Banksy pink car, Old Truman Brewery, 2007, Ravish London


Banksy's Pink Car
@www.ravishlondon.com

A new London landmark, Banksy's pink car has become legendary. Unfortunately the Perspex box now protecting it from more graffiti is rather like the gilding of the lily.

Banksy is, in case you don't know, London's street artist par excellence.

The car has been here for years, before Banksy approached it and gave it a new pink coating and a driver.

The whole piece would be better without the new Perspex box that has been put on top of it. Who cares if someone scrawls over it? Part of the beauty of street art is its transient nature. Enjoy it whilst its there. It's perfectly acceptable if some young Turk wants too approach it and do his or her own stuff, even if its to paint, 'PKK rules' or 'Hussein 2007'.

More on Banksy

Banksy considers himself to be a graffiti artist, which is what he grew up doing in the Bristol area in the late eighties. According to Hattenstone (2003) Banksy, who was expelled from his school, and who spent some time in prison for petty crimes, started graffiti at the age of 14, quickly switching over to stencils, which he uses today, because he didn't find he had a particular talent for the former. His work today involves a mixture of graffiti and stencils although he has shown a capacity for using a multitude of materials.

Key works in London have included:

  • In London Zoo he climbed into the penguin enclosure and painted "We're bored of fish" in six-foot-high letters.
  • In 2004 he placed a dead rat in a glass-fronted box, and stuck the box on a wall of the Natural History Museum.
  • 'A designated riot area' at the bottom of Nelson's Column.
  • He placed a painting called Early Man Goes to Market, with a human figure hunting wildlife while pushing a shopping trolley, in the British Museum.

His work seems to be driven by an insatiable desire to go on producing. In an interview with Shepherd Fairey he said, 'Anything that stands in the way of achieving that piece is the enemy, whether it's your mum, the cops, someone telling you that you sold out, or someone saying, "Let's just stay in tonight and get pizza." Banksy gives the impression of being a person in the mould of Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher or Lance Armstrong. Someone with undoubted talent and yet a true workaholic dedicated to his chosen profession.

Its also driven by the buzz of 'getting away with it'. He said to Hattenstone, 'The art to it is not getting picked up for it, and that's the biggest buzz at the end of the day because you could stick all my shit in Tate Modern and have an opening with Tony Blair and Kate Moss on roller blades handing out vol-au-vents and it wouldn't be as exciting as it is when you go out and you paint something big where you shouldn't do. The feeling you get when you sit home on the sofa at the end of that, having a fag and thinking there's no way they're going to rumble me, it's amazing... better than sex, better than drugs, the buzz.'

Whilst Banksy has preferred to remain anonymous he does provide a website and does the occasional interview putting his work in context (see the Fairey interview).

Banksy's anonymity is very important to him. Simon Hattenstone, who interviewed Banksy in 2003, said it was because graffiti was illegal, which makes Banksy a criminal. Banksy has not spoken directly on why he wishes to maintain his anonymity. It is clear that Banksy despises the notion of fame. The irony of course is that 'Banksy' the brand is far from being anonymous, given that the artist uses it on most if not all of his work. In using this brand name Banksy helps fulfil the need, which fuels a lot of graffiti artists, of wanting to be recognised, the need of ego.

Banksy is not against using his work to 'pay the bills' as he puts it. He has for example designed the cover of a Blur album, although he has pledged never to do a commercial job again, as a means of protecting his anonymity. Nevertheless he continues to produce limited edition pieces, which sell in galleries usually for prices, which give him a bit of spending money after he has paid the bills. Banksy has said, 'If it's something you actually believe in, doing something commercial doesn't turn it to shit just because it's commercial' (Fairey, 2008). Banksy has over time passed from urban street artist into international artistic superstar, albeit an anonymous one.

Banksy has a definite concern for the oppressed in society. He often does small stencils of despised rats and ridiculous monkeys with signs saying things to the effect of 'laugh now but one day we'll be in charge'. Whilst some seem to read into this that Banksy is trying to ferment a revolutionary zeal in the dispossessed, such that one day they will rise up and slit the throats of the powers that be, so far his concern seems no more and no less than just a genuine human concern for the oppressed. Some of what seems to fuel his work is not so much his hatred of the system but at being at the bottom of it. He said to Hattenstone (2003) 'Yeah, it's all about retribution really... Just doing a tag is about retribution. If you don't own a train company then you go and paint on one instead. It all comes from that thing at school when you had to have name tags in the back of something, that makes it belong to you. You can own half the city by scribbling your name over it'

Charlie Brooker of the Guardian has criticised Banksy for his depictions of a monkey wearing a sandwich board with 'lying to the police is never wrong' written on it. Certainly such a black and white statement seems out of kilter with more balanced assessments that Banksy has made. Brooker challenges Banksy asking whether Ian Huntley would have been right to have lied to the police?

Brooker has also criticized Banksy for the seemingly meaninglessness of some of this images. Brooker says, 'Take his political stuff. One featured that Vietnamese girl who had her clothes napalmed off. Ho-hum, a familiar image, you think. I'll just be on my way to my 9 to 5 desk job, mindless drone that I am. Then, with an astonished lurch, you notice sly, subversive genius Banksy has stencilled Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald either side of her. Wham! The message hits you like a lead bus: America ... um ... war ... er ... Disney ... and stuff.' Brooker has seemingly oversimplified Banksy's message, if indeed Banksy has one, to fuel his own criticisms. It is easy to see that for many the Vietnam painting tells us that the United States likes to represent itself with happy smiling characters, that hide the effects of its nefarious activities responsible for the real life faces of distress seen on the young girl. Something that we should be constantly reminded of. But then that's a matter of politics not of meaninglessness.

Banksy's ingenuity comes through in his philosophy on progression, 'I'm always trying to move on' he says. In the interview he gave with Shepherd Fairey he explained that he has started reinvesting his money in to new more ambitious projects which have involved putting scaffolding put up against buildings, covering the scaffolding with plastic sheeting and then using the cover of the sheets to do his paintings unnoticed.

Banksy has balls. Outside of London he has painted images in Disney Land; and on the Israeli wall surrounding Palestine. How far is he willing to push it? What about trying something at the headquarters of the BNP, or on army barracks, or at a brothel or strip club employing sex slaves, or playing around with corporate advertising a la Adbusters?

Date Article Written: 2008



Contact Details and References

Address
Banksy's Pink Car, Els Yard, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QL

Telephone

Email

Opening Hours

Cost

References

  • Banksy website
  • I am Banksy, Esquire magazine
  • Peacock, F. (2007) Why my Banksy piece is going under the hammer, The Guardian.
  • Banksy shop.
  • Valley, P. (2006) Banksy: the joker, The Independent.
  • Fairey, S. (2008) Interview with Banksy, Swindle.
  • Brooker, C. (2006) Supposing... Subversive genius Banksy is actually rubbish, The Guardian, September 2006
  • Hattenstone, S. (2003) Something to Spray? The Guardian.