Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Street Art Defacement: Appropriate Media vs. Banksy

Photo: Appropriate Media.

An early piece by graffiti artist Banksy has been defaced by a group calling themselves Appropriate Media. The piece, titled The Mild Mild West, was located in Stokes Croft, Bristol. Appropriate Media ‘splashed’ the piece with red paint. The group proclaims that they will continue to deface works by Banksy. Appropriate Media mockingly suggests that they will continue to present ‘alternative versions’ of works by the artist. The works by Banksy are often considered alternative landmarks and have been known to increase the value of property.
The actions of Appropriate Media are eerily similar to an individual-- though later revealed as a group-- known as ‘The Splasher’. The Splasher targeted works by Banksy, Anthony Lister, and other renowned graffiti and street artists on the streets of New York City from 2006 to 2007-- it is believed that two individuals who tried to sabotage a Shepard Fairey exhibit in 2007 by lighting a stink bomb were also members of ‘The Splasher’. At the time Fairey proclaimed that the duo were “just jealous" of his art. The group retaliated by leaving a manifesto at another Shepard Fairey exhibit in NYC.
The Splasher group often left manifestos near the works they defaced. These manifestos detailed the purpose of the group-- which often proclaimed that the ‘commercial driven street art movement’ is a ploy to further gentrification in New York neighborhoods. In other words, members of The Splasher felt that Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and other mainstream accepted graffiti and street artists were working alongside gallery owners and city organizers in order to push low income families out of neighborhoods due to the increased property values that result from more affluent individuals moving into the community.
Photo: Appropriate Media.

Oddly enough, Appropriate Media’s manifesto covers some of the same issues. The manifesto, though short, can be found on the Appropriate Media website:
“In the early hours of this morning, Banksy's 'Mild Mild West' on Stokes Croft in Bristol (UK) was repainted by a member of Appropriate Media, presenting an alternative version of this 'alternative Bristol landmark'.

Through this action, Appropriate Media asks? What is the value of street art??. How much time and money will be spent to restore this urban 'masterpiss' by urban masterpisser, Banksy.
Come on, you only care about it cos its a Banksy and he sells his lazy polemics to Hollywood movie stars for big bucks.
Come on, you only care about it cos makes you feel edgy and urban to tour round the inner city in your 4x4, taking in the tired coffee table subversion that graffiti has become.
Graffiti artists are the copywriters for the capitalist created phenomenon of urban art. Graffiti artists are the performing spray-can monkeys for gentrification.
We call for the appropriate and legitimate use of public and private property.
We are taking matters into our own hands
We will not seek permission
We will retaliate”

Appropriate Media has described Banksy and other mainstream street artists as “poor little middle-class white boys”. The group suggests that mainstream street artists are “self obsessed” and that “Never in the field of human history has so much paint been used by so many to say so little.”. The group also suggests that mainstream street artists have exploited the struggle of minority groups, stating, “are you making parallels between the struggle of black people with centuries of racism and the struggle of poor little middle class white boys with the need to deface private property?”.
Needless to say, members of the group demand that artists, such as Banksy, stay out of their communities and return to their “leafy suburbs“. Again, the words of Appropriate Media are eerily similar to those of The Splasher.

Photo: Appropriate Media.
I doubt that The Splasher and Appropriate Media are connected aside from their shared beliefs. After all, one group is located in the US and the other group is located in the UK. However, the fact that two organized groups have challenged world renowned street artists in this manner reveals the unease that some individuals-- even within the street art community-- have for the commercialization of street art and what can result from it.
I think it is naive to write these groups off as “just jealous”. After all, they are anonymous aside from having a collective name. They don’t profit from their actions either. One could say that their actions are selfish-- but the flip-side of that coin is that they can also be viewed as selfless. They are placing themselves at risk for something they believe in-- sound familiar? The only difference is that their actions are the essence of rebellion rather than a form of commercialized rebellion involving the fame and wealth of an individual. Food for thought.
It is common for people to compare mainstream street artists-- such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey-- to ‘Robin Hood’. With that in mind, one could say that groups like The Splasher and Appropriate Media are like Robin Hood as well. After all, they are driven by passion and take action for what they view as an attack on low income communities. In their eyes they are 'stealing' something from the rich in order to show support for the poor. The only problem with this is that these two groups have, in a sense, stolen from everyone. Or have they? What say you?
Consider this an open topic on street art, the commercialization of street art, gentrification, and the defacement of art as protest.
Links of Interest:

Banksy backlash as protest defaces 'middle class' grafitti -- Telegraph UK

Somerville’s only Shepard Fairey mural vandalized -- Wicked Local

The Splasher -- Myartspace blog

This gag sure stinks: Artist turns up nose as bomb ploy flops -- NY Daily News
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter


Kat said...

