July 17, 2012
A love of street art leads me to follow plenty of artists that your average Joe Bloggs doesn’t know about – Mark Jenkins, Stik, the Mentalgassi collective, Type. But there’s one artist everyone truly does know about: Banksy. He’s the Tiger Woods of art, the David Beckham of graffiti; in short, his fame has long since transcended his field. Even my mum has heard of Banksy.
This perhaps explains a recent phenomenon that amuses me: the proclamation of regional Banksys, one for every country, territory or town. The basic rule of thumb seems to be this: when a new and half-decent street artist emerges somewhere, immediately label him the ‘Banksy of XX’, despite whatever reservations the artist may have about this. P183 has long been described as ‘the Banksy of Russia’, much to his website’s annoyance; Islington stenciller Bambi is, predictably, the ‘female Banksy’ (one suspects it’ll be a long while until we hear about a ‘male Bambi’, sadly). But other less-talented, eclectic artists have been, pardon the pun, tarred by the Banksy brush. Here are my five favourites:
Leaving a trail of stencils and paint cans around the Irish coastal town of Bundoran, this local legend is bugging the bigwigs; the Great Northern Hotel, which he (quite impressively) daubed in ants, turns out not to have been the wisest target. As the excellent Donegal Democrat patiently explains: “Bundoran’s new mayor, Cllr. Philip McGlynn is also general manager of the Great Northern Hotel. He’s not impressed and asks anyone who sees someone painting graffiti to report it to the gardaí.” Ooh dear – don’t mess with the gardaí…
The Flintshire Banksy
Things are much calmer in Chester, where the painter Random organises regular showcases of his city-colouring work, in flagrant disregard of his ongoing criminality. Apparently, the local constabulary is unconcerned. Local rag The Leader explains that Random is now “showcasing a collection of his work at The Gallery at Bluecoat Books. This is the third time (the THIRD TIME?!) Random has hosted an exhibition at the gallery, but staff are still none the wiser as to his identity.”
Banksy of Bulgaria
Political intrigue unfolded in the capital Sofia last year when a cheeky dauber set to work on a Soviet-era statue. Once he/she had finished, colourless Russian Red Army figures had magically become Captain America, Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald and, leading the way, Superman, all above the simple new message, ‘Moving with the times’. Speculation as to the work’s meaning was instantly rife. Death & Taxes Mag ruminates thus: “Does this ‘Banksy of Bulgaria’ want to celebrate America’s liberal democracy and international politicking, or does the altered statue stand as a testament to what the Joker — also part of the figurative cast — tells Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain?” Well, quite.
This one’s a particularly ludicrous parallel, since Japan’s Banksy is in fact a six-piece collective, Chim↑Pom, rather than a single artist. Fame came briefly calling last year when Chim↑Pom replaced an existing mural at Tokyo’s Shibuya station with images of burned-out nuclear power plants, referencing the country’s recent travails.
The Malaysian Banksy
Malaysia’s Banksy might actually be Lithuania’s Banksy, if anyone really cares. For the large-scale works gathering praise all over George Town in Penang are by Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian artist who moved to the country after studying in London. His work has been so well-received that it is featuring in the annual George Town Festival, and Zacharevic has opened an art centre for children on one of the city’s old colonial streets. It hasn’t been plain sailing, though: as the Wall Street Journal’s blog explains: “Street painting in tropical Malaysia has proved to be a challenge. (Zacharevic’s) Armenian Street image is already fading due to the heat, rain and humidity, prompting him to experiment with different paints to make his artworks more durable.”