“I’ve always felt anyone with a paint can should have as much say in how our cities look as architects and ad men,” Banksy said. Too bad his popularity has pushed him off the streets and into the gallery.
When Banksy shot to fame, the world suddenly came to appreciate graffiti. ‘Graffiti’ got paired with ‘art’ to form a new, positive and (ooh!) controversial idea, the king of which was Banksy. And why do we love him? Besides the titillating mystery that surrounds his true identity, we love him because he’s a cheeky son of a bitch. Cheekiness is the fastest way into the public’s heart. What better way to get yourself noticed than to wave your flag where everyone can see: the street. He changed the way we see graffiti, thus underlining a platform on which to exhibit social commentary, proudly declaring that free speech rules and government regulation drools, touching the rebel in all of us. But the street is a dangerous place. Taking political and social opinion out of the gallery and into public domain is like disturbing a delicate ecosystem. Those who may not want to see are forced to see, and deal with the consequences. Vandalism is sign of decay, and encourages more vandalism. Spray painted walls scream neglect and danger, and we don’t want to find ourselves walking past them alone after dark. But what about the people who live there? In an anonymous email published in Wall and Piece, a Hackney resident complains not about the social degradation brought on by the graffiti, but of the types of people it draws to the area:
I don’t know who you are or how many of you there are but I am writing to ask you to stop painting your things where we live. In particular xxxxxxxx road in Hackney. My brother and me were born here and have lived here all our lives but these days so many yuppies and students are moving here neither of us can afford to buy a house where we grew up anymore. Your graffities are undoubtedly part of what makes these wankers think our area is cool. You’re obviously not from around here and after youve driven up the house prices youll probably just move on. Do us all a favor and go do your stuff somewhere else like Brixton.
The ecosystem is thrown out of balance. Sure, it’s great. Rich people are moving into the area, changing it for the better. But does that mean the original residents are getting any richer? Did they ask for this change? Maybe Banksy should think about taking his art and sticking it where the sun don’t shine…Which is exactly what he’s done, it seems.
With his recent exhibition in a tunnel in Waterloo, it looks like he finally got the gist of good vs. bad when it comes to public art. He decided to “transform a dark forgotten filth pit” into “an oasis of beautiful art”. I used to walk through a pedestrian tunnel on my way from Aldgate tube station to get home. There was never any graffiti there, but the lights were dim, and a couple was mugged and stabbed in that very tunnel not too long ago, which was enough to convince me to take the long way home. I sure as shit wouldn’t walk through the .5 mile long Leake St. tunnel, but now that it’s been ‘redecorated’, its image has changed completely. Oddly enough, all the graffiti encourages passers-by rather than sending them running. Why? Because it’s Banksy & Co, duh. Yeah, and also because it was put there as an exhibition, rendering the space a gallery.