For years we all saw this stuff painted on the back walls of factories, of fences glimpsed from the window of a railway carriage. Or shied away from while walking down a city alleyway. It was universally garish, most often rude and almost always offensive – assuming you could read it. Spray paint splashed over perfectly orderly walls became, in the 1980s, an expression of the hip-hop movement, modern culture and the activities of bored, disaffected youth. At least, that’s what it looked like to eyes like mine.
Graffiti itself actually has a long history, going back more than 3000 years, to ancient Greece and beyond . I’ve seen Viking graffiti on the walls of an ancient druid tomb (absolutely awesome, I might add) and most recently, I’ve discovered Banksy.
Quite by accident, mind. Once having discovered him, I’m entranced and in the process, it’s opened up the whole idea of open-air art and political comment to me. I’m only just starting to learn about all this, but it’s fascinating. His art exists both as part of the landscape and because of it. The moment it’s created, it merges with the landscape, commenting on it, but in turn, changing the landscape into something more conscious of itself.
You can’t take his outdoor work out of the landscape it belongs to. His talent ranges from heavy-hitting to whimsical, and more than once he takes great pride in mocking himself.
But there’s also another element to his art – and that’s a strong sense of time and place. He’s not just commenting on the canvas, but also on what it might represent – evidenced by the art he left behind in Palestine and Israel. By taking art out of galleries and back into the streets, he’s making it exceptionally relevant to those who will see it on a daily basis.
Banksy keeps his identity extremely secret – but ironically he’s probably the most well-known street artist out there today. In this age of celebrity, it’s inevitable that he becomes one by default, though I’m hoping he manages to keep his identity from his fans. I suspect that’s actually what powers his form of expression.
While I’m not into defacing people’s property, I can see what Banksy and those artists like him, can offer the landscape, and that they in turn, can enrich our lives as well. Even if they do it with a can of spray paint.