Banksy is a graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter. His satirical street art and subversive images combine dark humour with graffiti – for which he is occasionally excoriated.
Banksy makes political statements about subjects such as global warming, war, surveillance, and poor working conditions. His social commentary has appeared on the streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Most recently his work showed up in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg called him a vandal. Apparently, he was a person of interest to the NYPD for his graffiti and art installations. One creation was a fibreglass sculpture of a real person, barefoot and in ragged clothes, shining the oversized shoes of Ronald McDonald. The sculpture was unveiled in Queens but placed outside different McDonalds around the city every day.
“The Story Behind Banksy” by Will Ellsworth-Jones in the Smithsonian Magazine (February 2013) is as good an introduction as any to who this is artist is and what he represents:
“When Time magazine selected the British artist Banksy – graffiti master, painter, activist, filmmaker and all-purpose provocateur – for its list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2010, he found himself in the company of Barack Obama, Steve Jobs and Lady Gaga. He supplied a picture of himself with a paper bag (recyclable, naturally) over his head. Most of his fans don’t really want to know who he is (and have loudly protested Fleet Street attempts to unmask him). But they do want to follow his upward trajectory from the outlaw spraying – or, as the argot has it, ‘bombing’ – walls in Bristol, England, during the 1990s to the artist whose work commands hundreds of thousands of dollars in the auction houses of Britain and America. Today, he has bombed cities from Vienna to San Francisco, Barcelona to Paris and Detroit. And he has moved from graffiti on gritty urban walls to paint on canvas, conceptual sculpture and even film, with the guileful documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, which was nominated for an Academy Award.”
Now, the good burghers of Clacton-on-Sea in England have got their knickers in a twist over a Banksy mural showing a group of pigeons holding anti-immigration banners. It has been destroyed following a complaint that the work was “racist”.
The mural in Clacton-on-Sea – where a by-election has just taken place following the local MP’s defection to UKIP (that probably says it all) – appeared in the first week of October 2014. It depicted four pigeons holding signs saying “Migrants Not Welcome” , “Go Back to Africa”, and“Keep Off Our Worms” while a more exotic-looking bird looks, shall we say, somewhat crestfallen.
The District Council, which removed it, said it did not know it was by Banksy. Officials commented that they had received a complaint that the mural was “offensive” and “racist”. Banksy, who chooses not to sign his works, posted pictures of the work on his website. By the time word had spread, the mural had already been effaced.
Nigel Brown, communications manager for the council, reportedly said: “The site was inspected by staff who agreed that it could be seen as offensive and it was removed in line with our policy to remove this type of material within 48 hours.”
Is there no sense of irony in Clacton-on-Sea? Or a whiff of a sense of humour? It is a seaside town, after all. Of course, now that they know the mural was by a world-famous artist, “We would obviously welcome an appropriate Banksy original on any of our seafronts and would be delighted if he returned in the future.”
“Appropriate” probably means saucy like Donald McGill’s postcards and not thoughtful or challenging or critical or provocative. Small chance that Banksy will be back.