Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Banksy Debate

Almost everyone has heard of Banksy at some point. My mom even knows who he is.
Problem is, you either love him or hate him. Perhaps, "Hate" is harsh. Maybe I should use the word, hate his celebrity status.
For those who have been living behind a wall (possibly painted by Banksy at one point), Banksy is a notorious street-artist from Bristol, London who's claim to fame has been creating controversial and thought provoking stencil art (among many other projects).

Well, this post is not about giving a crash course on Banksy and how his work fills the halls of celebrity mansions. Despite the tone of this post, I (along with the entire Abztract fam) remain big fans of his work and really believe he paved a major road to street-art getting the attention (both good and bad) that it deserves.

This post is not about Banksy. It is about double standard.
Yesterday, the BBC news website (among a few other outlets) announced how a recent stencil painted by Banksy in South London was actually put to a vote by Sutton Council on wether to preserve it.
This is not the first time London has attempted to preserve his work. For the most part, he is their posterchild of street-art. He is the "new age Michael Angelo". But at the end of the day, he is by all things, a street artist.
As the voting was going on behind Council doors, vandals (much like Banksy himself) chose to deface his mural that was (according to BBC) going to be saved and preserved after 93% of the 250 council voters chose to save it instead of buffer it.

The reason I chose to write about this is because I have recently been part of the NYSAT 2 (New York Street Ad Takeover) where a group of street artists took to the streets and whitewashed and painted over illegal advertisements placed by an outdoor ad company named NPA. The issue that boiled my blood was that seven street artists and white washers were arrested that day for vandalism. NPA on the other hand, operates over 500 illegal banners in NYC alone, were out posting new ads without a single arrest (and this goes on by them year after year). Not to mention that the Vandal Squad, who is the NYC group responsible for capturing street-artists and graffiti writers in NYC have a staff of 75 while the team that is responsible for giving fines and problems to illegal advertising operators such as NPA, are staffed by only 4 people.
In a nutshell, an artist can go and paint flowers on a wall and likely be arrested within 30 minutes while someone else who is posting ads of half naked Abercrombie & Fitch ads across the street from an elementary school can go freely and without hassle.

This same double standard applies to the Banksy debate. While Banksy is a world renowned artist who has done some real great work, he is still a vandal and asking to "preserve" his art is nearly a slap in the face to all other artists who have painted that same wall before.
Of course, if the owner of the building commissioned Banksy to paint something, it would be a different story, but it isn't the case. This is an exact same celebrity treatment that TV, Movie and Music celebs get. They drive drunk and do not go to jail or they beat their girlfriends and can walk freely for a week before being questioned and detained.

Again, I am a big fan of the guy and his work, but I know that he does his art on the street because it is not meant to be preserved. Art that is supposed to be preserved is resting in his collection at a local museum. The whole point of street-art and graffiti in general is that it is placed, gets buffed out, gets painted over again, buffed out, and so on. Nobody ever expects their work on the street to last any longer than the average tagger.

Of course, some would make the case that his mural in S. London that was defaced was painted over by ugly tagging. I would strike that as irrelevant. Vandalism is vandalism. If someone better than Banksy defaced his mural instead, would that be ok?

I apologize for the rant. The rant is directed mostly at the Sutton Council who even attempted to preserve it. While it is nice that they are trying to help preserve art on the streets, you should not pick one artist and still throw others in the slammer. Take a class in equal artist rights from places like Brazil who took measures to legalize graffiti (link).

If you are going to make an exception, either make it for all, or don't make it at all. Can't be friends with one artists and a cop to another. That is just not right.

What are your thoughts? Leave them in our comment section. We would love to know how you view the issue.