I recently took a trip to the Herbert Gallery in Coventry to have a look at their Street Art exhibition, featuring contemporary prints from the V&A by some well-known-by-now artists like Banksy, Jamie Hewlett (the guy who made the Gorillaz) and Shepard Fairey. It was a surreal experience, wondering around the white-washed walls of a ‘no photography please’ gallery and museum to view art that can more commonly be found on the streets of our cities, and I found myself wondering whether we can really call it ‘Street Art’ anymore.
Street art is a diverse, constantly evolving art form, one that moves across the derelict buildings, bus shelters and hoardings of cities around the world. Its roots lie in history, echoing cave paintings and stencilled slogans and images in political campaigning.
The quote above, taken from a leaflet I picked up from the Herbert, tells us of the origins of the movement and how the art form is in a constant state of change. But since when did the artists move off the street and into the galleries? Indeed, the Herbert Gallery is one that allows free admission to its visitors and therefore still promotes the prospect of this art being for everyone’s eyes. However, have the motives of these ‘street artists’ also changed? Do they no longer wish to paste their tags high on billboards and street corners for all the world to see, but instead promote themselves and their art to the more cultured members of the public who visit galleries?
Passing the spray-painted canvases lining the walls, I didn’t doubt for a second that these artists deserve their place in the history of art. I simply felt a little cheated by their work being hidden away in a gallery when so much of it is making much more of a point outside on the walls, signposts and pavements of towns and cities. I appreciated the talent and thinking behind the likes of Sickboy, Pure Evil and D*Face; their clever interpretations did make me think. But I found my curiosity drawing me to the comments book, innocently sat on a small table. Amongst the positive scribblings describing the exhibition as “sick”, there is one comment that stuck in my mind: “great exhibition, but Banksy is a one-trick-pony”.
I found myself agreeing with this pencil-marked statement. Banksy was a genius several years ago when Street Art hadn’t even been invented. His politically charged characters filled us, the rebellious teenagers, with excitement as his name was spread across the news. I used his ideas in my art classes at school. The fact that he can’t reveal his identity because he’d have to pay thousands of pounds worth of fines for vandalism is still pretty cool. But he has his own website. And on that website there is an online shop where you can buy his work. His famous stencilled images are now printed onto canvases, mugs, greetings cards, t-shirts, the list goes on. His art is on the walls of serious collectors, next to pieces by countless famous names. And his pictures are still the same; iconic images used to undermine something. I should have realised what was happening when I bought one of his first books.
Has rebellious Banksy, along with Street Art, become accepted by society and transformed into something commercial?
What will be the next ‘radical’ art movement, I wonder?
Razz Arts Co-Ordinator