Monday, 11 November 2013

Art in the banksy?

Bansky rat, Hoxton; sadly now gone
Banksy was on the charge in New York last month, with the aim of creating a new art work every day – although it didn’t start well, with the first one painted over within 24 hours.

But it provoked the usual sort of outbursts from some on news websites, calling for that city’s “finest” to arrest and deport Banksy (if they could find him) and then have him scrub any of his works off walls in the UK.

Goodness: how tedious some people can be.

You might not like street art, but it’s not the same as daubing ‘I woz ere’ on the local bus shelter. And neither are we talking about people stenciling something on the outside of St Paul’s.

In some areas, it brightens up rather drab and tatty surroundings. And it has the added economic advantage of being an increasing draw for visitors who want both to look and photograph.

Not that the objectors are just daft individuals trying to out conservative each other on a website.

ROA rabbit, Hackney Road
Two years ago, Hackney council decided that it would tell the owners of a building on Hackney Road to get rid of a piece of artwork from the side.

This was a rabbit by Belgian street artist ROA, who creates almost Düreresque pieces, and it was done with permission. He’s done a rat further down what is, in essence, a not very picturesque street, so such works help to give the area a welcome lift.

I actually emailed the council telling them to sort their priorities out – I like to think that that effort was influential, because the rabbit is still there, lighting up a street that is otherwise pretty dire on the eye.

In an interesting contrast to this particularly democratic art form, I’ve noticed in the last day or so that my Facebook timeline now getting spammed by Saatchi, which wants me to “invest in art”.

It amounts to them having decided what artists to promote, telling you that there’s a chance that these artists’ work might sell for lots of cash sometime in the future and wouldn’t that be a good investment?

Peeblitz; Blair – war criminal. Now painted over
It’s possibly a fairly good career move for the artists concerned, but it’s also difficult to budge the feeling that the prime motive of Saatchi isn’t one of promoting good art or actually convincing people to enjoy art more.

This is far more about Saatchi making money.

Of course, in the past, artists were at the mercy of patrons.

The 19th can 20th centuries saw the growth in importance of galleries and agents, and also of individual collectors who wielded influence – for instance, Leo and Gertrude Stein in Paris in the early 20th century.

But if we then return to street art, we can see that people can enjoy it and share it (it’s easy enough to buy Banksy prints for instance, or to print up your own photos), without some vast outlay.

Art sometimes seems to suffer from an idea of stuffiness and, of course, cost.

It’s worth noting that many of the UK’s major galleries are generally free, except for specific and temporary exhibitions.

This applies at such national institutions as the National Gallery and the Tate Modern, both in London, but also at plenty of regional galleries too.

But appreciating street art is not incompatible with admiring Rembrandt or van Gogh – and it could be argued that, as fine art has appeared to become more abstracted and, therefore, more difficult to read, the likes of Bansky fill a vacuum of artistic expression in a modern way.

Christ; crown of thorns. Brighton beach, artist unknown
Banksy isn’t alone in using street art to make political points – and street art as a whole hardly invented political and satirical art: think Hoggarth for starters (several of his works are on display in the National Gallery), but that probably upsets some of the naysayers, since the politics generally displayed in street art are hardly conservative or pastoral in nature – see the picture of Peeblitz’s Tony Blair stencil, taken on Hackney Road in 2007 and sadly painted over fairly soon after.

Although there are moments when those who are conservative about street art in general change their tune if it suits them.

My parents, for instance, thought that the Peeblitz/Blair piece was wonderful – and there was a companion piece featuring his fellow war-monger, George W Bush.

The inventiveness and quality of some street art is excellent. And to pretend otherwise is frankly churlish.

Mind, the entire New York outing included a stall set up in Central park selling original Bansky canvases for under £40.

Now that, Saatchis, is an investment. And so too are my Barry Blends – except that I have bought them for no other reason than pleasure and to lift my life on a daily basis.

And I would suggest that Banksy has far more in common, in terms of a philosophy of art as for everyone, with the likes of Matisse, who very much believed in art being for everyone, than do the Saatchis.

And that, my friends, is art.

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