An exploration of British graffiti artist Banksy’s works, both inside and outside galleries. Though they appear simple by nature, they are often complex in meaning.

The British graffiti artist Banksy has a silent wish to make the world see itself from time to time. He changes the character of neighbourhood walls, shutters of shops, corners of houses and cartons of boxes. He changes any surface that people interact with every day. For example, he paints a young cowboy riding on the back of a chunk of concrete wall that has broken away, making it look the shape of a wild boar. This physical changing of common surfaces is what graffiti art is all about: Yesterday you thought it was an ugly wall. Today it looks like a scene from a movie. All things have possibility.

Banksy messes with (or messes up) not only what we interact with outside, but also what we interact with inside our homes. In one work, he has painted a ballerina on the back of a picture frame, “dancing” on the curve of the string that holds it up. Other works are more angry: a group of policemen on motorbikes and in the middle of them a truck carrying a gigantic donut. The soldiers and their vehicles are in black. The only colour is on the donut — pink and yellow with bits of coloured sugar, and on the headlights of the motorbikes — red and blue and yellow just like the donut’s frosting and sugar. There is another of a girl in a full hijab, carrying a frying pan with a fried egg in it. She is holding a skillet firmly in the other hand, and her eyes have a look of defiance. Over her black hijab, Banksy has added an apron with a bikini top, fishnet stockings and a garter belt printed on it. These appear to be a little sensationalist and a little too easy, but then subtlety was probably not Banksy’s concern. In these too, one sees surfaces (in this case social and political surfaces) handled and changed to show a situation that could be true if we opened our eyes more. In the case of the girl with the hijab, it is Banksy showing us what our imaginations can do, and the real threat of a girl with a hijab.

The more obvious statement-oriented works are not what stay with the viewer though. The more silent, hardly noticeable ones do. Banksy shows his diverse skill with paintings not done in graffiti art style. There are a few paintings that look like landscape watercolours. Most are scenes in nature or in the country, but with graffiti introduced into them. In one, a battered car with graffiti sprayed on it lies in the middle of a scene of green. In another, village huts have walls scrawled with polemical writings, and the villagers go about their work. What makes these pleasurable to view is how the graffiti part of the “scenes” blend in to the extent that the eye almost misses them, but then because of the thick, textural nature of spray paint, they stand out. In the end, one can’t miss them and the way they change the entire composition.

This is the art of Banksy: to show something as what it is, and then to show how it really is not the thing that it is because of the layers that can be pasted, sprayed, or brushed over, in and around it.

— Shamoni Sarkar, Editor (Art)

Image Courtesy: © Banksy by carnagenyc; Commons; Banksy by carnagenyc; Commons