Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Give us back our Banksy!

Early on, I wrote an entry about the Rothko Room at the London Tate Modern which became my 5th most popular post. While it wouldn’t seem to have much to do with the NHS, the point I was making was that something that cost nothing can be very valuable because people love it and at the same time, because it belonged to everybody it could be so easily destroyed, if we let it. It was an allegory.

Banksy is a street artist – he works in Graffiti although it’s pretty sophisticated stuff. He comes out of the alternative scene in Bristol, from which also came the music and art collective known as “Massive Attack”, which I like very much.

I like Banksy a lot too, he’s a guerrilla artist and comes from a critical left wing tradition, which Bristol is also well known for. His name is an open secret, but due to the illegal nature of what he does, it is a secret we are all going to keep for him, aren’t we?

Nowadays you can see his art on a variety of walls, from my beloved Camden Town to the West Bank of Palestine.

Recently, a Banksy disappeared from London, only to appear again in America on sale at auction. It’s now been withdrawn after a storm of protests here (give us back our Banksy !).

There have been an increasing number of cases where Banksy’s have been chiselled out and sold (still attached to the cement) as art works. This most recent one was estimated at USD 450,000. A couple of years ago, Moorfields Eye Hospital, found a Banksy rat behind some scaffolding, where it had been forgotten for a few years. They chiselled it off and it was sold for £30,000 for a much needed extension. Understandable but wrong. When I go to my clinic it would lift my heart to see a Banksy.

It’s very sad. People love Banksy’s when they appear and grieve if they are removed or damaged. And that makes it art. It’s not unusual that local councils sign post them as a tourist attraction and often Perspex is used to protect the images.

The trouble is, the walls usually belong to someone, and if the landlord chisels it off, the Banksy which once belonged to everybody becomes private property rather than something we can all enjoy.

Once again I get pulled back to ‘The White Man in the Hammersmith Palais’ by the Clash;

“Oh no, you think it’s funny, turnin’ rebellion into money”.

All my stuff is free to use, as long as you make no money from using it – understood?

Meanwhile, Give us back our Banksy!

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

P.S. these images are from Banksy’s own website at, well worth a look.

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