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Arts Faceless Fire Brand

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					  Arts Faceless Fire Brand

H      e’s a public schoolboy who grew up in a leafy
suburb; or he is a former butcher with a gold tooth
                                                               For a start, the work of a street artist is, by definition,
                                                               ephemeral. Yet as the Banksy bandwagon has gained
and a penchant for stout. Or he doesn’t exist at all.          momentum he has created more lasting work in an
He is simply an alias for Steve Lazarides – owner of           attempt to secure his legacy. Also street artists are
the gallery which sells his work – or comedian Simon           outsiders whose purpose is to challenge the hegemony.
Munnery, who sometimes speaks for him. Or he is a              Yet Banksy has been embraced by many of those who
collective of graffiti artists who have banded together        are the butt of his scathing social comment.
to perpetrate a giant hoax.
                                                               Feted by celebrities, including Brangelina and Damien
His anonymity – a pre-requisite for a graffiti artist sought   Hirst, his works now change hands for tens of thousands
by the police – is at the heart of a phenomenon that           of pounds. Banksy gets the irony and exploits it, satirising
has taken the art world by storm. A Scarlet Pimpernel          the incongruity of his own celebrity status. When one
figure, Banksy lurks in the shadows. His paintings             of his paintings sold for £102,000 at Sotheby’s last
appear in the most unlikely places and are witty and           year, he posted an image, showing people bidding for
subversive: two policemen kissing; a helicopter with           a painting of the words: “I Can’t Believe You Morons
a pink bow on top; an insect with air-to-air missiles          Actually Buy This Shit” on his website. The accusations
beneath its wings.                                             of hypocrisy, however, he counters by insisting he gives
                                                               away much of what he earns.
It was days before anyone realised his latest project –
A Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill on 7th Avenue,          Although little is known for certain about Banksy, it is
New York – was anything other than it purported to             believed he was born in Bristol in 1974. By the time
be. Several passers-by complained about the lack of            he was in his teens he was part of the city’s flourishing
space for leopard and monkey in the front window               graffiti scene – probably as one of the DryBreadZ Crew.
before it emerged the creatures – including a mother           He developed a distinctive style, which often featured
hen watching over baby chicken McNuggets – were                anarchic rats or other animals. But it wasn’t until he
animatronic and “a statement on our relationship with          swapped freehand for quicker and less risky stencilling
animals and ethics”.                                           that Banksy came to wider public attention.

“                                                                                                                  “
       His anonymity – A pre-requisite for a graffiti artist sought by the police is
       at the heart of a phenomenon that has taken the art world by storm.
                                                                             “
         I   n the years that followed, his guerrilla art began appearing
      in Bristol, London and the U.S. Sometimes, it would consist of one
                                                                                  To some, he is a genius whose
                                                                                  underground art works provide
                                                                                                                                  “
        sentence – such as the time he broke into London Zoo and wrote            visual Stimulation and valuable social
 “We’re Bored of Fish” in the penguin enclosure. On other occasions, it
involved full-blown paintings. His most iconic works include one of Pulp
                                                                                  commentary; to others he is a facile
    Fiction stars Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta wielding bananas             prankster and glorified vandal.
     instead of guns, and a naked man hanging from a window, which


                                                                             T
       he painted on the wall of a sexual health clinic in his home town.

                    He took his work abroad – controversially painting            he question of Banksy’s ability is, however, of little note
                      a mural of children digging a hole to a paradise       compared to the question of his identity. So great is the public’s
                        beach on the Palestinian side of the West Bank       curiosity about him that when he threw a pizza box into a bin at
                      wall, and placing an inflatable doll dressed as a      Los Angeles someone put it on eBay, suggesting the remnants might
                     Guantanamo Bay prisoner on a rollercoaster ride         yield traces of DNA. Of course, Banksy feeds this frenzy. He doesn’t
                         in California. He also started selling his work,    attend his own exhibitions and for many years refused all interviews.
                         through the Lazarides Gallery in Soho and at        In 2003, he – or someone claiming to be him – did meet Guardian
                                    exhibitions in the U.K. and the U.S.     writer Simon Hattenstone. The journalist described him as “a cross
                                                                             between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of The Streets.
                               Opinion is fiercely divided on the quality
                               and worth of Banksy’s work. To some, he       And then, earlier this year, the Mail on Sunday announced Banksy
                              is a genius whose underground art works        was Robin Gunningham, an ex-public schoolboy from Bristol, with a
                                               provide visual stimulation    flair for art, who disappeared after leaving home under something of
                                                      and valuable social    a cloud. Enigmatic as ever, the artist refused to comment, remarking
                                               commentary; to others he      only that, “anyone described as good at drawing doesn’t sound like
                                                is a facile prankster and    Banksy. “
                                                  glorified vandal. “How
                                                would he feel if someone     Then someone else discovered a death notice for a Robin Gunningham
                                             sprayed graffiti all over his   from Bristol – though the ages didn’t tally – and confusion reigned
                                           house?” a spokesman for the       again. Which suits Banksy, whose place in the pantheon of art
                                            Keep Britain Tidy campaign       depends on the mystery that surrounds him. The day we discover
                                      has said. In the same spirit, Tower    his identity the bubble will burst. How could the real person live up
                                      Hamlets Council pledged to paint       to the myth?
                                                         over any murals.

				
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posted:5/4/2011
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