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Banksy the self styled British graffiti artist has produced works that have over the past few years been the subject of critical acclaim. His politically inspired artwork has gone ahead to attract millions of dollars at auctions and his pseudonymous character has made him a modern legend.
His work has attracted more attention from critics and art reporters than all other graffiti artists in history. Various articles and books have been written about his work and published all around the world. This essay seeks to illustrate some of the responses that Banksy’s work has received from critics and reporters alike. To this end, various articles will be analyzed and the opinions of the authors extracted.
Jonathan Jones hails Banksy as the artist of our time1. He describes his following as cult like encompassing people from all walks of life ranging from millionaire bankers to young book buyers. From the way he carries out his work, Jones labels Banksy a guerilla conceptualist whose humor works effectively both in the streets and in galleries.
He however sees Banksy’s humor as too one dimensional and dark-sided to last long in a museum gallery and attributes this to the fact that Banksy did not go to college. In his review, Jones analyzes the features that make Banksy’s work appeal to a wide audience. First is the fact that Banksy is talented and not merely someone who got into the trade as a matter of necessity.
His stencil method also makes his work clearly distinct from the works of other graffiti artists and he is able to work on a variety of themes. In the same article, the critic also attributes Banksy’s success to the fact that he is a comic artist as compared to fellow graffiti artists most of whom happen to be tragedists. According to Jones, the use of humor in Banksy’s work has helped catapult him to the level of a modern day radical with an impressive following by people who are against the state1.
While analyzing Banksy’s work, he compares it with the work of Cartrain. He claims that Banksy’s work has a certain level of insincerity that can be mistaken for sophistication unlike Cartrain who spends time to give his work meaning. He (Jones) thinks that Banksy does not put much thought into his work and just speaks out his mind on impulse to the extent that his work loses the darkness associated with the underground culture1. Banksy’s work is seen by Jones to be mild with a welcoming familiarity.
Jones also claims that the conservationist style used by Banksy is a display of laziness and that his work does not deserve the incredible attention it has been receiving from the public. In concluding the review, the critic denounces Banksy’s creations as works of art and generally sees the rise of Banksy as the fall of art1.
Joanne Phillips in her article What we can learn from Banksy describes Banksy’s work as witty2. She sees this in how he uses opportunities that present in the form of the physicality of a site. For instance, she supports her claim “that the idea behind making good work is in composition” by explaining how Banksy used a fire extinguisher filled with paint to create a commentary on the wall of a modernist building2. She goes ahead to claim that Banksy’s graffiti artwork makes an uninspiring place interesting.
According to Joanne, it is easy for a viewer to decipher the underlying meaning in Banksy’s work. She cites his ‘Rats’ sequence and proceeds to explain the symbolism behind the art work. Joanne sees Banksy and other graffiti artists as individuals who are committed to speaking on behalf of the voiceless public.
“The graffiti writer aims to claim some space to give voice to those who they would see as the disenfranchised” 2. She sees the work of graffiti artists such as Banksy as being a direct response from the public to oppression coming from the system. She gives an example of his piece titled ‘Boring’ and describes it as Banksy’s review of the building on which it is painted.
Joanne sees this as an impressive interaction of written text and landscape text resulting in a clear representation of the artist’s opinion. She regards Banksy’s artwork as one that communicates the opinion of the oppressed masses. Citing the rats that Banksy uses in most of his work, Joanne explains how this is definitely the representation of a social underclass2.
Katherine Satorius sees the message behind Banksy’s artwork as very incisive but at the same time expressionless3. She describes the function of Banksy’s work as brilliant and that it provides city inhabitants with an alternative to conventional artwork. She proceeds to detail his Los Angeles exhibition and according to her, the paintings could have had more impact in their original location; on billboards and walls3.
She suggests that Banksy’s paintings have power on location and generally tend to lose their appeal when transferred onto canvas. She also reviews the artist’s character and points out the weaknesses that come with Banksy’s insistence on anonymity3.
She only sees this as a way to avoid artistic responsibility and concludes that this will only limit his success and keep him always trying to defend himself. She however sees Banksy as a success in the sense that he has managed to pit himself against the conventional art world and somehow managed to come out on top3.
