making stunts, such as hanging a version of the Mona Lisa – but with a smiley face – in the Louvre, Paris.
In 2005 Banksy’s version of a primitive cave painting depicting a human figure hunting wildlife whilst pushing a shopping trolley was found in the British Museum, London. Upon discovery, the museum added it to their permanent collection.
At London Zoo, he painted “We’re bored of fish” in seven-foot high letters in the penguin enclosure.
London’s Westminster City Council stated in October 2008 that the work “One Nation Under CCTV”, painted in April 2008 would be painted over as it was graffiti. The council said it would remove any graffiti, regardless of the reputation of its creator, and specifically stated that Banksy has no more right to paint graffiti than a child. The work was painted over in April 2009.
Banksy mentions in his book, ‘Wall and Piece‘, that when he was first starting to do graffiti he was always too slow and was either caught or could never finish the art in one sitting. So he devised a series of intricate stencils to minimize time and overlapping of the colour.
Hordes of photographers descended on Essex Road, Islington, London after Banksy painted a large mural on a wall. It depicts three children pledging allegiance to a flagpole with a Tesco plastic bag flying from it.
Banksy said “When you go to an art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires.”
This is my 100th post and I am celebrating with 100 sips of my favorite agave juice, taking 100 conscious breaths, thinking 100 good thoughts and compiling a list of 100 art projects that I may publish here at a later date. To mark my Centenary I have decided to post 100 Text in Art works. This art form is, after all, the essence of my blog and one of my greatest passions. I am not creating a ‘one a day’ challenge for myself, too much pressure and leaves no space for posting my other passions. My intention is to present, at random, 100 pieces of textual art from historical and contemporary artists, from my ex art students and from my own hand. My own art (and that of known artists) will be a mix of new work and art dragged up from the deeper recesses of my blog and galleries. The first of ‘The 100′ appears below and is a photo I took of one word, “going,” written on a wall in east Vancouver. My own text is added to the photo. This one word, on a particularly uninspiring piece of city architecture, attracted me by its simple, yet poetic, pathos. Credit and thanks given to the unknown street writer.
As I prepare to leave San Miguel and Mexico I am torn by a deep sadness at parting from the friendly people, the colours, the eternal spring sunlight and warmth, the daily and nightly wonders and surprises, and the joyful celebration of life in this city that have all become so much a part of me. Torn, because I am also excited to return to my family and friends, the fresh ocean air, cherry tree blossoms and daffodils of a Vancouver spring, not to mention a new chapter of my life. But eh, that is the soul and essence of travel! San Miguel De Allende has a very big heart and will live in my heart as I say adios. But I will return next year with refreshed understanding that we can find heart in any and every town, city and country if we remain open, loving and accepting of all of our differences as human beings in our world.
For my final posting from Mexico I offer some last windows on San Miguel, a small collection of photos that are my farewell images of a place I have grown to love.
I have shared the visual wonders of San Miguel’s doors and walls but here’s another treat of colour and texture. The sidewalks here are tricky to navigate, narrow, ancient and full of surprises that can trip or turn an ankle. Walking the sidewalks of San Miguel is a daily exercise in relaxed observation and in-the-moment awareness, but the reward for one’s ocular attention is a feast for the eyes. The sidewalks are made up of paving stones that are pitted and polished by years of use and contain subtle colourings. I’m sorry that I can’t inform all of you rock hounds and geologists out there what these stones are but I see them with the eyes of a painter. What the locals must think of this crazy gringo on his knees photographing the sidewalk or taking pictures of walls and door knockers I will never know, but I am happy to have the opportunity to share these paintings in stone and wood with you.
The early period of graff creativity did not go unrecognized. Hugo Martinez, a sociology major at City College in New York, took notice of the legitimate artistic potential of this generation. Martinez went on to found United Graffiti Artists. UGA selected top subway artists from all around the city and presented their work in the formal context of an art gallery. UGA provided opportunities once inaccessible to these artists. Martinez realized that there was something more to these graffiti signatures than vandalism and with some success was able to refocus the energies of some of the artists to more legitimate means of expressing themselves. Martinez’ efforts turned media attention towards a subculture that was just beginning to spring from the minds and hearts of the New York City youth.
In 1979 writers LEE QUINONES and FAB 5 FREDDIE had an opening in Rome with the art dealer Claudio Bruni. Then in 1980 numerous writers flocked to places like ESSES studio, Stephan Eins’ Fashion Moda and Patti Astor’s Fun Gallery to expand their horizons. These and subsequent galleries would prove to be important factors in expanding writing overseas.
Arguably the most famous American street graffiti writer who became a wildly successful gallery artist was Jean-Michel Basquiat(b.1960 – d. 1988). In 1976 Basquiat and friends spray painted buildings in Lower Manhattan using the tag, SAMO. In 1978 the Village Voice published an article about the graffiti, leading in 1979 to Basquiat’s appearance on the live TV show ‘TV Party’ hosted by Glenn O’Brian.O’Brien introduced Basquiat to Andy Warhol and the two became friends and collaborators.
Continuing his activities as a graffiti artist, Basquiat often incorporated words into his paintings. Before his career as a painter began, he produced punk-inspired postcards for sale on the street, and become known for his political–poetical graffiti. He would often draw on random objects and surfaces and typically covered them with text and codes of all kinds: words, letters, numerals, pictograms, logos, map symbols and diagrams.
Artforum magazine published an article on Basquiat in 1981, called “The Radiant Child” which brought Basquiat to the attention of the art world and by 1982 Basquiat was showing regularly with Neo-expressionist artists such as Julian Schnabel and David Salle.
