When we left off, the battle lines had been drawn between Street and Graffiti Art. Its representatives, Banksy and King Robbo, battle with spray paint and vastly differing ideologies. King Robbo is making statements about the male ego of Grafitti art, trying to prove his superiority. While Banksy focused more on the thought provoking messages of his stenciled work, less on the individual ego of the artist. However, this is just the beginning of the war between Street and Graffiti Art. Through the ongoing artistic battle, we can further understand the ideological differences expressed, but we can also comprehend some of their inherent similarities.
After the move by Robbo to incorporate Banksy into his tag, Banksy adds a childish Fuc in front of Robbo’s name, which is subsequently removed. The bickering continues between these two artists, when all of a sudden, the battle goes dark. Someone covers the battleground in black paint. In the film Grafitti Wars, Robbo takes this opportunity to create a stenciled work of his own. Top Cat leans against the gravestone of Banksy’s career. This is a little different from his usual work and it shows how Robbo is starting to evolve outside of his normal comfort zone. Robbo also does this to illustrate how easy stenciling is and that it doesn’t require any particular talent or artistry.[i] This shift is documented in Graffiti Wars, where Robbo actually begins to make the transition from Graffiti Artist to Street Artist. He brings his work inside gallery shows and starts becoming a famous name again. Maybe the Top Cat piece is also making a statement that he will take out Banksy in the gallery as well as the street. Macnaughton makes the point that ethics also separate Graffiti and Street art.[ii] When someone moves inside of a gallery and gets the chance to profit from their work, it is now street art.
Whatever the statement about his own rise in the artistic community, Robbo is silenced as, once again, the wall goes black. This time Banksy comes back with a rather strange work that no one can seem to make heads or tails of. It’s a chalk living room with a three dimensional chair and stenciled elements. It is noted that Banksy often pays back to his influences in his own way.[iii] Many find Banksy has taken ideas from Blek le Rat and other stencil and Street Artists. However, this particular piece recalls an experimental time for another street artist, Keith Haring. On his website it states, “…he noticed the unused advertising panels covered with matte black paper in a subway station. He began to create drawings in white chalk upon these blank paper panels throughout the subway system.”[iv] That sounds very similar to what Banksy has done here.
Why would Banksy create a throwback to another artist? We may never know the answer, but Banksy sees himself as a liberator and he likes to remind his audience that art is a democratic exercise. He believes that the individual’s opinion regarding a work is as important as anybody else’s.[v] This may have been his way of taking the battle away from a petty feud and going back to inspiring the usual thought concerning his work. A scene as perplexing as this living room will definitely inspire plenty of though regarding its meaning.
This would be the last move in the war between Robbo and Banksy. Shortly after, King Robbo tragically suffered a head injury and remains in a coma. Banksy added one last note to Robbo by recreating his original tag with a torch lit spray can to act as a memorial flame. However, despite the seeming end of the war of Street and Graffiti Art, Team Robbo, who were followers of King Robbo, kept the battle alive. They would go out and vandalize or adorn Banksy’s work in other areas. They would change the content or add anti-Banksy messages.
This continued battle extended beyond the tunnel in Camden to other urban areas. In doing so they both perpetuate a basic ideology that Street and Graffiti Art share. Banksy and Team Robbo achieve the goal of using free public art to reclaim pieces of the urban environment that would otherwise be used for advertisements.[vi] Potter makes the argument that, “The Thing about street art is, it all comes down to property…Street art, like graffiti before it, regardless of what the content of the image may be, is a criticism of the idea of property itself. If it was not illegal, it would not be street art. Therefore its illegality is what defines it. Take it out of that context and you are left with ‘art’.”[vii
Street and Graffiti art are born from the same mother. They both struggle with the definition of legality and property. Who owns what and what gives them the right to own it. They want to take back the streets to make statements. They may be personal statements about themselves. Graffiti Art is all about the male ego and proving yourself with your tag. While Street Art is intended to make a nice image that provokes thought in the viewer. However, both street and graffiti art can agree that they are an anti establishment movement that would not mean anything if they weren’t’ illegal. They may have extreme ideological differences, but at the end of the day, they are more closely linked than most realize.
[i] Channel 4, “Graffiti Wars,” Street Art News video, 46:47, August 15, 2011, http://www.streetartnews.net/2011/08/robbo-vs-banksy-graffiti-wars-full.html.
[ii] Alex Macnaughton, London Street Art Anthology (New York: Prestel USA, 2009), 2.
[iii] Gary Shove and Patrick Potter, Bansy: You Are and Acceptable Level of Threat (Darlington: Carpet Bombing Culture, 2012), Belly of the Beast.
[iv] Keith Haring, “Keith Haring Foundation,” Online [home page on-line]; available from http://www.haring.com/!/; Internet; accessed 24 October 2012.
[v] Gary Shove and Patrick Potter, Bansy: You Are and Acceptable Level of Threat, 9.
[vi] Ethel Seno, ed., Carlo Mccormick, Marc Schiller, and Sara Schiller, Tresspass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art. (China: Taschen GmbH, 2010), 10.
[vii] Gary Shove and Patrick Potter, Bansy: You Are and Acceptable Level of Threat, Any Last Words.