Physical Graffiti

by Quinn

So, has Banksy finally been unmasked? More importantly, who cares? Not I. I’m afraid I’m going to have to demur from the popular opinion that Banksy is our most finest graffitoist.
Let’s start with a couple of his recent topical daubings that have regularly appeared on news reports, often without being specifically referred to, as if the image alone speaks volumes. First there was that “comment” on the government’s 10p tax travails, where Banksy decided to draw a 10 pence piece with – gasp – Gordon Brown’s face where the lion should appear! Because, it is a 10p tax, and Gordon Brown removed the 10p band, and he is now the prime minister, and…oh, if you don’t get it, just forget it. Then Banksy’s satirical gaze moved to the Glastonbury festival; there had been some controversy as Michael Eavis, organiser fo the festival, invited a rapper, Jay Z, to perform at what has historically been a rock and folk affair. Banksy’s inspired painting: Jay Zeavis! Yes, Jay Z, and Michael Eavis, put them together and taa-daa! Er, that’s it.*

Of course, these are just two off-the-cuff recent paintings from Banksy’s conveyor belt of talent; like all artists we should perhaps judge him by some of his timeless classics. So what of them? Well there’s

  • That image of Travolta and Jackson from Pulp Fiction, in execution mode. But wait! That’s not guns they’re pointing, but bananas! Get in there! A fitting comment that violence begets violence and can, er, mm, be ended by fruit? Because no one ever murdered anyone by using fruit? Did they? I dunno. Moving on…
  • What about that one of two male police officer in uniform kissing each other. Outrageous! Banksy hits home here, seemingly suggesting the hilarious possibility that two policeman might me gay! I mean, as if! The very thought of it! Madness! Next:
  • A picture of three children swearing allegiance to the flag; but hold on a moment. That’s no flag, but a Tesco carrier bag! Nice one, Banksy! Boo, hiss, down with the corporations, that’ll learn them. Because they’re taking over the country aren’t they? Or they have government in their pocket, don’t they? Or they are the government? Or something? Whatever. Oh Banksy, you are a one!

Sigh. I mean they’re fine, they’re alright, but no more than that. Even when you take a Banksy painting I quite like – that one of a workman cleaning a wall of graffiti that is in fact an ancient cave painting – it is at best a half-decent half-thought, albeit one beautifully rendered. As for the majority, whether a picture of a dove of peace wearing a bullet-proof vest, or of a rioter throwing not a Molotov cocktail but a bunch of flowers, this stuff has all the intellectual depth of something you may find on twitter – “wot if a child frisked a soldier not the other way around lol!” – but coming in at well under the maximum 140 characters.

Why Banksy gets the praise he does I cannot tell, but equally surprising has been the reaction to these stories of his supposed unmasking where an emphasis has been placed on the shock discovery that Banksy may be a former public school boy. Again, I don’t care, but what were people expecting? Banksy’s pieces scream to me of being the work of a sniggering prankster playing at being a notorious, anti-establishment figure. Clearly a technically gifted artist and quite probably an alumnus of some art college or other his work puts me more in mind of Pulp’s “Common People” than Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”, such is the “look at me, Mum, aren’t I being naughty” nature of his work. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Banksy has come from a privileged background but I would personally be far more amazed if it turned out that he is in fact some hard-nosed, dragged-up kid from the streets who “turned to the art of stencilling…whilst he was hiding from the police under a train carriage,” man. As it is, if it is ever confirmed that Banksy did receive a public school education then I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

* Update: A question of attribution. Since conducting some rudimentary research following writing this rant I’m not now sure whether either of these pieces are in fact authentic Banksy’s. Pure laziness and assumptioning on my part I’m afraid. Still, they are pathetic enough to pass for the Master’s work, so the general point still remains.