Banksy and the Rise of Outlaw Art

Banksy and the Rise of Outlaw Art

Directed by Ello Espana (2019)

Film Review

This documentary, about the anonymous street artist Banksy, is the best I’ve seen in ages. Banksy made world headlines last year when one of his paintings sold at a Sutherby’s auction for ¬£1,420,000 and mysteriously self-shredded once the bidding finished.

The film is narrated by friends and artists who have worked with Banksy. The street artist grew up in Bristol, where he was heavily influenced by the 1980s grafitti/hiphop/rap/DJ culture. The Traveler* community (often associated with anarchism) has always had a strong presence in Bristol and the Glastonbury Festival that takes place annually in the area.

A local youth worker offered up the premises of Barton Hall youth club as a space for all Bristol youth to legally tag and post graffiti. As a teenager, Bansky spent most weekends there. He maintains he was first politicized by the 1990 poll tax riots under Margaret Thatcher. By the 1990s, Banksy (like the late New York street artist Jean Paul Basquiet) was moving away from the tagging towards conceptual art with a political message.

The film includes a video clip of Banksy (his face disguised by a bandana) a mural for the Zapatistas shortly after they occupied Chiapas in 1994. He has also painted stunning murals along the illegal wall the Israeli government erected between Israel and the West Bank, as well as installing a permanent exhibition in Gaza (in 2015) called The Walled Off Hotel: the Worst Hotel in the World.

Banksy first came to world prominence in 2003, when he infiltrated famous art museums all over the world to install politically provocative paintings. It was around this time he moved to London and began accepting commissions to paint murals and other art works. He still considers himself an outlaw, underground street artist, producing art for ordinary people who never buy paintings or visit art museums. His images are simultaneously ironic and iconoclastic, in a way that forces people to question the way society operates. One of my favorites is the image of a small girl in a pink dress frisking a soldier in riot gear.

When Jude Law, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie started buying his prints, their value skyrocketed. At present it’s not uncommon for prints Banksy sells for $150 to be resold at auction for hundreds of thousands¬† of dollars. His prank last year at Sutherby’s was his response to the extreme commodification of a creative art form that was meant to be freely available to the poor and downtrodden.

In my view, his work represents a highly evolved form of culture jamming (see Culture Jamming: The Grassroots War Against Mind Control


*In the UK, Travellers are an itinerant ethnic group of Irish or Scottish origin.

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free on Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into the search engine.