If you are a fan of street art (aka graffiti) then you are without a doubt unfamiliar with an internationally known street artists that goes by the name, Banksy. Banksy is an enigmatic character as there are no known images of his full face. The only ones I have seen are what are reported to be early images of him painting murals in Mexico, only he’s wearing a cowboy hat and has a handkerchief covering his face. There is also a video documentary about Banksy titled Exit Through the Gift Shop that features the man himself, only his appearance is again obscured by a hat and mask and his voice has been modulated to protect that as well. No doubt, Banksy’s street art makes some pretty bold statements. It’s simple, good, yet thought-provoking.
One issue surrounding Banksy, however, is the idea that he’s somewhat of a thief. Banksy’s work bears a striking resemblance to another street artist from Paris by the name of Xavier Prou. Better known by his street name, Blek le Rat. In fact, if you do a Google search, the differences between their styles is negligible. Both artists employ a technique known as stenciling. It’s exactly as it sounds; they pre-design and cut stencils, and then use those to along with their favorite medium, public walls and black and white spray paint, to create their work. Again, the differences between their work is minor, but for whatever odd reason Banksy has garnered international notoriety with his work. Some purists would argue Banksy has straight-up ripped off Blek le Rat. I’m not going to fuss over all that discussion.
Ultimately, you might ask what has brought on this post? Well, I’m a lover of art, even street art, and this week an interesting story has surfaced regarding a Banksy work. Now, here is where we enter into the discussion about the legality and legitimacy of street art, aka graffiti. Technically, graffiti is considered a crime by law enforcement as if falls under the umbrella of vandalism. Someone, ultimately, is applying an image on a piece of public or private property without the consent of the owner of said property. Now, we’ve all seen a wall of a building, underpass, or train car “tagged” with graffiti at some point or another. A lot of time it’s pretty crappy. Sometimes, however, the work is really, really good. You stop and stare. I do believe that good street art is legitimate art. Any time a street artist takes the time to plan out a work and executes it well, I think that’s art. In a lot of ways, street art differs little, in principle, from works like the Sistine Chapel. The differences are largely in style, execution and consent. Now, please do not mistake my remarks as saying that street art measures up to Michelangelo’s masterpiece that is the Sistine Chapel; I’m not saying that. I’m just saying one is painted on a ceiling, while others are painted on walls and ceilings. All I’m doing is making a general comparison about the “canvas” being used here. In reality though, graffiti is considered a crime as the artist doesn’t actually own the “canvas” upon which they are applying their art. Part of the reason, I believe, Banksy and other street artists take to graffiti is because of the pubic exposure it gives them, and let’s face it… huge canvas isn’t cheap. Banksy is opinionated, and it shows in his work. He wants the public to consider his thoughts. Each work is charged with commentary, nothing is random. This is, in part, what makes his work so celebrated. It’s executed well, and it tells a story that engages his viewers on a personal level.
The story that came out this week is that one of his murals painted on a wall was stolen, and has popped up on a reputable Miami Art website for sale. Yes, someone literally chiseled the piece off the wall, stowed it away somewhere, and has put it up for auction. As it stands, it’s being treated as a theft as the individual who is supplying it to the auction website is not believed to be the owner of the building upon which the work (pictured above) is painted. In fact, I haven’t seen nor read any quotes from the building’s owner about the situation. Some of the locals are pretty miffed that it’s been taken off a building in their neighborhood and is now for sale. It’s rumored that it will fetch up to £450,000 at the end of the auction. Some of those locals have stated that it’s a gift to the public from Banksy, and no one has the right to take that away for personal gain. Truthfully, I think the building owner certainly has rights to the work.
Here is a work of art that no one commissioned. A work of art that no one gave Banksy consent to create on a building wall. Yet, he did it anyways because he wanted to and that’s that. The subtle irony here is that people are upset that someone allegedly stole it, and is going to make a profit from it. I’ll be brutally honest with you; for most people if they own a building and a world renowned artist decides to use their building’s wall as his/her canvas, there is a really good chance that most people are going to chisel it away and sell it to the highest bidder. It’s not the dumbest idea in the world. It’s still unclear who stole the piece, but if I had my guess I’m thinking that the owner of the building is probably in on it somehow. The reality is that this is what happens when you put your work out there in the public for all to see; sooner or later it may get ripped off and sold for someone else’s benefit. Doesn’t mean you stop working, or stop creating, it’s just the way the world revolves. Banksy has probably made quite a bit of money licensing his work for sale and it’s largely because he’s made his work so public that he’s been so successful. I think Banksy will probably be upset that his work is being auctioned off in such a way, but chances are he’s going to use it as fuel to create future work that’s just as engaging and passionate as what he’s already done. I’m not even going to say that I like all his work, but it certainly has merit and you don’t need me to confirm that to you.
So what do you think, is it theft in this case? I mean, it’s not like someone snuck in the Louvre and stole the Mona Lisa off the wall, right?
Here’s a link to the article. Check it out.