As the spotlight shines once more on Bristol’s street art superstar, it seems only fair that the rest of the graffiti world, and its huge fan base, continue to share at least a little of the limelight.
Graffiti is big news in Bristol right now. It’s big news everywhere really. Thanks largely to Banksy (graffiti’s only household name), whose surprise summer exhibition at the Bristol Museum certainly highlights, if not transcends, high-art’s enduringly pompous and exclusive reputation. I have friends who’ve queued for over four hours for a chance to see 100 plus of his secretly installed works: there is no doubting the exhibition’s popularity. This is good news… right? Great publicity for Bristol’s flourishing creative scene, and a well-rewarded risk (only a couple of staff members, none at the council, were warned about the exhibition – a bold move considering Banksy’s traditionally controversial status).
In fact the Royal west of England Academy took a similar step in March this year. Another establishment with a traditional past, the RWA self-consciously broadened its horizons with an exhibition celebrating Bristol’s street art. While galleries across the city increasingly dedicate exhibition space to artists like ‘Jody’ whose work could previously only be seen on the exterior of Bristol’s buildings. It is important that such steps continue though. It may have become a cliché but art should be accessible to all. Individual pieces, and specific artists, movements even, may be down to personal taste. But our museums and galleries; public space everywhere, should represent art of all influence, style, form and subject matter. Is this not why graffiti has refused to go away? Because it was never legally represented in public? Many will say that this is the point: that it is anti-establishment by definition, art for and by mid-teens raging publicly against the machine. But that feels over-simplified, a little dated, and does a kind of injustice to the artistry often evident in such work, much of which is neither maliciously produced, nor ugly.
Would you not agree that such a massive contributor to contemporary culture needs to be celebrated and understood? Even, ironically, by the establishment many argue it inherently rejects. After all, the law-abiding world and his wife can overlook Banksy’s growing catalogue of illegal street pieces, to admire and pay outrageous sums for a demonstration of his obvious talent. I see nothing but fairness in the current wave of very public respect for this skilled and popular craft.