May 30, 2023, 05:55AM

You Can Take That $ to the Banksy

At least art still holds an unnatural reverence in the mind’s collective public eye.

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A recent spring trip to Philly visiting the “Banksy was Here” exhibit left me weirdly inspired. It dredged up discouraging emotions about the state of the arts. It’s mind-numbing considering how many mediocre bad paintings sell for big bucks, burned into the public’s artsy-fartsy consciousness. It’s disturbing to note these interactive shows are popping up along the big city tour routes as the new popular “go to” norm for a quick public art fix. At least art still holds an unnatural reverence in the mind’s collective public eye.

I purposely missed last year’s Van Gogh show, produced by the same corporate entity that’s pushing Banksy today. It’s 30 bucks a pop to get in, and for an additional nominal fee, visitors can wear sanitized VR goggles to view the artificial graphic effects experience of 3–D paintings. Van Gogh was considered mad. He sold just one painting during his lifetime. But his creative life visage can be had a for a fistful of dollars and a ticket reservation. The artist that cut off an ear, contracted VD, had a series of insane episodes, died by suicide, or was mysteriously murdered is much likelier a romanticized story than Banksy’s own story ever was.

The people who brought you the Van Gogh show/total immersion experience are now touring and touting Banksy. Like Hollywood star/wife killer, of Baretta TV show fame, Robert Blake's catchphrase line, “You can take that to the bank.” As for Banksy, he certainly has done well with that. Traveling art shows are the cultural hotspots for young and old alike. Bring the kids, there’s a new audience of art lovers who wouldn’t normally go to a stuffy old museum to gawk at dusty antiquities and old dinosaur bones. It’s hip to be square nowadays, at least according to Elvis Costello. But that’s a different sort of hip/square story. You need an open mind, keeping your options closed as opinions. You don’t need to be a hipster to enjoy art, it’s intellectual fun for the whole family. The art market is very alive and always profitable. I don’t know what it is, but I know what I like. Not everybody likes art.

For art aficionados everywhere, the artificial intelligence extravaganza is showing off its colorful stuff for a limited time, on display in your city. Banksy’s from England, raised in working-class Bristol, and knocking around London. A prolific artist who rose to prominence in the 1990s, Banksy combines graffiti, stencils, and collage with a dark sociopolitical, anti-war/pro-peace, anti-everything themed humor that touches upon all his works. The juxtaposition of soft visuals and hard-edged images. Smiley faces on war tanks, the famous loss of innocence stencil of a little girl with a blood-red heart-shaped balloon. Rats and policemen co-mingling in a dystopian world of dysfunctional society are some of the many strong arguments against this idea or that visual statement of storytelling Banksy makes.

My favorite Banksy installation was the 2.5-acre Dismaland bemusement park. It’s gone now but it was a surrealistic psychological psychedelic joyless ride. A scenic sculptural tableau theme park with images straight from hell. A carnival of chaotic lost souls. Down-and-out refugees on a sinking rowboat in a stinking swamp of capitalist nightmares. Like another all-time fave artist, Edward Kienholz, the American sculptor who created environments rich in symbolic details that hit home. When you finally realize what it is you’re looking at, the second time around you take another look.

It’s no secret Andy Warhol is a hero for Banksy. The assembly line mass-produced pop art imagery, which is so prevalent that if the 1960s were morphed into a kind of cookie-cutter stenciled stamp of approval for all street artists, Banksy would be the crowning king. But mainly SAMO, aka Jean Michael Basquiat, Keith Haring, and even before them all, a lone NYC graffiti artist tag named Shadowman, all the main characters who floated to the top of commercial success in the same period of time, before and after punk and the grand reawakening.

Who the hell is Banksy? Nobody claims to know his identity. This pseudo painter, anonymous prankster sainted trickster, street-savvy huckster, hustling his art in a traveling show. A complete unknown fraud cashing in on his notoriety. I like his moxie. Poking fun in the face of the royal monarchy. Winston Churchill with a Mohawk. Banksy, the punk spokesman troubadour of spray paint for a new generation of anarchists who have no dog in this race of racism and fascism. Say it loud enough, and maybe they’ll get it. Art with a message.

Banksy says: “Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colors and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall—it’s wet.”


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