Banksy: Better Out Than In

The enigmatic Banksy, one of the most fascinating contemporary artists of his generation, is seemingly back to his best, meandering through the late night streets of New York and stamping his ironic imagery on absent buildings and the like.
On his website, he announced that throughout the entire month of October he will be “attempting to host an entire exhibition” on the streets of the Big Apple, describing it as a non-location specific artist’s residency.
The style and impudence remain, and while one might have assumed that this aesthetic and mood to have lost its energy, the fact of the matter is that Banksy is doing something quite fascinating and hard to really rationalise.
Though we’re certainly not painting him as an anarchist, he certainly eschews both societal and artistic conventions, remaining anonymous and carefree of what the establishment and elected officials think.
It began with a stencil of two urchin-like boys in Manhattan. It depicts one kid standing on the other, raised in a doomed attempt to grab a graffiti can from a sign labelled “graffiti is a crime”.
The next sketch to emerge is a non-pictorial statement that has been sprayed in a quintessentially tag-like font. Appearing in the West Side neighbourhood, the sign proclaims “This is my New York accent” followed by a secondary line that reads “… normally I write like this”.
Head to Manhattan now though and, as the artist noted in an audio guide that is accessible via a mobile – a nice touch that will feature as part of the show – you will find that the first work has been painted over by the city’s authorities. A cat and mouse game has thus begun.
The real winners of the Better Out Than In exhibition are the art-loving public and everyone else who happens to be caught up in the fanfare – if you amble past a Banksy on your commute to work or a social, you are cleverly engaged. However, it doesn’t impose, as two obvious outcomes emerge: you stop and stare or blink and walk on by nonplussed.
Street art does well to open up the often insular and much misunderstood world of art and creates a space for conversation that has no real structure other than what we know of life, graffiti and Banksy. At an intellectual level the English artist has a lot to say but equally, and this is part of the joy of it, most of it can be forgotten.
For a brief moment – because a Banksy work will either be destroyed or lifted – something irreverent, pretty, loaded and controversial. Say what you want about the artist, but anyone who has the capacity to generate such a mixed response is doing something. Right or wrong, that is quite a thing.
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