The state of being made to exist as a voyeur, not only of your politics and culture, but even of your own artwork itself, is a condition which the artist must both face and yet can also work to manipulate, as Banksy has proved multiple times through his long and ambitious career. A street artist such as Banksy, deals with the position of being there in message, not in body. Always trying to bring this voyeuristic social position down to eye-level, by closely imprinting the message around our daily eyesores of political concerns and the walls above the rough street route through which we walk home.
Bringing the people eye to eye with ‘Kissing Coppers,’ and ‘Girl with Balloon.’
When art comes with such rough appeal it should be hard to maintain a sense of a voyeuristic social condition when the street artist is there on the urban roads and painting a commentary, doing so in a way which really says something and gets their hands dirty. The street artist gets their hands dirty across multiple platforms; they get their hands dirty from the filth of the streets and from the paints they work with, they get their hands dirty with the politics they are attempting to address. But in no other place, do they get their hands as thoroughly dirty as if when they make a success of their art.
This is the Banksy problem. That surely the more millions you have in your bank account, the further you are removed from the streets. The greatest amount Banksy has sold a piece of artwork for to date is millions. And Banksy’s, Devolved Parliament, which has just gone on display at Sotheby’s, is expected to fetch a price within the range of two million pounds. And yet, despite this, he has found a way to balance his cult status as a figurehead of the alternative movement, with his clear understanding that art for art’s sack is a washup in a culture which only promotes the greatest economic potential.
The adoption of the pseudonym, Banksy, has helped him marvellously in this feat. Allowing him, as it has, to play around with his own artistic condition. To take to the extremes the voyeuristic state that is forced upon the artist and to become even a voyeur of himself. To engage with capitalism as the best way to tease all the commodification out of a image such as ‘Kissing Coppers,’ to have the final laugh. To show that when the artist enters the economic market, they surely have at their disposal one of the greatest comedic theaters,
For truly, the function of all great art is to make the context in which it is displayed into a stage. And so enter Banksy’s, pop-up shop, ‘Gross Domestic Product,’ a sight which was opened earlier this month and through which Banksy made sure to setup in a way which would make it as theatrical as possible. Through doing so, it was ensured that any visitor to the site gets the full experience of the greatest apathetic state the consumerist culture has to offer, that of the ‘window shopper.’ For in the physical window display of a shop which will never open, all items on display may only be purchased via an online shop. Of course, Banksy is an artist who has in the past been critical of the consumer culture and nothing better can be said of his notions on the passive position in which the consumer is placed, than his self-titled documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”
And so the shop exists as something of the ‘Trojan Horse’ of Croydon. A weapon which Banksy first opened as a means of protecting his own trademark when it was utilised by companies for the reproduction and selling of his images. So the shop is an economic move in a capitalist market. Yet it is a meta shop, a performance in Capitalism and a means by which Banksy, the artist, has attempted to protect his trademark, his creations and ultimately, his livelihood. Everything for sale is a political and social commentary. All proceeds from this shop will go towards the purchase of a new boat, to replace the one which was confiscated by Italian authorities.
And so Banksy is able of offshoot from the sin of shop opening, and the greatest point of contention for the artist; merchandising. The sin of the shop after all is not profit making, the prices for which Banksy sells his work shows that he takes no issue with getting paid for his art, the contention here is that merchandising for profit is not only a supreme capitalist sin, but equally debases the context of art to be superimposed on mugs and keychains. It commodifies all three points along the chain; art maker, the audience and the art itself.
And it is because of this approach to his work, and the selling of it, that Banksy will always be an artist whose ability to stick it to the man, or the market, will always be top rate, regardless of the number of shop he opens or the amount of money he makes. And that’s because he will always find a way pictorially to give credence to the knowledge of the politically unversed majority, whether from a shop window, or a street voice. Banksy still acts as the voice of the people.