Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Banksy - Street art

We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.
— Banksy, Wall and Piece

Banksy is famous as a British Street artist whose identity was unknown at the start of his career and is still in debate today, despite being outed by two seperate newspapers as two different people!  Banksy's works have dealt with an array of political and social themes, including anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, anti-authoritarianism and anarchism.  He documents greed, poverty, hypocrisy, boredom, dispair, absurdity and alienation. Although Banksy's works usually rely on visual imagery and iconography, he has made several politically related comments in his various books.  While facetiously describing his political nature, Banksy declared that "Sometimes I feel so sick at the state of the world, I can’t even finish my second apple pie."


Street art is an anti-art movement that grew out of the gang culture of tagging and graffiti in the early 1980's.  Unlike other art movements it spread through MTV and pop culture and was created by teenagers with no art school training.  Street art is still not legal but it is different in its intention, it is usually preprepared before it goes onto the street in the form of a stencil.  Taggers are out to deliberately make a mess and destroy they are happy to be known as vandals outside the law.  Street art is used to make social and political commentary and joke-like statements, it is all art on the street that is not graffiti.

 Writing on walls has been used this way for centuries and has been meticulously detailed from excavations at Pompeii (AD79) where it was used to speak back to those in authority on politics.  Romans did this for fear of reprisals and the same sense of anonymity gives the street artist a certain power, they are able to make their statements without any fear of reprisals or critical analysis of their art work.

 The photographer Brassai captured images of graffiti in the streets of Paris in the 1930's, he saw it as a primitive childlike form of art.  He was part of the surrealist movement who thought that art by children, psychiatric patients and graffiti all showed a freedom and energy impossible for serious artists to replicate.  He was freinds with Picasso, Dali, Dubuffet, Matisse and they all shared their work and ideas.  Picasso himself stated that when he was young he would copy graffiti from walls and indeed some of his mask like faces do seem to mirror Brassai's images.  

Brassai - Graffiti image
 In its reactionary roots and its ability to turn the art world on its head, Street art draws from Dadaism, Situationism, Pop and Punk. 

Duchamp's Fountain
  Dada was not a style but a state of mind, an anti-art group that grew out of WWI, they believed that the war had been contrived for materialistic reasons in a society based on greed.  They wanted to destroy the notions of good taste and achieve liberation from rationality and materialism.  They produced transient and temporary art, ready mades (such as the urinal above - literally taking the piss out of the establishment), performance art, poetry and raised the core question - what is art?

Situationists grew out of Dadaism and Surrealism, they wanted to break down the barriers between art, politics and other forms of social oppression.  Encouraging people to adorn the streets with statements such as 'Free the Passions' and 'Never Work', their sloganeering was closely linked to the Paris student riots in 1968.  They inspired people to rework metro posters (an early version of subvertising) challenging the ideas of ownership and creativity, believing if you wanted to put art on the streets you should do it, if you disagreed with an advert you should rework it, action here and now to transform everyday life.  Attitudes that are shared by Street artists today.

Richard Hamilton's - What is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?
 Pop art was a celebration of mass culture depicting the consumer environment and its mentality, ugliness became beauty.  Art was mass made, cheap to produce and celebrated the throwaway culture.  Pop dealt with the real world in all its tacky glory which is why so many street artists relate to it so strongly, their art also speaks to the masses in simple terms.

Reference needed for this image
Punk was the ultimate anti-movement, anti-establishment, anti-conventional, anti-consumerism, street artist Kenny Scharf comments in the book Street Art by Cedar Lewisohn "Street art in general was punk, the act of doing street art was punk.  You were risking being thrown in jail.  I actually was thrown in jail."   This attitude is still reflected in Street art today in the way their art is not for sale, it is not trying to sell you anything, in the anti-consumerism of subvertising posters, punk culture gave a microphone to the disenchanted which is still being used today.

Lewisohn, Cedar: Street Art (2008) Tate publishing, London
Peiter, Sebastian: Guerilla Art (2009) Laurence King Publishing Ltd, London
Untitled II The Beautiful Renaissance (2009) Pro-Actif Communications, Durham

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