Banksy’s graffiti pieces remain the most instantly recognisable in the world. On the other hand, the artist remains as mysterious than ever, and his face and identity have never been identified in the media. In the UK, many people believe that he is a male from Weston-super-Mare, where his controversial dystopian amusement park Dismaland was built two years ago. The new doc Saving Banksy sheds new light on Banksy’s as well as other graffiti artists’ stormy relation with the art industry, but not on the British artist’s deceptive persona.
San Francisco-based photographer and filmmaker Colin Day has crafted an insightful film about the journey that Banksy’s pieces take from their mysterious moment of conception, through the negotiations with property owners on how to cut off a chunk of their wall, all the way to dealing with arts collectors and museums. The movie reveals that Banksy’s pieces often snatch six- or even seven-figure sums, but that the artists never makes a single penny from those, and that he vehemently condemns such transactions through his official website (just click here in order accede to his official page).
The film is also populated with some Banksy’s witty claims revealing the subversive nature of his work. He puts it succinctly: “If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved, then rats are your ultimate role model”.
Several graffiti artists including Ben Eine and Blek Le Rat are interviewed, plus the work of many others such as Herakut (from Germany) and Os Gêmeos (from Brazil) is quickly displayed. They all seem to agree that graffiti belongs in the street, and that a piece of a graffiti inside an art gallery is like “the head of a deer on a wall”. They refuse the money-making apparatus in the name of democratic street art. The festering inadequacy of the art industry is wholly incompatible with the ideology of these artists.
But exceptions can be made. Banksy is happy to authenticate his work, as long as the exhibition is entirely free. He does that through his website, which seems to be his only way of communicating with the world.
Previously dismissed as vandalism, graffiti has now become a big industry – to the dismay of ferociously anti-capitalistic and anti-establishment artists. The doc also interviews the biggest Banksy art dealer in the world Stephan Keszler, and he purports to be Banksy’s greatest fan. When questioned about the fact that he sells Banksy’s pieces without the artist’s permission, he replies: how can Banksy challenge the nature of his job when when his work too is non-consensual (ie Banksy never talks to building owners before spraying their wall)?
All in all, graffiti artists refuse the futile and risible attempt to immortalise their work, which they perceive as a fleeting gesture, or a temporary intervention. Nothing is meant to last forever. And Banksy himself mocks the ephemerality of his work in a piece entitled “Erasing History”, in which a man appears to be cleaning previously existing graffiti with a high-pressure cleaner.
Many people (including myself) have questioned Banksy’s anonymous condition, suspicious that this is but a marketing ruse. Art dealers, museums, private collectors, police and media, which one of these are Banky’s accomplices, and which ones are being conned? Either way, and regardless of the size of his pool of accomplices, Banksy remains deeply inspiring and fascinating, an extremely necessary artist. Our inability to answer these questions just lends an extra layer of wit and complexity to his work, but the disappointingly the film does not address this issue.
No matter how much Banksy emphasises his anti-capitalistic values and credentials, doubts regarding his level of complicity with the many stakeholders in the art industry will continue to exist. One way or the other, one thing is certain: Banksy is laughing at us right now!
The exorbitant prices charged for pieces which are intended as an anti-capitalistic statement is not the only irony of the film. Saving Banksy is being made available on iTunes, and you have to pay a hefty viewing fee for watching the movie. In a way, Apple is cheating Banksy and monetising his work in a way not too different from Stephan Keszlar.
Saving Banksy was made two years ago, but it has only now been made available for viewing. You can buy it now by clicking here.
Here’s film trailer, which is entirely FREE to watch!