It’s been almost two years since “Exit Through The Gift Shop” took Sundance and granted Mr. Brainwash, Thierry Guetta, undue fame. I wrote a scathing review on the impact of this film, and the filmmaker it centered around.
As a resident of street art heavy Los Angeles, I have seen the ramifications of a film that, according to Banksy, tried to “film the unfilmable, and failed”. As I make my way down Melrose Avenue every morning, trecking across Hollywood, past empty buildings and targeted parking lots, trust me, I’ve witnessed the fall out. Every young artist with wheatpaste and a photocopy can litter the streets now, under the guise of making street art.
I knew this day would come, I referenced the breakdown of the movement in my criticism of the film. I am not here to point fingers at a copycat who unraveled a language, I’m here because of what I found in the rubble.
On my way into work on a routine morning, coffee in hand, I flew past the white noise of “street art” wall paper that has cluttered my commute. I hardly even notice the images anymore. At La Brea, on a wall commonly hit and repainted, I found a glimmer of excitement in a piece that actually made me laugh.
A woman holding a can of spray paint stood next to the words, “You are
a miracle not Banksy”.
In a few days time, it was gone. But it left an impression. It is exactly how I felt about the current state of street artists.
Lets dive in. The artist behind the quip is photographer Nick Stern. His series “You Are Not Banksy” takes Banksy’s iconic images and translates them into contemporary photographs. In a recent interview, Stern explains that the idea came from the riots that had broken out in his hometown of London. He wanted to do a shoot with soldiers throwing flowers, instead of bombs, and began with this recreation.
While Stern began with the idea of peaceful protest, I encountered his art in the street setting. First and foremost it wrang true to me in that specific context. The plethora of stickers, posters, stencils and wheatpaste have created a vaccuum of visual imagery. No one has a voice anymore because everyone else is yelling. When I encountered Nick’s statement, I heard his voice. It impacted me in a way I haven’t been since the greats (Blek Le Rat, Banksy, Fairey, Invader). The message stuck with me for months after the scribbling was painted over.
When I finally sat down to investigate where the stars of “Exit Through the Gift Shop” were today, I searched this image and reaped a major reward in stumbling upon an artist, who stumbled upon an idea that’s since gone viral. Stern’s work is not only clever, its poignent. When Banksy hits, his messages are clear, sometimes tactlessly so. But we don’t look to our street artists for manners. Banksy’s ghosted/silhouetted style has been an effective medium and has successfully spread his controversial ideas.
Stern’s work skillfully infuses Banksy’s images with even more power. Seeing Banksy’s two-dimensional Girl and Soldier come to life in a well crafted photograph, drives home the inappropriate nature of dominance and innocence in war.
The prisoner from Guantonamo materialized, gives the viewer the feeling that more must be done, seeing as how, he is now real. It communicates with the parts of our beings that are the most compassionate, in a way that a stencil on a wall cannot. It invades personal space.
Banksy’s work, brought to life, has caused me to revisit his ideals and viewpoints. His messages of unity and peace have overwhelmed me again. The artist is a master borrower, an idea that has always made me uncomfortable. When borrowing the imagery, ideas, or ideals of a source, your interpretation loses validity if it adds nothing new. Nick Stern understands that with re-appropriating comes the responsibility to enhance. He has successfully accomplished this, as any good street artist can (Shepard Fairey and The Hope image comes to mind).
By weaving the images from the street back into the gallery, I hope, with baited breath, that new life has been infused into this damaged genre/medium. While Nick Stern happened upon a fresh avenue, the original artists of the “Exit Through The Gift Shop” have kept busy on the streets as well.
Banksy, Blek le Rat, and Shepard Fairey are all currently being shown in London. “The Urban Masters” show at the Opera Gallery will feature creations by 33 international and local urban artists asked to devise their own tributes to great artists and works of art from the past.” Banksy’s work has been selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which didn’t stop him from hitting up London in a flurry of Olympics related pieces.
Due to his openly recognizable work, Shepard Fairey quit hiding out years ago. Currently, when he is not installing huge pieces in front of adoring crowds in London, he has been actively involved in the United States election. While his support this term obviously went to the president elect, Fairey focused more on getting people involved.
Space Invader plods along as though the world weren’t upended by MBW’s documentary. The sneaky soul doesn’t even have a social network. But his website is a must see. If you happen upon an invader, photograph it meticulously, they don’t last long!
And then our shining star, who has yet to burn out, and is much more successful than I am comfortable than I had hoped. Mr. Brainwash has enjoyed huge victories in the world of art. His shows and openings are the places to be seen. Possessing his art is a sort of badge of honor in some circles. He creates the same cluster of mass histaria at every gallery in which his work resides. Like I noted before, in “Making Banksy Bankable“, I do not discredit him or his impact on the art scene. I just simply see his impact in a historical perspective akin to the Dada movement. He is creating absolute nonsense, which eventually calls into question the validity of the street art scene, if not the contemporary art scene as a whole. Perhaps his next piece should be a toilet upside down.
While Los Angeles has fallen pretty silent and London has grabbed the attention of the street art scene, I plead with you not to make the mistake I did. Do not tune out what you see on the streets. Take a gander, if it catches your eye, take a longer look and let someone new impact you. If I hadn’t finally looked up, I would have missed Nick Stern. While MBW brought up a lot of questions about imitable art and its impact, so did many greats before him, Duchamps, Worhol. The art world needs a shake up every once in a decade to keep it interesting, I just don’t happen to love him, or the work he creates. That does not mean I should stop looking, learning, and finding new artists like Stern.