Break out the bandwidth for the new Webby Person of the Year, awarded earlier this week to that audacious and elusive genius of graffiti, Banksy, whose month-long New York City “residency” in 2013, “Better Out Than In,” showcased the power of social media and its collaborative influence on the impact of art. For four weeks in October, the mysterious British artist kept enthralled followers guessing at the sites of his “guerilla” creations scattered around the city, via postings on Instagram, YouTube, and his own website.
I’m more than late to the Banksy party, not having followed him at all closely, though he’s long been on the periphery of the radar for anyone interested in cultural matters. From afar, I would hear about his latest adventures and register a vague — and as it turns out, unjustified — sense of gimmickry. Now, delving more deeply into the Banksy experience, I come away hard-pressed to think of an iconoclast more perfectly suited to the times, a prodigious talent not afraid to break the rules — and the law, many would say — forging forward with the ultimate goal of making people think.
As a newbie to the whole Banksy thing, I’d say my first surprise was at the broadness of his artistic reach (which includes film and painting), being most familiar with the stencil drawings found on the walls and streets that’s he’s chosen as grungy canvasses around the world. Next was his facility with words and ability to use language to bring home his message, which is perhaps best summarized in his quote, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
The two examples featured here, taken from “Better Out Than In,” present both the consistency of that message as well as the breadth of technique in achieving its execution. (The series really should be viewed in its entirety to appreciate the wideness of imagination on display for those 31 days in New York.)
“The Street is in Play,” top, is in the signature stencil style and subversively Rockwellian. (It was vandalized in a matter of hours, par for the course in the transience of the Banksy terrain.) It stood in stylistic contrast to “Crazy Horses,” above, an Armageddon-like depiction, spray-painted on an automobile and the side of a truck found in NYC’s Lower East Side. Both highlight recurrent themes in Banksy’s work; the meta-like ability to juxtapose the unreal into a seamless narrative with reality, and, in the case of the latter, political commentary by way of the surrealism of war.
To see where things can’t be seen; it’s what I captured most as I pored over the Banksy landscape.
Not that everyone “sees” it quite the same way. A naysayer columnist once wrote in a London newspaper that…”[Banksy’s] work looks dazzlingly clever to idiots.”
So maybe I’m not that smart after all.