Graffiti as anarchist art

When most people think of art, they think of stuffy rooms filled with middle-aged socialites poring over sometimes confusing messes of paint splattered onto a bleak white canvas. However, there are more accessible, abstract forms of art that lurk outside of the studio and museum – the kind that aren’t necessarily as aesthetically pleasing or properly showcased, but can often carry a message so strong that it can be impossible to ignore. This is where U.K.-born graffiti artist Banksy comes in.

While technically Banksy is a “stencil artist” who uses a cut-out to apply his art to the walls of buildings and every other kind of paintable surface available, it is obvious that his frequently political artwork is much more than graffiti. His works have been called “satirical street art,” his humour dark and intentions clear.

Banksy wants people to look at his art and feel something. He started out as a freehand graffiti artist who became part of the Bristol underground scene, and used stencils as his way of painting due to its efficiency and speed. His drawings are mostly anti-war, anti-capitalist and anti-establishment—the typical targets of an anarchist.

He is thought of in varying lights: as a criminal, an artist, a political activist and a figure of anonymity. Because he keeps his identity a secret, he is able to go about his work the way he wants it: without having to popularly appeal to others.

Even his name is a pseudonym, keeping him safe from prying eyes and media. In the film Exit through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film, he is covered completely during interviews with a black hoodie, a piece of fabric that covers his entire face and a voice changer.

The film itself has been deemed “the first ever street art disaster movie,” and features Banksy and other artists in their natural environment, coating the city in paint. Each person shows off their own particular style, using many different materials and methods to showcase their talent. The filmmaker, Thierry Guetta, said that he enjoyed following the artists and capturing them on his video camera because he enjoyed what they were doing, their creativity.

“I thought it was nice that you would take stuff that you love, put it outside, and people can see it,” Guetta said.

One particular artist in the beginning of the movie caught my eye: Guetta’s cousin, who made mosaics of characters from the Space Invaders videogame and plastered them to various surfaces outside. He was soon recognized as “Space Invader” and was one of the many artists taking to the streets to express their own kind of art, using stickers, stencils, sculptures and other creative forms of expression. It was said that street art would become the “most countercultural movement since punk” and it held no boundaries, no rules.

Artists would scale walls, tuck themselves into crevices and even risk their own safety to display their art throughout the city. It seems as if these artists will go to extreme lengths to express themselves, and isn’t art about projecting feelings, showing a different kind of aesthetic beauty that can often be overlooked? Street art to some may seem destructive, a nuisance or an eyesore, but it is these artists who are making themselves noticed because they put their works right where everyone can see it; on the wall of their local stores, on the bus, even on the very street they walk on. While graffiti and street art may not be seen as art by some, it can be argued that people like Banksy, with his strong, often politically-focused messages, is turning something that used to be vandalism into something more.

By keeping his identity a secret, Banksy is letting his art speak for him, and its voice is loud.

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