Books & Art

Banking on Banksy: Graffiti as an Artform

Is it art or just vandalism?
IMAGE http://www.banksy.co.uk/
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Ian Lewis’s quiet Port Talbot existence found itself upturned in the course of one evening. The former steelworker woke up last December to find his garage wall vandalized by Banksy.

Yes, that Banksy.

The mural, entitled Season’s Greetings, appeared on Lewis’s garage a week before Christmas, embroiling the former steelworker in a battle of what’s private property and what counts as public domain. “There’s in excess of one thousand people going there a day, all hours, day and night,” Lewis admitted to the BBC.

“I just can’t cope with it now, to be honest with you.”

Season’s Greetingswraps around Lewis’s garage: a charming winter scene is featured on one side, with a child standing in full warm garb, arms outstretched, tongue out to welcome the first taste of snow. On the other side of the wraparound, however, we see that the flecks are actually pieces of ash spewing from a bin.

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Banksy confirmed that the mural was his handiwork by uploading a picture of it on his website on December 19. The artwork seems to be a response to the rising pollution in Port Talbot coming from a steel plant. The Welsh Government as well as actor and Port Talbot Native Michael Sheen have pitched in to help Lewis with security costs.  

Lewis has since sold the piece to art dealer John Brandler, who plans to keep it in Port Talbot. Lewis sold the piece to Brandler despite being offered higher sums elswhere so that the work could stay local. “It’s where it belongs,” said Brandler.

There are talks to take this graffiti chunk out and place it in a more central location, leaving Lewis to remodel his garage and return to a sense of normalcy.

“Personally I think it was an ideal spot for the theme of the artwork,” Lewis stated. “I don’t think it was anything to do with me, just the garage.”

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This graffiti story’s happy ending speaks to the increasing role that art places in creating public spaces. Banksy’s mix of graffiti and performance art (ala the shredded Girl with Balloon) is what drew people to Season’s Greetings.

While there’s no denying that the mural banks on its artist’s reputation, it’s a piece that exemplifies where street art thrives best. It’s art that’s meant to shock, a pointed critique on society that appears seemingly out of thin air. This reflection separates street art from vandalism, as graffiti presents itself as a work that has been both carefully thought out and impulsively created.

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About The Author
Gaby Flores
Gaby Flores is a contributing writer for Esquire. She likes postcolonial literature and spicy food.
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