A news story was published recently that you have probably come across (1). HM Reading Prison also known as Reading Gaol, closed in 2013, was proposed to be turned into a residence, while some opponents wanted it to be turned into an art center. While these discussions were going on, one morning it was noticed that graffiti had appeared on the wall of this old prison. In the work, a prisoner escapes by making knots of papers coming out of a typewriter. Many commented that the person in the work might be Oscar Wilde, who had been detained in Reading Prison, 1895-1897. Wilde wrote the poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, one of his best-known works, in this prison. Wilde’s well-known verse “/ Yet each man kills the thing he loves / By each let this be heard. / Some do it with a bitter look, / Some with a flattering word. / The coward does it with a kiss, / The brave man with a sword!’ /was written in this prison.
Almost immediately everyone started talking about this incident, wondering if this work belonged to Banksy.
So, the owner of this work of Banksy is who?
When Time Magazine included him in the list of “100 most influential names of the year” in 2010, he shared his image with a paper bag on his head, and even the documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, which he prepared himself, was nominated for the Oscar Awards and everyone was left to wonder whether he would participate in the ceremony, and you guessed it – it was mysterious. Some claim that the artist Banksy is a group of people and those who claim he is the soloist of the band Massive Attack… While many people are looking for his trace, we only have the generally accepted information that is believed to be true: He was born in 1974 in Bristol, United Kingdom.
Even if you haven’t heard about him, you probably remember the news about ‘The Girl with Balloons’, which just after it was sold in 2018, slipped down from its frame and was torn to pieces by a paper shredder mechanism (3). Everyone was shocked, I think most of all the lady who bought the work, whose name was undisclosed. Most of us have watched the video of the news; When it said that once it had been sold, an alarm sounded from the painting and the work performed a performance on its own, self-destructing in front of everyone’s eyes and this was realized an act of art. While discussing who carried out the incident, Banksy posted on his Instagram account (4), so we understood that this was his act. Then he even made a statement as follows: “As Picasso said, the impulse to destroy is also a creative impulse.” It was the product of a fine mind! If you ask what is performance art; it ‘is a type of art that has a beginning and an end in time, limited in time, while a painting is fixed in time, stationary. Banksy added a meaningful memory to the sale of his work, as he was someone who pondered who art belongs to. But this work, which was eventually fragmented, was more valuable than its original form.
Why Banksy is of interest to me, is because at a time when everyone is sharing themselves from moment to moment, the mystery is lost, if you are not seen it is thought to be nonexistent, whereas he conceals himself carefully and stubbornly. He wrote “overrated graffiti artist” in the section introducing himself on his Instagram profile, in other words, an “overrated graffiti artist!
Banksy does not say who he is, nor does he announce in advance where we can encounter his works. Suddenly, he specifies a place somewhere in the world and announces it to his surroundings, then people who walk by then talk about it, and by sharing it, he continues the obscurity of personal identity. Of course, when this is the case, works that are said to be his show up in many places. The artist has created a digital solution on this issue and publishes fake and real works on his own site. The artist communicates with us through his social media accounts and website (5), thus determining his own boundaries and using technology within the boundaries he wishes. It seems as if he is saying, ” I have no person, these are my works”!
Banksy is an artist who creates his message-based works on walls in various parts of the world, especially in the UK. Using the world as a giant canvas, the artist’s graffiti painting works, one of which he made on the West Bank Wall built by Israel by going to Palestine, is also one of his most talked-about works (6). At that time, he made huge art holes in the wall in the area, giving quite peaceful views through imaginary windows. He also put his life in danger during this process.
What the work of art shows at first glance is less than all it contains; understanding can change over time, gain dimension with the depth of the viewer, and is open to infinite interpretation. Even if you don’t want to think about what they want to show in their simplest form, Banksy does it with a punch that creates questions in your mind. Moreover, he does it by blending it with clever humor.
Banksy, who describes his art as a party to which everyone is invited, stirred up quite a lot of attention when he left a small stone inside a wall panel depicting primitive people at the British Museum in London in 2005; He drew a primitive man driving a shopping cart on a small stone (7). That stone stood there for days. The emergence of the event so many people toured the strangeness of that section and failed to notice that? Well, we go to museums to examine the artifacts, and how many people and why has this guerrilla work standing inside the work not seen? We also have reproductions of Dali and Picasso on the corporate ladder, and for some reason no one notices them. I guess one cannot see the value before their eyes when they are not luxurious enough or in an unexpected place.
To understand Banksy, it is necessary to go back a little.
