Friday, August 10, 2007


Greatest Britons is an awards show celebrating the best of British talent. It recognizes the creative and successful people from across the UK who've achieved worldwide fame. The categories are Greatest Living Briton (which HRM the Queen won), The Arts, Business, Fashion, Film, Global Achievement, Music, Sport, and Television. The winner of the arts award was very interesting to me on a couple of levels. The first being that it was the grafiti artist Banksy. Which is quite interesting cause unlike the famous grafiti artist I know of in the US he still paints on walls illegally. The second level is that Banksy has done some crazy stuff and is a very interesting character.
Banksy started as a freehand graffiti artist in the late 1990s. In 1998 he arranged the enormous 'Walls On Fire' graffiti jam along with fellow Bristol graffiti legend Inkie on the site of the future '@t Bristol' development. The weekend long event drew artists from all over the UK and Europe and his organisation of the event established his name within the European graffiti scene.

By 2000 he had turned to the art of stencilling after realising how much less time it took to complete a 'piece'. He claims he changed to stencilling whilst he was hiding from the police under a train carriage, and soon became widely noticed for his art around Bristol and London.

Banksy's stencils feature striking and humorous images occasionally combined with slogans. The message is usually anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment or pro-freedom. He also makes stickers (the Neighbourhood Watch subvert) and sculpture (the murdered phonebox), and was responsible for the cover art of Blur's 2003 album Think Tank.

One of Banksy techniques is producing subverted paintings. Banksy made a version of Monet's Water Lily Pond, with urban detritus such as litter and a shopping cart floating in its reflective waters. Another subverted painting is Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, redrawn to show that the characters are looking at an English football hooligan dressed only in his Union Flag boxers. The hooligan has just thrown an object through the glass window of the cafe. In 2005, Banksy started placing subverted artworks in the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In May 2005 Banksy's version of a primitive cave painting depicting a human figure hunting wildlife whilst pushing a shopping trolley was found hanging in the British Museum, London. Upon discovery, the museum added it to their permanent collection.

Banksy has a great "love" of anmials. In 2003 in a show called 'Turf War', held in a warehouse, he painted on animals. Although the RSPCA declared the conditions suitable, an animal rights activist chained herself to the railings in protestAt London Zoo, he climbed into the penguin enclosure and painted "We're bored of fish." in seven foot high letters. At the Bristol Zoo, he left the message "I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring, boring." in the elephant enclosure. Banksy held an exhibition called Barely Legal, billed as a "three day vandalised warehouse extravaganza" in Los Angeles. The exhibition featured a live 'elephant in a room', painted in a pink and gold floral wallpaper pattern to match the wallpaper of the room he was exhibited in.

Another prank that is intrigues me is that Banksy created an image of a naked man hanging out of a bedroom window on a wall in central Bristol. The Bristol City Council left it up to the public to decide whether it should stay or go. After an internet discussion in which 97% of the voters supported the stencil, the city council decided it would be left up on the building. I find it hard to believe that this would happen in the US.

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