What a fantastic article with SO much to think about. I do believe they may be on to something when viewing street art today as a commercialized entity. That is the way creative work arrives and is fresh, edgy, lingers and becomes used to advertise, sell, earn respect, gain an aura of culture......eventually the reason for its existence dies as its been destroyed by a machine of usefulness, it no longer serves its original purpose, its overstayed its welcome. I think this can apply to some street art or styles of street art out there now. Everyone knows Banksy, everyone knows Shepard, and yet we continue to believe that we are part of an underground elite when talking about them in public. I think it is completely natural and necessary for a rising group of artists to rebel and negate what came before them....they must. However, I feel like there is a hatred here that goes beyond art, or the effects of art. I myself felt that the comments about 'inferior' artists coming from suburbs or being white boys with money are ignorant and make App. Media appear immature. I think history has proven that where you come from or who you are does NOT define or limit what you can do or what kind of artist you are. I wish they would leave the hatred toward people out of it.....hate the art if you want, hate what its doing....but App.Media needs to raise their standards and rebel more wisely. Rebel towards progress, not destruction.

Hrag said...

nice're quick on the draw

rocketRefund said...

@kat what banksy is doing is kind of rebelling towards progress. But that is what splasher and app. media are rebelling against. Apparently, just because something is now popular it is bad. The problem is, graffiti was originally about making your name, by painting your name. Banksy has accomplished that. He has also accomplished much more, by creating good art, that is free to look at, that raises questions, and on the plus, he makes money too, somewhere. So he did it. Why are these vandals different? only because they destroy where Banksy creates. Maybe it isn't jealousy, but where banksy took what didn't belong to him, he gave it back to the people as something of worth. When App Media take it they just destroy it.

rocketRefund said...

It seems like app media is protesting banksy, for protesting generic problems, but also gaining fame by it. So is banksy not real enough for them? is that the problem? they need to be more clear on what they are protesting, instead of just ranting.
They are kind of doing the same thing as banksy, just less aesthetically. So... are they protesting aesthetics? or pop-culture? or what?

Donald Frazell said...

Rather naive and adolescent, but literally, as well as figuratively, right on target. The idea that anyone who graduates from an art college, "educated", trained like Pavlov's dogs to entertain and excuse their masters, the patrons of art, from all resposnbilties towards humanity, to glorify their eliteness, their cleverness, their specialness, is as absurd as the works they create to keep the rich happy and secure in their smugness.

It is impossible to spend all that money to actually get a degree from the very edifices of the status quo, to ever truly be a rebel. To be an outsider, nobody could possibly be more inside.

The problem is, these folks are only destroying, they are creating nothing to defeat their enemies. But who said they were artists? Unless you are absurd enough to view these defacings as performance art, two words that do not go together off a stage. Where the actors are interpreters, the creative artists the writers. And from their writings, they are very bad actors. Their views have grains of truth, but unless they are viewed as purely political acts, one cannot take their manifestos seriously. Not that any manifesto can be. No one holds the Truth in their hands. One can only create onself, and hope to someday be an influence, to nudge the ship of fools in a better direction, a ship we are all on.

And no lifeboat as foolish as that of the Art Academys. The well deserved target of their rebellion.

art collegia delenda est

Kat said...

I think destruction CAN be progress and often, is the purest form of progress. Yes, what App. Media is doing has some value in it.....I feel like they are ALMOST doing it right, but they haven't capitalized on their own ideas. I also think their intentions are different from why I and others feel they are on the right track. I mean, if you're going to reject the popular street artist of the day, GO BIG! Do it REALLY well, that way no one can doubt you.

