Internationally-(in)famous British graffiti artist Banksy bombed San Francisco this past week and (some) people are ecstatic. Six large works of stencil art have been found around town, three in the Mission and one each in Chinatown, SOMA and the Lower Haight. Which begs, and I mean pleads, the question, would the SF graffiti task force dare to buff Banksy? We can only wait to find out what is to come, or shall I say go?
There's something appealing and socially necessary about Banksy's audacity of spirit. He pairs strong imagery with witty text, addressing issues that need to be considered more carefully and driving straight to the core of what's wrong in society. A great recent example is a simple piece of text, "I don't believe in global warming," partially obscured by water flowing through a London canal. I call this the OCD outlet of a concerned citizen. Banksy voices his questions of authority through artwork and makes it free and accessible. Imagine walking into the Louvre and hanging your own artwork upon the wall as cavalierly as if the museum were your living room. Banksy actually pulled this stunt with a reinterpretation of the Mona Lisa, her dubious stare replaced by a yellow smiley face, and the museum later added the piece to its collection.
Illegal art is a funny thing. Banksy's work has been known to capture a healthy sum at Sotheby's, but may also be power-sprayed back into nothingness by the unamused. Will 300,000 visitors to his June 2009 exhibit at Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery translate to perceived cultural value by a public works officer who might not be familiar with or care about the man behind the work? Maybe a mass public intervention will be enough to circumvent the system. If not, we might be seeing sections of walls being cut from these buildings before they are painted out. And I say this only because people have gone to such extremes before!
The San Francisco Department of Public Works deals with upkeep to make our city more usable, livable and beautiful. A noble effort to be sure. The City's graffiti removal ordinance requires property owners to remove graffiti within 30 days or pay $500 for the City to remove it for them. One wonders if Public Works will take the graffiti in context and preserve the work or decide to buff it away because graff is graff afterall.
I know that people care about and are excited by the work because there were people taking pictures at every spot on my go 'round. I was surprised to see an older man on his bike stop in the middle of Valencia to whip out his camera. He then gave me a smile and a nod when I took out mine.
But then there are the people that really don't care and make a valiant effort to prove it. Someone tagging "otter" seems to be keeping pace with Banksy and creeping into his pieces around town. However, it looks like "otter" ran out of steam since he only managed to hit four out of the presumed six pieces. Oh, what is that phrase I am looking for, the one about riding on others' coattails? I shouldn't speak too soon, "otter" just might be pacing himself.
As of now, front of house employees from the adored buildings haven't heard anything from the Department of Public Works. Hopefully the Graffiti Advisory Board of San Francisco will decide to preserve something so iconic and treasured by community members. But just in case, get out and see Banksy's work while you still can.
For more from Banksy, check out Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy's well-received documentary about Mr. Brainwash that premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and is now playing at the Embarcadero. Also out is his new book Wall and Piece.