Position: 38° 41′ 51” N 9° 11′ 27” W
Banksy, the reclusive street artist and practical joker, has dominated the very public art form s/he created for over 30 years. It is unclear if the anonymous Banksy is a man or woman. People close to the artist have said that s/he’s a he. But that might be a double blind. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll refer to Banksy in the third person as B and forget about gender entrapping pronouns for now.
Banksy’s most famous prank was shredding an original painting the instant the Sotheby’s auctioneer’s hammer came down on it. ‘Girl with Balloon’ sold at the 2018 auction for £860,000. Banksy had built a shredder into the painting’s ornate gilt frame for just such an occasion. The painting wasn’t completely destroyed – the shredder jammed halfway. In the end, the piece got a new name, ‘Love is in the Bin.’ Perhaps it was more than a joke. Perhaps B was bringing the ephemeral nature of street art to mainstream collectors. Perhaps B was nefariously increasing the value of the piece. Whichever, the painting’s new owner now has an even more notorious work of art, while Banksy got all sorts of free advertising.
When we bought our tickets for the unofficial Banksy exhibition in Lisbon, I asked the ticket seller if anything was going to get shredded. He said, ‘No, but you’re welcome to steal anything you like. Our guard is a little slow on his feet.’ A self-styled anti-capitalist, the irony of success isn’t lost on Banksy. But Banksy exhibitions are usually someone else’s deal. Tempting as it was to nick something, my knees aren’t fast enough these days to outrun even the most sedentary custodian. Although, if we had planned our escape using electric scooters and a couple of well-placed hand-offs, we might have gotten away with it.
My first real-life Banksy experience was near a car park in Bristol, UK, many years ago (there are rumours that B is from Bristol). A deceptively simple and yet very complex stencil leapt out at me from among the graffiti tags that surrounded it. It was something different in a place completely unused to anything other than a quick spritz from a spray can. Its very existence raised my estimation of this unloved, uninteresting corner of the city.
Photographs are poor representations of original artworks. You lose the texture of the art, the interplay between medium and canvas. And, especially with graffiti or street art, you completely lose the context, the sense of place, as well as the slow decay of art continually exposed to the elements. Nonetheless, I took as many photos during our walk-through of the exhibition as I could.
Many of Banksy’s pictures began life as graffiti. Then they evolved and became street art. Then they became Art with a capital ‘A’. As Art, Banksy’s works are often worth more than the buildings they adorn. Clearly, B’s ‘less is more’ approach to art and life has paid off.
One of the larger pictures was ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop.’ As we walked through the gift shop piled high with t-shirts and coasters, it was hard to separate Banksy’s anti-consumer messages from our desire to buy a deck of commemorative playing cards. In the end our money stayed in our pockets, mostly because we already have a dozen decks of cards on Aleta.