‘Art’ is in the eye of the beholder?

Is it art or graffiti? If you’ve been meaning to check out the record breaking Rise street art exhibition, that is showing at Canterbury Museum, you’ve only got a little while before it wraps up on March 23rd.

Cover of Subway ArtI expect the huge colourful murals created by local and international artists currently adorning walls around the central city, will be with us a lot longer and may continue the discussion that’s been sparked over what constitutes art as opposed to graffiti.

Vigorous debate has played out in Christchurch newspapers over the past few weeks, but you can make your own mind up!   For more on the world of street art, there are plenty of books available, and an excellent starting point would be the seminal work Subway Art by Martha Cooper & Henry Chalfont.

The exhibition features a private collection of works by Banksy, who is no stranger to public comment and curiosity. More on this mystery man can be found at our libraries.  I’ve just finished Banksy: The man behind the wall which, while it could have benefited from some judicious editing in my humble opinion, does give an insight into the secretive artist and his street art/graffiti origins in Bristol.

Cover of Banksy: The Man Behind the WallOne of my Banksy favourites of the exhibition, was ‘Kids on Guns’, but ‘Kids on Gins’ by the artist known as Milton Springsteen is a brilliant take on the original.  As are his subversions of iconic New Zealand art works.  His series of ‘Corrupt Classics’ was one of the exhibition delights for me.

On the flip side, if it’s graffiti and tagging that’s an issue for your own property or neighbourhood, the Christchurch City Council wants to know.  If you’d like to take an active role in helping remove graffiti from around the city then the team at the Graffiti Programme would love to hear from you!

Two of my favourite large street art works are these ones on a couple of walls in Sydenham.

Street ArtStreet Art

What’s your take on this style of art? Love it or loathe it?

Musings on Capital

Are you like me and always read the acknowledgements and author biography? I love seeing who is thanked, who is loved and who is appreciated. “Thanks to my creative writing class” always makes me feel a bit nervous, but an author thanking family and friends warms my heart. The other thing I like to look at is the author photo. This brings me to John Lanchester, author of Capital, he has an interesting friendly face and I immediately wanted to enjoy his book , and enjoy it I did.

Lanchester uses Pepys Street, a fictional street in London to introduce us to a multitude of people who either live, visit or work within its boundaries. Pepys Street houses are the domain of the upwardly mobile, but the people who work there – nannies, shop owners, builders or meter readers – are new immigrants.  This book contains a huge number of characters which could be off-putting, but it is worth persevering as each character is finely detailed and it doesn’t take long to have a vested interest in each of their lives.

The title is a clever link to London being a capital city and the capital within in, both in human and financial terms. The common link is that each household starts receiving flyers saying “We want what you have”, and the mystery behind these increasingly sinister messages is one of the intrigues that holds this book together, alongside the disparity between those who own the houses and those who work for them, those who are English-born and or are new to the country, those who control the city finances and those who reap the cash rewards or who suffer the consequences of bad decisions.

Capital is a big book about big topics.  I became involved in each character’s story, but I especially enjoyed the Banksy like character,  and the  local Indian shop-owner’s family, both of whom become implicated in the mysterious fliers. It is a book that is worth taking time to come to grips with, and it would be a good candidate for a mid winter holiday read.

Exit Through the Giftshop

Cover image of "The Birth of Graffiti"This weekend I headed along to the 2010 New Zealand International Film Festival to see Exit Through the Giftshop, the (supposed) documentary directed by and featuring Banksy, enigmatic street artist extraordinaire. Deciding there’s a better story to tell than his own, Banksy turns the camera on one of his more interesting admirers Thierry Guetta. In true Banksy style, the film manages to make clever observations about popular culture in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way that you can’t help but grin at.

Thierry Guetta, you see, is a man on a mission. He takes his video camera wherever he goes and records everything he sees, desperate to capture each moment before it is lost forever. Introduced to the art of graffiti through his cousin, the Invader, he becomes obsessed with following various street artists as they sneak around the city at night with their spray cans and stencils. One serendipitous moment leads to the next, and Thierry’s biggest wish comes true – he gets the opportunity to meet the elusive Banksy. He becomes Banksy’s accomplice, helping him paint elephants and cause havoc at Disney Land, all the while with camera in hand. Eventually Banksy realises Thierry is not the documentary maker he has made himself out to be, and encourages him to ditch his film-making ambitions and start graffiti-ing the town instead. Thierry embraces Banksy’s instructions like God himself has spoken to him. He is reborn as Mr. Brainwash and sets out to take street art to a whole new level…

My favourite bit? Watching Thierry sit in the LA sun in all his 70s shirts and sideburns glory, waxing lyrical about his passions. His French accent and confused use of the English language makes him the new Bruno in my eyes. I’ll be quoting him for weeks to come. Oh, and the TV monster was AWESOME.

While Exit Through the Giftshop clearly points and laughs at the art world, you get the feeling that Banksy is having a bit of a giggle at his audience too. Hoax or not, it’s one worth seeing. Brilliant.

18 Days of Film Magic

Banksy? in Exit Through the Gift ShopThe Christchurch programme for the 2010 International Film Festival was launched this week. As usual the range of films is amazing – animation, Euro film, short film, animation for grownups and kids, documentaries, Kiwi features, classic film and cult films.

The launch featured Exit Through the Giftshop.  Made by Banksy? about real people and events? If Banksy is involved never take anything at face value. ETG is thoroughly entertaining.

Get planning now – 18 days of film magic! The paper programme is now out in libraries, cafes and other locations around town. Most of the festival will screen at the Regent on Worcester but a few special films – a restored print of Once Upon a Time in the West and documentaries Oceans and Turtle; the Incredible Journey, plus talked about feature films The Runaways, A Prophet and Four Lions, will be shown at Hoyts Riccarton.

Sharpen your stencil

Despite how you might feel about having your fence tagged (nobody likes that, do they?) there’s no denying that at the high, and often political end of street art is the stencil.  Really good stencil art is not unlike screen-printing in technique and my favourite examples of this artform are ones that utilise some kind of visual pun to make a point.  British artist Banksy is arguably the most famous exponent of this street art sub-genre but French artist Blek le rat is also a high-profile stenciller from way back.  Here’s Banksy’s take on the elder statesman of street art from the introduction of new book Blek le rat : getting through the walls

Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well.  Only twenty years earlier.

I like to think that being able to appreciate the skill and intelligence that some people put into their street art doesn’t necessarily mean that you condone vandalism, but that’s just my opinion.  For those interested in checking out some of the better stencil art that’s been produced internationally as well as locally, check out the collage of titles (and interesting covers) below.