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She also has no issue with Banksy selling his artwork to the very people it was created to satirize because she believes that even artists deserve to earn a decent living. Towards the end of the article, Katherine highlights how Banksy’s anonymity comes back to haunt him when one of his admirers sneaks into one of his exhibitions and displays an antiestablishment painting in the midst of Banksy’s paintings3.
Hellen Weaver in her review sees the strength of Banksy’s artwork as laying in the fact that he portrays his messages in a way that would easily be understandable to an average individual4. This strength is constant whether the paintings are on a wall in the street or are installations in a museum environment. She also describes most of Banksy’s work as drawing inspiration from the political arena4.
She supports this conclusion by citing the optical illusion that Banksy created on the Palestinian side of the Israel separation wall in West Bank alongside the life sized sculpture he planted in a Disneyland ride. She also declares his inspiration as “anti-war, anti-capitalist and anti-establishment obsessions” 4.
Brian Sewell is probably the most radical and the harshest of Banksy critics5. He is on record having said that Banksy should have been gotten rid off at birth. He is against the policy by the Bristol City council to retain some of Banksy’s graffiti work when some were taken down and regards the popularity of Banksy as a loss of standards in the art world5.
He regards him as a clown who has nothing to do with art and believes that the public has been coerced into appreciating his graffiti work through his anonymity antics5.
Charlie Booker joins the likes of Brian Sewell and Jonathan Jones in dismissing Banksy’s work as rubbish6. He describes Banksy’s work as ‘imbecilic daublings’, and regards his efforts as an easy way to get famous. He cites the way Banksy prominently signs off his work and claims that the only message that the artist wants to convey is that he is the one responsible for the ‘vandalism’6.
Aside from offering criticism on the artists work, Booker also goes ahead to dismiss Banksy’s character describing him as a show-off. He picks statements from Banksy’s website and uses them to support his argument that Banksy is embarrassing, tenuous and pseudo-subversive6.
Barnard also has an issue with the social meaning that Banksy tries to attach to his work. He cites the painted elephant terming it as a useless display in the sense that it does not address a particular issue6.
Adam Barnard in his article the anger management is not working declares Banksy a situationist7. He sees is work as capitalizing on the absolute lack of enlightening politics in the United Kingdom.
He describes Banksy’s graffiti on city walls as beautifying and at the same time providing for critical inspiration. To him (Barnard), Banksy’s work adds color to both physical and political landscapes. He claims that Banksy’s stencils are more exciting art experiences to common citizens than the estranged experiences of London’s new art institution7.
He sees Banksy’s work as a satiric criticism of figures in authority and applauds him for opening the way for contemporary artists through abolition and realization7. He sees this artwork as following on the works of Duchamp and James Reid. Barnard like other art reporters and critics is optimistic that more Banksy art work is on the way7.
According to James Gaddy, Banksy is the most recognized street artist alive and he even proclaims him a mythic hero8. He agrees that Banksy’s early work displayed great talent both in drawing and stencil cutting8.
He however feels disappointed by Banksy’s move to sell his artwork to the same people he has spent his life criticizing and hopes that the money made from the Los Angeles exhibition goes into more street art8. Gaddy sees the move as Banksy arriving at a point of irresolution, where he finds it hard to decide whether to continue the thought provoking street art or to create the commercial artwork that fetches him impressive money8.
He concludes that Banksy’s move to the galleries greatly reduces the influence of his work as compared to the power it has on the streets. He also sees Banksy’s career on the street coming to an end as his artwork continues to appreciate in value and his growing fame making it hard for him to pull off more street work8. He (Gaddy) looks forward to Banksy’s new work and like most people does not mind the anticipation of finding out where he will strike next8.
Miranda Sawyer describes Banksy’s work as antiestablishment in the sense that he criticizes many contemporary icons9. She sees his work as a more direct form of expression as compared to fine art9. She considers his work as an approach used by his generation to communicate their deep seated feelings9. She describes his exhibition at the Bristol City Museum as a celebration of the ‘stuffiness of the institution’ while at the same time teasing it9.
