British Graffiti Artist Paints Toronto for the G8-G20

Man with briefcase--"Will Work for Idiots"

by Derek Rosin – BASICS Issue #20 (July/Aug 2010)

16 June 2010

The British graffiti artist known as Banksy recently paid his first visit to Toronto, hitting our city with some of his signature stencil pieces. The visit coincides with the release of a new film about the artist, Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Stylistically, Banksy’s work is quite different from the culture of hip-hop graffiti that has been the dominant form of street art for the past few decades. But like the paintings of his hip-hop cousins, Banksy’s work retains its subversive quality, partly because the very act of making this type of art is considered to be a crime.

Banksy is believed to have left this piece near Dundas and Manning.

Of course, Banksy combines the underground nature of his medium with explicitly radical themes. One of his more famous works is on the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel in Palestine. Because of the wall’s effect of halting free movement, encroaching on land and breaking up communities, the people of the West Bank refer to it as the “Apartheid Wall” – a reference to South Africa’s former racist separation of blacks and whites. His response was a painting that made it look like a hole had been blasted through the wall, revealing a beautiful sunny beach on the other side. This is typical Banksy – funny, thought-provoking, dream-like, and clearly on the side of oppressed people.

His work has aroused considerable controversy, invariably raising the debate on whether he is an artist or a vandal. He is clearly both, and couldn’t be one without being the other.
Banksy’s brief visit to Toronto is a welcome addition to the debate over graffiti in this city. Here, graffiti must be removed at the property owner’s expense unless they can prove to the city that the painting is art. Not only does this put an unfair cost on many small business owners, it also leads to the ridiculous conclusion that some know-nothing city bureaucrat is the final authority on what constitutes art.

People listening to this debate would do well to check the views of Banksy himself: “Bus stops are far more interesting and useful places to have art than in museums. Graffiti has more chance of meaning something or changing stuff than anything indoors. Graffiti has been used to start revolutions, stop wars, and generally is the voice of people who aren’t listened to. Graffiti is one of those few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make somebody smile while they’re having a piss.”

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