When Andy Warhol died on February 22, 1987, Basquiat became increasingly isolated, and his heroin addiction and depression grew more severe. Basquiat died on August 12, 1988, of a heroin overdose at his art studio in New York.
The record price for a Basquiat painting was made on May 15, 2007, when an untitled Basquiat sold atSotheby’s in New York for US$14.6 million
In 1996, a biographic film, titled ‘Basquiat’ was released, directed by Julian Schnabel, with actor Jeffrey Wright playing Basquiat and David Bowie playing Andy Warhol.
Despite the legal crackdown on graffiti in the 1980s and since, it has continued to spread through every urban center in North America and abroad and has taken on new dimensions of creativity. Today, graffiti has emerged as an art form in its own right, by showing not only realistic portraits of life in the city, but also complex scenes of fantasy and surrealism. The simple writing of the early years has developed through bubble writing and wild style to a place where text and art intertwine on the galleries of city walls as well as inside commercial gallery spaces.
Graffiti artists, such as Chicago’s POSE, represent the peak of contemporary American street art. Best known for his progressive letter style and technical precision, POSE is an influential contributor to the contemporary graffiti movement, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines, books and films. POSE grew up a half block from the CTA’s elevated train line, and started sneaking out to practice graffiti there in 1992. Coming of age during the golden era of Chicago graffiti, POSE put in endless work on the streets. His prolific output led him to become a local legend, and the city’s most internationally recognized graffiti artist with work on the streets and in galleries.
A magazine article from this year:
FINAL PIECE AT THE CHICAGO STREET ART SHOW by Max Herman, Jun 3, 2011 When it comes to street art, graffiti, or any artwork that winds up in public, there’s a certain process involved that can be as interesting as the final piece itself. With The Chicago Street Art Show, the work of Chicago-based artists like Don’t Fret, Chris Silva, Goons, and Mental 312 is hardly framed in a neat display; this show held at the Chicago Urban Art Society exists freely on and off the walls of the gallery, allowing people to really see the work and layers involved in contemporary street art.
Street Art or Graffiti?*
Even as the distinctions between street art and graffiti remain debatable, it’s safe to say that just about every participant in this show has put in work on the outside world—under viaducts, on light signal boxes, on industrial doors, etc. But one participant, Mental 312, is notably breaking down barriers between graff and street art in practice. Using a roller and a single color of bucket paint, he creates gigantic, maze-like pieces of lines, which sometimes don’t even spell anything out in particular. Mental says the motive behind these pieces originally was to cover all of the unsightly brown buff** paint plaguing Chicago walls. (**Buff – when any graffiti is painted over or removed from any surface by civic authorities).
Even with Mental’s newer, roller pieces being such a large step away from his older traditional graffiti fill-ins and tags, he still doesn’t necessarily consider himself a street artist:
“As a graffiti artist, I look at street art as something new. Street art is just a new version of graffiti—a new generation.”
*Street Art versus Graffiti – Street art (or post-graffiti) is a term used to distinguish contemporary artwork in public spaces from territorial graffiti, vandalism and corporate art.Street artists challenge high-art by locating their work in non-art contexts. They attempt to have their work communicate with everyday people about socially relevant themes in ways that are informed by esthetic values without being imprisoned by them. Street art has been defined as “all art on the street that’s not graffiti.”
Evaluations, debates and comparisons between “Street Art” and “Graffiti” have long been discussed. Street Art is a movement of outsider art that has risen in prominence over the last decade. It includes mural painting, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheat pasting / street poster art, and street installations.
The differences between this style and the tribal politics of Graffiti have rendered some level of competition inevitable. From the position of Graffiti artists, there has been a lot of apprehension towards Street Art. It is very important to recognize that these differences are major, and that behind them is a vast difference in ideas, aesthetic approaches, culture and history. Yet there actually is a high amount of cross over between the two forms. Many Street Artists are writers who have turned their efforts from Graffiti to Street Art. Ultimately Graffiti is just one particular art form and culture, and it was never expected to appeal to everyone anyway.
It’s ironic that graffiti or street art works by legendary writers and artists in gallery settings can elicit prices that range from the high hundreds to the high thousands. If the same art works were on city walls instead of on canvas in a gallery, the state would probably spend the same amount of dollars to remove it!
The roots of my blog, although not all of its branches, are embedded in my long time interest in the 20th century art practice of combining text with drawing and painting. I have explored this in my own work and in that of others through my studies and teaching of the history of art.
These paths must inevitably meet in my question today: Which artist was the first to use text and in which painting?
Art Historians tend to disagree on the fine points, however, they do agree that Picasso and Braque both began to use text in their paintings around 1911 / 12. These two artists worked together so closely during this period that it is difficult to separate their explorations, (and probably unnecessary unless one has an art historian’s hair splitting curiosity).
I won’t bore you with details of my research but I finally arrived at two paintings I consider neck and neck contenders.
The first is Ma Jolie by Picasso. 1911/12. Oil on canvas. 39 3/8 x 25 3/4 in. (100 x 65.4 cm.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Ma Jolie was Picasso’s intimate name for Marcelle Humbert, his lover at this time.
The second is Still Life with Chair Caning by Picasso. 1912. oil, oilcloth, stenciled letters. Picasso Museum, Paris.
Still Life with Chair Caning incorporates the word “Jou” which refers to the French newspaper of the time, Le Journal
As the painted words ‘Ma Jolie’ could be considered simply the title of the work I’m inclined to go for ‘…Chair Caning’ as the first western painting of the 20th century that incorporates text as an intricate part of the artwork. Jou being less descriptive than Ma Jolie.