It's like, ok, they hate the fame. They hate that graffiti is in national art magazines and galleries. I think this argument is silly, street art and graffiti are finally getting the respect they have so long wanted......and now the streets are upset about it. Doesn't make sense. So App.Media, don't get on Banksy's or Fairey's fame bus if you're against the fame, run from it.
And in App. Media's rejection of graffiti or vandalism, they ARE 'graffiti'ing, they ARE vandalizing! But not wisely.....that's my problem with this. There are holes in their approach and their claims. The parts don't add up to the big picture App. Media wants to paint. I should have been more clear in saying that they shouldn't rebel toward destruction...destroy if you need to! But whatever you're doing, address the issue you're meaning to address. Don't just say Banksy is ruining the world by throwing paint on walls, and go throw paint on're adding to the problem, not fixing it or giving us some alternative. If street art is going south, if it's stale, or if it's damaging......present the solution! Like, if App. Media buffed a Banksy away....completly, echo of a Banksy on a that would be interesting. A new graffiti...a graffiti of taking away. Anyway, I just want App. Media to up their game and REALLY give us a show. So go A.M., bring it! : )

Anonymous said...

What I don't like about Banksy and Fairey is that they take credit for the mainstream acceptance of street art. They take credit and the media quotes them and you end up with a bunch of people buying into selective history rather than fact. The mainstream acceptance of street art is not new. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring broke those doors downs in the 80s with help from Mary Boone and Andy Warhol. People might compare Fairey to Warhol but good ole' SAMO was his close friend. Basquiat did not call other people jealous if they defaced his work. He thought it was a powerful statement for people to take actions into their own hands on the streets. But today you got these young street artists like D*FACE who on this very blog claimed that the street art movement is only a few years old and that he, Banksy, and Fairey established it. That is total bunk! The movement has been around for decades. Examples of street art have been exhibited and have gained attention since the 1950s. Learn some art history and knock these kids off their high horse.

Anonymous said...

Geez just look up the exhibit poster of Warhol and Basquiat from the mid 80s. It was a living legend versus a graf artist. An artist of color broke the doors down for mainstream acceptance of graf and street art. Not the white son of a doctor who launched his career with cash, bail money, and commercial contacts provided by daddy and daddys friends. Ole SAMO did it on his own in his early 20s and hooked up with Warhol at a time he was pretty much homeless. Warhol took him under his wing because he understood the power of his work and how it spoke from the streets. What we have today is another example of black culture and black accomplishment being erased by white controlled media and white controlled art community. Something from minority communities becomes popular and the powers that be are quick to stamp a white face on it to market it to white kids so that is is groovy with white parents. This poster boy says Obama would not be President without his poster. Another white person stamping himself over black accomplishment. Now you can go on and say that street art knows no colors or that no ethnic group has claim on it but I dare you to take that attitude into Compton or Watts and tell those speakers of the streets that their culture is not their own. These guys get arrested and released like nothing while black youths get convicted and serve jail time after getting caught once.

Kat said...

True.....Haring and Basquiat....famous for street art and dang good at it. But graffiti is OLD. I mean, look back to Pompeii....those people were writing about blow jobs and money on their walls. During WWII - good propaganda posters were everywhere....Rosie the Riveter? The HipHop movement included a LOT of graffiti. The computer came along and street art could be seen from anywhere in the world....that probably did the most to popularize it and make it mainstream.

But yeah, human expression on buildings and walls is not new. AND its creation and popularity is not defined or characterized by race. Yes, the individual tag or work of an individual artist is specific to who they are.....but all of street art? All of graffiti, historically? Is not defined by whites, blacks, academics, art majors, or drug includes everyone who contributes and it doesn't weigh them by color or background. Yeah, for a while graffiti exploded in areas of New York that were mainly inhabited by blacks and it really affected street culture, but street art and it's development is not characterized by one time period or one group of people, it's almost the other way around. A lot of that generation of black Americans during the hiphop age were drawn to STREET ART and a lot of them embraced IT. But the contribution of those in Compton is no more important than the contribution of RISD grad Fairey....they are distinct, they are different, and if we love street art....we don't exclude one or the other because of who they are, we judge them on their work and the unique styles they bring. That's all that matters.

