PEOPLE EITHER LOVE THIS BOOK, OR THEY HATE IT, OR THEY'VE NEVER HEARD OF IT.
Banksy is the closest thing we have to Che Guevara. Except, as far as we know, he's never flunked medical school, shot anyone or attempted to foment revolution in the Congo, You will find, gathered lovingly together, in this book - the single best collection of photography of Banksy’s street work that has ever been assembled for print. If that isn't enough there are some words too.
Much to the chagrin of art schools everywhere, it is likely that Banksy will be the best remembered artist of post-millennial-depression Britain. His capacity to grab attention and deliver a message, often with a punch line or hidden layer of meaning would have landed him a great job in an advertising agency, Madison Avenue's loss is our gain. If you’ve never heard of Banksy, this book is all you'll ever need to read to be able to engage in pub table debates about the man and the legend.
When Banksy started out painting the political landscape was bleak. Fortunately now, it's ten times worse. So as Banksy’s cheerfully aggressive political work grows ever more relevant we take a stab at presenting his art in the context of the era he was responding to, looking at the issues his work was about.
So hopefully when Palestine is a free state and school kids of the future wonder why Banksy went to Bethlehem, it will all be clear.
Banksy goes to Bolivia to start a guerrilla uprising and gets shot to death? Could happen.
And maybe discover who Banksy really is.
Then go and tell someone who cares.
Introduction to the book by the author:
Graffiti is a form of guerilla warfare. It is a way of snatching power, territory and glory from a bigger and better equipped enemy. Banksy once characterized it as revenge. But revenge against who and for what? In the early 1990’s we witnessed the rise to power of a political class based on spin and big smiles. Tony Blair declared the class war over. The idea that all you needed to succeed was a positive attitude took hold in the UK as corporate culture grew more and more dominant. Meanwhile the trains were sold off to make millions for a cabal of financiers, largely at the tax payers' expense.
“Just doing a tag is about retribution. If you don’t own a train company then you go and paint on one instead.” Banksy, in a Simon Hattenstone interview for the Guardian in 2003
Throughout this period Banksy remained steadfast in pointing out that this 'Cool Britannia’ thing was all shit. He was the little boy who said that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. His campaign was massive and sustained like a well planned military action. He seemed to be everywhere you looked.
He reminded us all that we are the rats. In the sense of being an underclass he was right, social mobility dropped throughout the New Labour years. The gap between ‘the haves` and the ‘have-nots’ rapidly increased. The state surrendered control over capital at the same time as it increased control over civil society under the guise of anti-terror laws. New Labour dismantled civil liberties as enthusiastically as it screwed up the welfare state. But Banksy's rats celebrated a tough survival instinct too. He made them inventive and cunning - qualities you need in the ruthless culture of today. Not only did Banksy’s street work remind you that power does exist and it works against you, but also that power is not terribly efficient. It can be and should be deceived.
Banksy is a thinking street artist.
If he were not would he paint something like this...
“There are crimes that become innocent and even glorious through their splendour, number and excess.”
And that is the grand parody in all of Banksy's work. Through repetition and scale, any voice can become powerful. Which just goes to show how flimsy the basis of power really is. We are all vulnerable to this cacophony of noise we hear, this nightmarish choir of ideas directed at us through advertising and mass media. It's inevitable that it hypnotizes and confuses us. Great street art reveals that process and makes it laughable. l.. shows how so much of power is just theatre, using a certain symbol, design or way of communicating. By laughing at the spectacle we undermine its power and make room for a bit of original thought.
But, just a bit of room mind. No more than an acceptable level of threat.
4th edition, 2014, hardback, over 240 pages of Banksy’s work and commentary, full colour throughout, 21.x25.9cm