In the book Pauline Frommer’s London, Banksy’s work has been described as an attack on corporate greed and government surveillance10.
His work is also portrayed as a way of venting anger against war. Cochra and Frommer admit that Banksy is not a superhero and they claim that he gets the inspiration for his work in the same way that a political cartoonist does10.
According to the authors, Banksy’s work has received so much acclaim that many people would not want to prosecute him for vandalism but would instead want to shake his hand and congratulate him for the messages he passes across10.
Louise Amoore and Marieke de Goede have published a risk and war on terror in which Banksy’s work is described as an interruption of traditional urban or art places11. The authors go ahead to cite his introduction of a hooded inflatable Guantanamo detainee in Disneyland as a political operation. This act, they claim is viewed as an illustration of what society can turn to if culture is always presented without factoring in the aspect of politics11.
This essay has studied and analyzed various written works by both art critics and art reporters on the graffiti art of Banksy. The varied opinions by the said groups of people regarding the impact of the artist’s work and sometimes the artist himself have been reviewed in the paper. A number of issues have arisen from the discussion above including:
- Whether Banksy’s stencil works should be referred to as art or are they simply acts of vandalism.
- Whether the pseudonymous character that Banksy has tried to maintain for such a long time is serving him justice.
- Whether the newly acquired celebrity status and money will affect Banksy’s street art career.
In their arguments and criticism of the work however, the individuals included in the report have come to a few agreements regarding Banksy’s work. These include:
- Banksy is a modern day phenomena judging from the number of people that attend his exhibitions and the incredible figures that his art-work fetches.
- Banksy’s work is generally inspired by politics and that his art tends to support the message of the greater populace which is under oppression by the ruling class.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that Banksy has come a long way from the days he started as a common street vandal to an artist with a cult following. His impeccable skills and daring antics accompanied by his anonymity have transformed him into a modern day Houdini. As an artist, his work will continue to receive criticism from all sectors of society and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future if he continues to do more daring street-work and manages to evade the authorities.
1Jonathan Jones, “Best of British?,” The Guardian, July 2007.
2Joanne Phillips, “What can we learn from Banksy,” Green places, October 2009.
3Katherine Satorius, “Viewpoint,” Artweek, February 2007.
4Hellen Weaver, “Banksy: Bristol city museum and gallery,” Art American Magazine, September 2009.
5 “Newsmaker: Banksy.” CNN.com. 2 November 2007.
6Charlie Brooker, “Supposing … Subversive genius Banksy is actually rubbish,” The Guardian, September 2006.
7Adam Barnard, “The anger management is not working,” Capital and Class, 2004.
8James Gaddy, “Nowhere man,” Print Mag, January/February, 2007.
9Miranda Sawyer, “In pictures: Bansky versus Bristol City Museum,” The Guardian, June 2009.
10James Cochra and Pauline Frommer, Pauline Frommer’s London. (Chichester: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, 2007), 185.
11Louise Amoore and Marieke de Goede, Risk and war on terror. (London: Routledge, 2008), 245.
Amoore, Louise and Marieke de Goede, Risk and war on terror. London: Routledge, 2008.
Barnard, Adam. “The anger management is not working.” Capital and Class, 2004.
Brooker Charlie. “Supposing … Subversive genius Banksy is actually rubbish.” The Guardian, September 2006.
Cochra, James and Pauline Frommer, Pauline Frommer’s London. Chichester: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, 2007.
Gaddy, James. “Nowhere man.” Print Mag, January/February 2007.
Jones, Jonathan. “Best of British?.” The Guardian, July 2007.
“Newsmaker: Banksy.” CNN.com. 2 November 2007. http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/11/02/ww.banksy/index.html
Phillips, Joanne. “What can we learn from Banksy.” Green places, October 2009.
Satorius, Katherine. “Viewpoint.” Artweek, February 2007.
Sawyer, Miranda. “In pictures: Bansky versus Bristol City Museum.” The Guardian, June 2009.
Weaver, Hellen. “Banksy: Bristol city museum and gallery.” Art American Magazine, September 2009.