But I think claiming that whites have stolen street art from those who really started it or made it popular isn't getting us anywhere....there are different styles, different approaches, different concepts, different stories and different points of view coming from everyone......let's not put them in categorical boxes, we just blind ourselves. Look at the work, judge that.

Donald Frazell said...

Black slang and dress and music changes quickly, it is the most adaptable culture on earth, first as English is a mutt language, and easily mutatable. Second because african culture stresses instantaneous creation, improvisation, and so is never done the same way twice.

And as soon as the white boys start using it, they are off in another direction. Always takes white folks a few years to catchup, but then, a new high school group of black kids identifies themselves with a mutated and newer version, but always with the same roots. Roots white folks just dont have. i am in the LBC, saw it everyday when my kids were growing up, and had their friends and basketball team over all the time. Kids could dance, and always looking to one up one another. Creativity becomes the culture, unlike white folks, who gotta go to college to learn stuff, usually dead things, and no longer valid, if they ever were.

Rap right now is getting weird, with Obamas victory there is no longer any excuse for the misogynist view of gangsta rappers, thank god. Even though Snoop did lay down some great tracks, Dr Dre a musical genius. His beats came from many sources, knows music far better than lots of rich wite kids doing "new" music at classical joints, like deriviative fools Cage and Glass.

White folks are moving back in, this was the first time black folks actualy owned their own music, outside of a pimp like Barry Gordy. But rap is starting to sound all gay and disco, like High School musical. I accidentally turned onto my sons station, I am hard core jazz myself, and thought i was being transported back to the awful late 70s, though there were great funk bands then, disco ruled. arrrggghhh!

By the time the media and art schools catch onto something, its dead, and life has moved on. Theory overcomes life, and art schools churn out derivative nonsense they think is new and clever. When it is truly dull, and monotonous. life, and creative art, are many layered, contradictory, peaceful, and violent. Art school stuff is just, well weak. lackng male and female virtues. Effeminate. Real men play ball. Its time adults and strong people took up art again, it was not always this way. Mind, BODY and soul. All are needed to be an artist.

art collegia delenda est

The Eyechild said...

I think it was inevitable that the hysteria surrounding Banksy's work was going to provoke a backlash. It has been co-opted by advertising, and its somewhat trite 'subversion lite' motifs now feel a little weary. I'm not exactly a huge fan.

But while I can appreciate that this is in a sense a statement of rebellion against a perceived establishment, Appropriate Media's 'manifesto'(what I can read of it – their website is down) strikes me as somewhat naive and bothersome on a few points.

1. Graffiti is in the streets, and itself sometimes perceived as vandalism, so the 'rules' are somewhat moot, but statement or not (and I am playing devil's advocate here) isn't the wanton destruction of art slightly... fascistic? Why don't we burn some books while we're about it.

2. The minute people start to roll out the conspiracy theories, my eyes start to roll. I'm sorry, I think it's pretty absurd to suggest that gallery owners, 'street' artists, and property developers are part of a sinister hegemony who get together, wring their hands, smoke cigars and plot to populate every neighborhood with Starbucks... by decorating it with stencil art? Yeah right.

3. And what the hell is it with 'gentrification'? (a buzz word if ever I heard it). I live in a reasonably poor area in South East London, and I can tell you, it needs more money coming in rather than less. Society in general needs to think more about how to be more egalitarian, rather than necessarily preserving poor areas out of nostalgia (I think anyway).

4. And while we're about it, you're not going to get very far with me with the 'white middle class boys' bit. Why? Because I am middle class, and white (and so are a lot of people in Englan, btw). I'm not particularly proud of it, but what exactly is especially wrong with that? C'mon Appropriate Media, break it down for me, what are the rules here. Working Class and white: good Middle Class and white: bad? and why? exactly? what about black middle class people? are they allowed?

I think ultimately you'll find Banksy et al are in fact people who've worked very hard, and are very astute marketeers. Ultimately fashions in art just get tired, and what was once perceived as radical one day(and I'm not saying Banksy was) is the next days wallpaper. In fact, you see these macro trends in Graff itself – in the 90s it was all about Futura 2000.

If they think it sucks so bad, why don't they instead create something that blows it out the water?