Posted by: martinworster | September 13, 2007


What did you spray?

Click to enlarge!When I lived in Barcelona I befriended Banksy’s – Bristol bred graffiti subversive prankster type – ex-manager and bought two original Banksy works. Now I’m thinking that was a good move judging by the furor over his latest exhibition ‘Barely Legal’ in a warehouse-come-gallery north of Compton, Los Angeles. His ex-manager allegedly fell out with Banksy after a disagreement about Banksy not wanting to do the cover art for a Coldplay album. Banksy had just done the cover for Blur’s ‘Think Tank’ showing a couple embracing wearing gas marks. I’m sure his ex-manager is now kicking himself as he cries all the way to the bank when instead he could have been laughing. Funnily enough, I also fell out with the ex-manager but that’s another story.

Click to enlarge!In true Banksy fashion the details of the event were not released till the day on his website, and even then they were purposefully vague. It said ‘Hollywood’ – when in fact it was in a warehouse gallery five miles south of Hollywood in a run down part of town. True to his prankster nature, and perhaps as a cheeky comment on celebritydom, Banksy wanted to have a giggle at getting the glamour set to a piss ridden, down at heel neighbourhood.

Click to enlarge!On arriving a white skirted angel floated from a mini hot air balloon tethered to the top of the gallery space (a warehouse) by a piece of rope. As I got close to the entrance a huge queue – or ‘line’ as they’re called here – snaked round the building. This wasn’t to get in but to buy some of the limited edition prints on sale as people panicked over owning a piece ‘the new Warhol’ (according to Esquire Magazine).

The main exhibit upon entering was what looked like an old UPS truck sprayed with pictures of riot police handling guns and looking menacing. On the back was a stock Banksy image of two Bobbies (British police officers) snogging – how shocking, the police gay? On the other side a young girl that could be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz was shown carrying a rope and noose suggesting she was about to hang herself. I soon found out that the night before was the celebrity opening and Brad Pitt and Angelina had bought the truck for half a million dollars, along with other paintings and sculptures. As is normal with these art shows, and despite Banksy’s snipes at capitalism and the cult of celebrity in his art, celebrities with cash to burn get first dibs on all the best pieces. It seems like Banksy subverts his own subversiveness.

Further in, a real elephant stood painted pink to match the wallpaper of the mock living room enclosed by picket fence area where a man sat on a sofa feeding it. This madeall the news as a animal rights activists accused Banksy of cruelty and negligence. True to Banksy’s remarkable nack for using gimmicks to gain column inches, the ploy ensured all of LA knew who was in town, both elephant and mr spray can with work to sell still smelling of fresh aerosole.

Around the space lots of new Banksy works were shown. Typical Banksy themeswere explored; anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-everything else that it is ‘trendy’ to not like. The messages are simple and clear, sometimes verging on the adolescent as if they were clumsy scrawlings on A Level text book covers. Banksy also has a keen and wry commentary on the changing face of modern Britain, especially the pervasiveness of surveillance technologies as CCTVs seem to be a repetitive trope. As are rats, the police in riot gear, gas masks, balloons and militariana.

He has a series of works that show old master classics remixed by Banksy with daubed over comments or images. A Constablesque landscape is blighted by a trashed red car in the foreground. An Elizabethan woman is shown in full era costume and a black rubber gimp mask zipped up over her head. How shocking.


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