Modernization started in art in the early 1900s. In order to understand Banksy, we need to look at the movement against the idea that art belongs to a certain group; At this point, critical approaches rose in the art world. One of Banksy’s most important characteristics is that his art is critical; Until that day, the features that made art unique had been questioned and eroded. The trend called Dadaism was an effort to ‘destroy’ art as we know it. For this, they started to present this dual structure between the real object and the artistic representation as an artistic object to eliminate distance. Works of Marcel Duchamp are examples of this; In 1917, he flipped a urinal and displayed it like a fountain (8). The same purpose in 1917 Jean Arp with random shapes randomly created as collages (9), then visible in 1989, with Gianni Motti exhibited a work of art with invisible ink that is seen as a blank canvas (10), 1958 Lucio Fontana started to produce works of art by simply cutting a blank canvas (11). French artist Arman filled the inside of the gallery named ‘Le Plein’ (fully loaded) in 1960, in his exhibition called ‘Le Plein’ (fully loaded) which he was not allowed to enter (12), Robert Barry sent an invitation for his exhibition in 1969, but the invitation was ‘During The Exhibition The Gallery’. Will Be Closed ‘(the gallery will be closed during the exhibition) (13). In other words, he presented the closed gallery as a work of art. An example of a Turkish artist in this regard is Bedri Baykam (14). All of this sounds crazy, but it sure makes you think about what art should be! What are the boundaries of the work of art, what should it be, who can decide on them; For example does it have to be aesthetic, does it have to be beautiful? Behind all of these works, there is an effort to oppose the restriction of art within a certain framework and rules. Since Banksy does not want those who are not satisfied with his existing understanding of art, to use the work of art as decor because a certain group can afford it, he mostly makes his works on the streets and public spaces. Thus, he makes the work of art question to whom it belongs; To whom does the artwork belong, to the artist or the purchaser of the work? Banksy is one of those who say ‘the work does not belong to anyone but himself. I agree with him and I even say that the works, in my opinion, are timeless. People collect not the works, but the works the owners. At the end of the day, you see that they are doing something to make people talk and question them, and we start talking.
As you know, this period has been exceedingly difficult for the entire world, and especially in England, the pandemic was quite difficult; Banksy also gave a message to his fans that he would continue production during the pandemic by sharing mouse drawings from his house’s toilet with the note “My Wife Hates My Work from Home” (15). During this period, he drew two rats on the London subway; in one the mouse holds disinfectant, in the other the mouse sneezes. Under the video he shared on his Instagram account, he dropped the note “If You Don’t Wear a Mask, You Won’t Understand” (16). Later, the artist thanked the health workers who have been working by putting their own lives at risk during the pandemic and created a toy nurse who appeared as a superhero in the hand of a child in the picture he shared with the title of “Game Changer” (17).
Another pandemic work was the graffiti on the wall of a house on Vale Street, which is the steepest slope in Bristol, England, on the wall of an old woman with her dentures coming out of her mouth while she sneezes (18).
In 2019, Banksy, set up a street stall in St. Mark’s Square, then posted a series of paintings depicting a huge cruise ship looming over the Italian city, before local police appear to move him on. He crashed the Venice Biennale, to which he had never been invited, then shared what happened on his account (19).
In 2013, he did a new public work every day during October with his ‘Better Out Than In’ project in New York. Residents and officials of the city were on the hunt for Banksy’s artifacts for a month. On the first day in Manhattan, the journey depicted a child reaching for a bottle of spray paint on a sign reading Graffiti Is A Crime in ‘The Street is in Play’ and it was presented to people all over the city with different works. Even off the east front of New York’s emerging business demand for $5 than anyone else to see people that a group of people had appeared (20). On this occasion, I cannot pass without mentioning the exhibition of our Turkish artist Tosun ‘Baba’ Bayrak, who turned New York upside-down in 1968, at Riverside, the most avant-garde museum at the time. When the art critic Grace Glueck described the art as “Shock Art” in the Turkish Delight article published in the New York Times, she says “don’t go running to the police because it is just art” (page 83). I remember our artist Tosun Baba with mercy and grace (21).
While certain people can decide which works to hang on the wall of a museum, this mysterious artist, who performs his art with spray paints accessible to almost everyone, with very dark and sarcastic humor in the public sphere, has changed some things in the art world and made a sound with almost every step. It seems that it will continue to bring in for many more years. Who you are is more important than how you look, what you do, what you say, what you worry about, right?
Note: This article, which is open source, can be cited by mentioning the author. Does not require copyright.
20 Asatekin, Çiğdem, (18 Nov. 2013), ‘Banksy ve New York Sokakları: Better Out Than In’, Artful Living, https://www.artfulliving.com.tr/sanat/banksy-ve-new-york-sokaklari-better-out-than-in-i-180
21 Bayraktaroğlu, Tosun Bekir (2018) “A Turk in America, Memoir of Sheikh Tosun” Sufi Book Publishing, pg. 224.