It was either last year or the year before that my sister came home from art at school and promptly introduced me to the artist ‘Banksy’. After we checked out some history on the guy we learned more about his stencil-based works and origins. Banksy is from Bristol, and there are a lot of his works in and around the city of London. There was a few in Sydney and Melbourne a couple of years back, but they were buffed, so you can’t find them anymore.
I’m in London. So, in short, I went looking for Banksy pieces this week.
I should probably take a moment here to express my opinion in general about graffiti.
It started more as a coping mechanism than anything else. I mentally divide what I see into two groups.
The first group I classify as graffiti. This includes general vandalism, ‘tagging’ and slogans designed specifically to offend some group or tell the rest of the world about someone’s conquests or the contents of their pants. I don’t really like these. They are frequently messy, and do little to make the environment a better or more interesting place.
But then, this guy could go into business if he wanted. It’s highly possible that he gains some benefit from the escapades, since he can so obviously maintain an agent, however anonymous he might be to Joe Public. But that would involve becoming part of the system – dancing because the man wants you to, not because you wish to step outside of the box.
I like metaphors.
Anyway. Where were we?
Over the course of the week, I researched what pieces were still in existence, scribbling notes down from a combination of internet and a book I’d picked up from the Tate Modern. Its nickname is ‘BLT’ (Banksy Locations and Tours, volume 1, from Martin Bull). So, I’d flick through the book, looking for the status of the piece. The tours are pretty much obsolete, since so many pieces have been either removed or flogged off on eBay. But I scribbled down the ones that were.
Directions kinda looked like this:
So I’d set off in the morning with my notebook, a compass the size of my thumbnail, and my tube map that was literally marked with several ‘X’ points – tube stations I’d disembark from. Maps weren’t easy for me since they’d either be too vague or too direct. Instead, I’d walk in a cardinal direction until a bus stop turned up – they would have a local map and that would be the method for finding the piece.
This method was fun. An adventure, if you like. I would frequently get lost, walk to a bus stop, check the map and head out again. There was a lot of walking involved, but walking was kinda what I had not done so much of since getting a driver’s license last year. I would seriously stake that fitness in young kids goes down once they are able to drive – no more walking places (!). Anyway. Lots of walking. I enjoyed it because the shoes were able to take it. And there was sun, in spite of the cold (you know, enjoying a high of 7 degrees – that sort of thing.). Tips? Don’t panic. Use landmarks rather than ‘take the first right, then the third left; diverge to the south and take the second exit on the roundabout’ (Give me directions like this and I’ll nod dumbly, knowing that the info is going straight in and straight out.) I will gladly take ‘keep going past the chicken shop’ over that any day. Even pointing and vaguely saying ‘it’s that way’ will work better.
Initially, progress was slow. My first day saw a grand total of two pieces visited. Admittedly, I didn’t head out until late morning, but once the method was better defined, searching became a lot more fun.
What became interesting as the days of searching went on was that my mind became more aware of wall-scribblings that I passed. On more than one occasion, I passed a piece not on my list and wondered idly if it might have been a new piece that wasn’t yet listed.
This little guy was on the other side of the road from the ‘Tesco’ piece. At the bottom of the art deco cinema. And it was unmistakeably an art deco cinema. I had my doubts as to where the building was when I first entered the street, because it wasn’t immediately next to the station I had listed in the bearings. And then I started looking around and on sighting the…thing…it became clear, without a shadow of a doubt, that that was the art deco cinema. It wasn’t so much a ‘light bulb’ moment as a confirmation of perfect clarity. Because there was absolutely nothing else on the entire street that was as tiled or as gaudy.
Of course, not all of these finds were in tiptop condition. Workplace hazard, I guess.
Of course, there was also the Gas Mask girl.
Kathy (my aunt) and I encountered her in Brick Lane, post-leather-jacket adventure that was Saturday arvo. We were walking towards a bus-stop, and suddenly as we walked over to the corner I realised what the slew of black and white was.
Me: “Hey! It’s the Gas Mask Girl!”
Me: “The Gas Mask Girl. It’s a Banksy. It’s like, the only one left in Europe or something. Just gimme a sec here. (Takes photo)
Kathy: “Well I’m glad you knew what it was ‘cause I had no idea.”
I hadn’t put Gas Mask Girl in my shortlist, simply because the information that went with it from the BLT read like this:
“Status: Extremely faded and often attacked by the remanets of fly posters (July 2010), but it’s the only example I know of in the UK, so it might just be worth a visit if you are desperate.”
A couple days ago, I started putting pen to paper over the idea of graffiti. I’ve not been in the middle of it, but there were taggers in my year. I knew them and ‘who’ they were and what they did, since I’d often see it around town, or, back when we were in school, I’d hear them talking about what they’d done the night before. Back then, I asked them how they developed a tag. They had explained that there were two things you did.
The first was that you found a word to become your ‘tag’. It had to represent some part of you – it was, after all, yours. It also had to be short and simple – a logistics point, so that you could throw it up quickly. The second part was choosing how it looked – usually involving finding a font on the internet you liked or simply developing the tag over time. That was it.
Well, almost it. My headspace was placed somewhere in between these massive pieces of street art and the simple science of scribbling part of your essence on someone’s wall. So, I started thinking about the logistics. This is what happened after that.
“It seems to me that graffiti is, essentially, a point of identity. No human wants to go from the cradle to the grave unnamed. Each of us, as individuals, seems to house an innate desire to be recognised as a person. As someone who mattered.
Graffiti is one of those outworkings – I was here. I was here. I existed. I mattered. I want to matter.
In this way I see God’s character reflected, as oddly as it may seem – that this scribbling has manifested as a desire to see individual character and existence recognised.
One of the reasons I have come to appreciate some street artists is because they are akin to…how do I say this?...like, if this was the Matrix, they’d be the ‘glitches’. The little things to give us evidence that the Agents are up to something. Some sort of black-humour reality check. All is not well; that somewhere in the system over our heads, something is going on.”