Sunday, May 16, 2010

looking for banksy........

Toronto photographers were in a frenzy the early days of last week, looking for the graffiti art purported to have been left in several downtown backstreet locations by the notorious British street artist known as Banksy. His real identity has never been revealed. By him or anyone else, it seems. Doesn't that speak loudly to loyalty? The guy has been on the street-art scene close to 2 decades. He must have family, friends, business associates. No one has ever leaked his identity? He's either well loved or deeply feared *~*  His documentary film "Exit Through the Gift Shop", which premiered at the Sundance Festival in March, opened in Toronto last weekend & it's believed he landed in Toronto for the first time for that occasion. Come Monday morning the buzz was out.... Bansky had been here, leaving his mark on Toronto walls. Somehow the press had been coerced by their source into keeping the exact locations of the seven pieces vague, to deter vandals & taggers (graffiti artists who spray over others' work). The hunt was on. Wednesday, I too was tramping the downtown streets, in the pouring rain, looking for Banksy art. All I got was very wet & surprised at just how much graffiti is out there in downtown Toronto. I inadvertently located the laneway, several blocks long, that runs from Portland to Spadina filled with colourful graffiti from one end to the other. But no Banksy. Back at the computer, I learned that the Torontoist website had revealed all  ....images of what one was looking for, exact locations & their current condition. Graffiti is public art & public access its intended form, they declared, and the vandals & taggers will find it regardless. Only 3 remain, though one of those has been seriously tagged. The others have either been completely painted over, removed or tagged beyond recognition. The biggest surprise was to learn that one of them (above) is only steps from my own front door. It may well be the only one to survive due to the fact that management at Fionn MacCool's bar, on whose backwall it appeared, hired a security guard for 2 nights until a professional was found to seal it over with clear plastic (see below). There is heated debate on various internet sites ...some vehemently call Banksy a phoney, not a true street artist (he uses stencils to create his images), some cry foul at the vandalism & tagging while others argue that that is the very nature of street is meant to be transitory. How did Banksy attain such international notoriety? Intrigue always helps.....the secret identity he maintains, the enigmatic overnight appearances of his pieces in various cities around the world. He must do it in the middle of the night. Does he take a cohort with him to keep a look-out for the inevitable wandering night-owls? In a National Post article on Banksy's art, photographer Tong Lam calls it "a cultural phenomenon......a critique of capitalism (that) has itself become a commodity" Indeed, his pieces now sell for tens of thousands of dollars. In 2008 a collection of his works on canvas went for the equivalent of over half a million dollars, by British auction. What a to-do! The debates rage, the vandals deface, the photographers hunt & click & Banksy, clever fellow, has invaluable free publicity for his newly released film , over 100 pages of google links & is surely laughing all the way to the bank.

The watchers watch a banksy wall. (west side of Church, just north of The Esplanade.) The Torontoist intimates that the Banksy tag, in childlike scrawl, which the watchers appear to be watching, is in fact the artist's mark. Fact or interpretation on their part, who knows? Doesn't matter. Whoever put it there knew the exact position that would serve best. Kind of like finding the precise spot for the football in what was probably one of the earliest capitalistic dream factories hoisted on gullible contemporary society, a cultural phenomenon now obsessive & addictive to a frightening global degree ....the lottery! Littlewoods' Football Pools. Get bulls-eye on the football's position in the stop-play photograph & you too can be a millionaire ! 

 Usually satirical in nature, Banksy's message is often anti-establishment, anti-capitalist, anti-war. What is Bansky alluding to here? That the sheep-like mentality of our society has us gaping at a scrap of concrete wall, as directed by the artist, rather than marching to our own drummer ? Kris Kristofferson had something to say on that subject some time back, when his career was at its prime. " Imagine alien life looking down on us... what must they think seeing one person getting paid thousands of dollars to do what they'd rather be doing than anything else on earth & thousands of other people paying a lot of money to watch them do it. " That's my momentary take on it anyway. Like all art, it's open to subjective interpretation. Men in business attire / bankers / the global banking fiascos? A simple statement on societies' response to graffiti? Does Banksy make simple statements? I doubt it *~* He began as a freehand graffiti artist, part of the industrial city of Bristol's underground movement of the early 90's.  He switched to the stencilling technique in 2000 because, as he himself has said, it's easier & faster therefore better suited to surreptitious execution. This is the piece (above) that is around the corner from my place. And to me the most intriguing of the 3 I've seen. I'm happy to have it so accessible, available to muse on when the mood takes. Also, I'm curious as to whether it will last or will someone determined enough figure out how to vandalize it, pry the protection off, find the right tool to slice through the plastic, mar the material like a keyed car. I'll keep you posted. It is, in fact, high quality plastic, it doesn 't hinder clear viewing of the work, though optimum viewing & photography can only be obtained at certain times of the day as it's fiercely vulnerable to reflections depending on the sun's position.

Banksy's rat is alive & well & living on Spadina Ave, just north of Queen. And wearing sunglasses. In disguise? Rats are a common motif in Banksy's work. As are monkeys, policemen, soldiers, children & the elderly. The location of this particular rat is the heart of Chinatown, the immediate area where restaurants were closed down by the city health department in 2009.... for unacceptable preparation standards & rat, mice & cockroach infestation. Do you suppose Banksy knew that?

On the back of the old Provincial Police Headquarters, on Lakeshore between Bay & York. Only the policeman & leashed balloon dog is Banksy original The dodo bird on head & the writing is tagged. The "thanks" balloon no doubt left by an admirer.

A uniformed armed police officer holds the leash of a pink balloon dog, the kind handed out by clowns to amuse children, a balloon dog that needs to be muzzled. Banksy's mockery of law enforcement, even as he vandalizes their own bastion? The possibilities are endless. Thanks, Banksy. Your visit has left much food for thought!