Why Banksy Has 'Nothing To Do' With Real Graffiti Culture

Banksy nyBanksy NYThis Banksy work showed up on New York City’s Lower East Side on Oct. 1.

Banksy has caused quite a stir since
he started his month-long New York City residencyOctober 1.

Not everyone is excited, however. Many of the works have been defaced within hours. Even Business Insider’s very own graphic designer thinks Banksy has run out of things to say.

We spoke to graffiti historian Sacha Jenkins, who explained why some local graffiti artists may be frustrated with the craze surrounding Banksy’s work.

“The thing that people say is that since Banksy is writing on property illegally, he is a graffiti artist,” Jenkins said. “But there is a whole culture revolving around graffiti that has nothing to do with what Banksy does.”

Banksy is a British street artist whose stenciled works have been grabbing headlines since the late 1990s. His artwork has appeared on city streets in cities all over the world, including London, San Francisco, New Orleans, Barcelona, and Bethlehem. Some property owners lucky enough to receive a Banksy tag have been known to remove portions of walls and sell them in auctions for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Banksy Lion and balloon girlNeil Mockford / Getty ImagesThis mural was found at a pub in London and features Banksy’s signature red balloon.

Graffiti became popular as an extension of daily competition between neighbourhood kids in 1970s New York, Jenkins explained. Everyone had their own alias that they used when playing games like dodgeball or stickball with their neighbours. Soon they started writing their names on the inside and outside of subway trains, eventually moving to the sides of buildings when they ran out of space. Writers competed to have the most distinct signature.

“When Banksy tags a building, the property owner will try to cut out the wall and sell it,” Jenkins said. “But nothing’s going to happen with someone who just writes their name on the side of a building.”

Jenkins says he admires Banksy’s artistic talents, but the popularity of his street art may be a product of the times.

“Banksy came up right when this wave of popular culture, underground and urban culture, started to publicly embrace the arts…and then social media hit,” he said. “Now if Banksy does a piece, someone Instagrams it and the world can see it.”

Banksy’s use of social media to promote his art is not something traditional graffiti artists would do, either.

“I’m sure there are some graffiti artists who would love to connect with the mainstream, but mostly it’s a subculture that couldn’t care less about the mainstream,” Jenkins said. “[In the ’70s] they didn’t do it to start making money. But kids who get into graffiti now have more examples of people who have been successful in making money in this culture.”

Banksy’s arrival in New York happens to coincide with a program Jenkins has planned to honour the history of American graffiti art from the 1970s until today. “Write of Passage,” hosted by Red Bull Studios New York, will present over 100 rare graffiti pieces in a public exhibition running Oct. 18 — Nov. 23.

“It’s a really nice window into not only the paintings but the accoutrements of the culture,” Jenkins said. “There will be lots of ephemera that illustrate what the entire experience was like.”

Write Of Passage graffiti subway trainHenry Chalfant, Write of PassagePhotos of this vintage subway train will be part of the exhibition at Write of Passage.

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