Considering Banksy’s work leads us to several considerations about various aspects of artistic culture, in fact an analysis that has a certain organicity must probably relate to a multidisciplinary dimension.
The Banksy phenomenon is part of a context that concerns the purely social aspects of his art, regarding the place where it is performed in addition to the obvious content, public feedback that is inherent in street art and finally those related to the art form as an object of a traditional market and not.
Street art carries within itself a germ that becomes evident with the contemporaneity of the metropolis, namely its anti-system character since it is formally illegal.
We have to distinguish between the various expressions that have evolved from the second part of the twentieth century until today as to the art that litterally sticks on the walls of cities and beyond. In fact, there is graffiti art, which belongs to the Hip Hop culture, street art in the strict sense of the word, and murals, in order to make a more macroscopic distinction because these categories include other very specific ones.
Painting takes place in public spaces but starting from a condition of illegality (because of defacement of urban decorum). However certain artistic forms have achieved a sort of recognition and even find spaces made available by the city administrations.
There is no doubt that street art gives greater possibilities to any artist to express themselves freely and to have greater social recognition, to have an alternative range, with wider visibility compared to traditional art forms.
Enhanced by the evolution of technology and the subsequent globalization, as well as cultural instrumentalization, the phenomenon of street art has entered powerfully in the system of the art market, both traditional and not.
A very interesting phenomenon also from an anthropological point of view because the first graffiti artists were not appreciated and eventuelly thwarted. This triggered the challenge for them even more, leading their creativity to burst out, like some sort of primitive art, an art that power could not control, they felt free in their urban space.
The first graffiti artists then moved away from the art made in the streets and entered the gallery spaces and an initial evolution was made by artists such as Basquiat and Haring, who later became icons of contemporary art.
How does Banksy fit into this general dialectic as a street artist?
In fact Banksy is the same artist of “Devolved Parliament” a large work oil-on-canvas of 2.50 m x 4.00 m sold in 2019 for 11.1 million euros at Sotheby’s!
So far many original works from Banksy have left the street; they have been removed, in order to enter galleries and be auctioned.
This phenomenon has led to the paradox the a work created originally to be public has lost much of its purpose and has eventually entered the art market.
Here we have to make some considerations regarding the intrinsic value of a work of art because of its fundamental characteristics in terms of the spatial and contextual unity that belong to it. Considering the fact that street art can not necessarily be considered eternal, due to its somewhat illegale nature, thus subject to be destroyed.
Contemporary art is defined by the markets to which it is linked. Banksy rejects this position because he has always acted by protesting against the forms of commercialization of art, against museums, against exhibitions. As a matter of fact he almost never authorizes exhibitions that concern him in an official way.
Banksy considers his language a strongly reflective act on social issues, on human concepts of love and solidarity, on aspects that abhor violence, war and oppression.
He is an artist who exudes a certain charm and charisma because he remains anonymous. To this day it is not known whether he is a man, a woman or perhaps even a group of artists using this signature.
The aura of mystery is one of the elements that Banksy himself uses to subvert contemporary cultural codes, offering with his works messages that are at the same time subliminal, simple, universal. He has become a hero of our time like Batman, or Lupin, ready to hit the collective imagination and leave a sign of wonder in the city that has a deep meaning, sometimes ironic, sometimes desecrating, often of strong social denunciation.
Banksy has led contemporary art to ask itself new questions about the its proper meaning in the relationship with the public, with power and with the market that has always pervaded it.
Banksy works very quickly, obviously because he has to avoid being discovered and basically because he “smears the walls”. For this reason, in a way that is functional to his purpose, that of being desecrating in order to involve as many people as possible in profound ethical concepts, he uses the stencil technique, which uses a negative form of the work already prepared on which he then spreads the color.
Banksy is also an artist activist in humanitarian causes so much so that in 2020 he finances the project “Louise Michel” (name of a French anarchist of the nineteenth century), that is to set up a ship painted by him to save migrants in the Mediterranean, with the intent to raise awareness about European politics of closure of the ports.
Banksy is a free thinker in a world restricted by so many rules that impose on creative work. Many artist keep her own imagination restricted, in order to comply with market interests. He instead is an artist who claims the freedom of his own art as “freedom of speech” and he openly declares it when he states that “copyright” is for losers, because art is for all those who want to use it as long as there are no commercial purposes. He pays for this position in front of the courts because he sees in the anonymity an indissoluble link with his work. He and the work are the same thing, there is no need for a face to make it official.
In order to defend himself from speculation, Banksy has relied on a company specially created to protect an anonymous artist, the Pest Control Office Limited, who lost a trial against a company that wanted to distribute postcards with one of his works and that is why the EUIPO (European Intellectual Property Office) said that an artist being anonymous can not claim rights to a trademark as the work in question, “The Flower Thrower”. A trademark is like a patent that lasts forever while copyright lasts only for a certain period of time and in order to exploit it, Banksy would have to leave anonymity, in this way the artist has tried to defend his intellectual work forever but has failed to get justice at least, from a legal point of view.
Not only that, the EUIPO also pointed out that street art works: “which are not carried out with the express permission of the owner of the property on which they are made, constitute a criminal act and, to that extent, no copyright could be derived from such a work (or it could be argued that the copyright has been donated to the owner of the medium by the artist). In addition, street art works are normally made in public places for all to see and photograph, which could also “nullify” any copyright, even if that circumstance were expressly denied by the rights holder.”
From here we are able to realize what Banksy’s artistic work represents, beyond the same and the technique used, in the very consciousness of the most intrinsic meaning of a figurative representation in the contemporary globalized world.
There is a clear socio-political act that invests private law, represented by whoever owns a wall facing the street, and the subversive moment of art that as a product of the most intimate humanity has no need to self-declare except in itself. An oxymoron is born, the genius that is popular and belongs to everyone, of unlimited property, cannot be defended by monetary speculation if it does not have a source that abides by pre-established rules.
Banksy’s art is what awaits us like the “Pasquinata” of the sixteenth century in Rome, everyone waits for the gesture because it ultimately tells the truth, but the truth is always reluctantly swallowed by authorities the truth in any case is accepted for fun, as a warning, but it is not possible that it is part of the system even if it has the appearance of democracy and tightens the ranks of freedom.
Banksy is an anonymous artist, the most subversive meaning and act in a consumer society where social networks have made public the most infinitesimal intimacy of everyone, where the maximum of the personality unfolds in its essence through global communication as an abstract and untrue form for an external construction in a debasement of values where everything is monetizable, nudity, virginity, intimate family hugs, your pet, any emotion that would need instead of protection and intimate warmth.
Banksy tells us a story in which technology and communication, however free, have set us the trap of loneliness, prevarication and individualism as an end in itself.
Banksy has been defined banal in his works, well, maybe, but in contemporary art, haven’t we already seen such a judgment with so many artists today recognized by art and history critics? How were they considered, Picasso, Fontana, or Rodin?
Banksy is a public figure who gives us an art in its time, the intrinsic aesthetic sense has intellectual motivations that take infinite paths and where the canons of history are always read a little after the same has manifested itself.