Banksy: Street Art's Big Bang

Feb 8, 2013 9:22PM

"People look at an oil painting and admire the use of brushstrokes to convey meaning. People look at a graffti painting and admire the use of a drainpipe to gain access." - Banksy

Rats with cameras, children holding heartshaped balloons, and policemen kissing each other – this is the witty and uniquely imaginary world of Banksy, Britain’s most famous contemporary street artist, as well as its most mysterious.

Banksy has been making his distinctive handpainted mark on the world’s cityscapes since the early 1990s. Primarily created by spraying black-and-white paint through stencils, his artworks are at times humorous and nostalgic, but their apparent whimsicality masks a sharp political bite, and they often convey anti-war messages.

Such is the case with Bomb Middle England, in which three mild-looking senior citizens are pictured on a manicured green playing the polite English game of bowls but using bombs instead of balls. This is one of the artist’s quintessential strategies: to humorously disarm war-related iconography by turning it into an image of peace, such as with his famous masked ƒflower-thrower in Love is the Air.

Street art is often considered to have originated with the birth of hip-hop culture in late 1970s America. But its roots actually lie in earlier guerilla art forms such as the Situationist actions of the 1950s and the radical happenings of the 1960s, intended as a critique of art’s commodiˆfication by the cultural establishment. For example in the early 1960s, the Danish ex-Situationist Asger Jorn made a series of what he called ‘Modiˆcations’ or ‘Déˆgurations’, in which he painted over cheap 19th-century prints, usually sourced from ƒflea markets, to enhance and modernize what he considered meaningless old images. With this venerable lineage, street art today encompasses many art forms and styles, including gra”ffiti, posters, installation, video, and many forms of modern technology.

After many years of making his hugely popular polemical yet funny work, Banksy has helped raise street art from an underground cult into a globally recognized movement. But despite street art’s elevation, Banksy’s belief in a ‘democratic’ form of art, accessible to everyone, remains ˆfirm: “Despite what they say, gra”ffiti art is not the lowest form of art, although you might have to creep out at night and lie to your mum, it’s actually one of the more honest art forms available. There is no elitism or hype, it exhibits on the best walls a town has to offœer and nobody is put offœ by the price of admission” (Bansky: Wall and Piece, p. 8).

Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall by Will Ellsworth-Jones, will be released in the U.S. this month. It explains how the elusive tagger created a new market for street art, and in the process a global Banksy brand. (Source: ARTINFO)

Bomb Middle England will be offered in our Contemporary Art auction, 14 February 2013, in London.

Additional image: Banksy, Mona Lisa with rocket launcher, 2001