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From street to salon: 'Guerrilla artist' Banksy is British art world's hottest star

From street to salon: 'Guerrilla artist' Banksy is British art world's hottest star

At a white-walled gallery in one of London's priciest quarters, a small army of stenciled rats and smiley-faced storm troopers is awaiting an invasion.
The chic Andipa Gallery is expecting a stampede of art buyers to its latest exhibition of works by Banksy, the pseudonymous "guerrilla artist" whose satirical images have gone from street-corner graffiti to coveted artworks that sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds (dollars, euros).
Gallery owner Acoris Andipa says Banksy's rise from hip outsider to art-world star has been rapid _ as he discovered when he held a preview in the exclusive Swiss resort of Gstaad.
"Last year, we were having to explain who Banksy was and why his canvases were 30 or 40,000 pounds (US$60,000 to US$80,000; euro40,000 to euro53,000)," Andipa said Wednesday. "This year, every single person _ including clients who'd come in their Lear jets _ walked in and said, 'Wow, Banksy _ and it's only 150,000 pounds (US$300,000; euro200,000).'"
Such prices are no longer exceptional. Last year, a Banksy went for almost 300,000 pounds (US$600,000; euro400,000) at a London auction. Earlier this month, "Keep It Spotless" _ a Banksy stencil over a polka-dot painting by British artist Damien Hirst _ sold for US$1.8 million (euro1.2 million) in New York.
The 60 works in the Andipa show, which opens Friday, range from 7,500 pounds (US$15,000; euro10,000) for limited-edition prints to 450,000 pounds (US$900,000; euro590,000) for a painting of sharks circling supermarket trolleys full of bright orange fish.
Banksy's opinion of all this can only guessed. Andipa does not know or represent him. The works in the show _ on wood, canvas, fragments of wall and pieces of metal _ were bought from collectors around the world.
Banksy's Web site says the artist does not endorse gallery shows of his work and disapproves of auction houses selling his street art because "it's undemocratic, it glorifies greed and I never see any of the money."
Banksy's publicist, Jo Brooks, said the artist had no connection with the Andipa show.
"It's absolutely nothing to do with him and there is no comment," she said.
It's a classic Banksy contradiction that he is famously publicity shy, but also employs a publicist. He's an expert at blending an outsider image with commercial savvy.
He almost never gives interviews, avoids being photographed and has not even confirmed his real name.
Most agree his name is Robert _ or possibly Robin _ Banks, he is in his early 30s and he comes from Bristol in southwest England, where he began his graffiti career in the 1980s and 1990s.
Using spray paint and cardboard stencils to tag walls, bridges and street signs, Banksy evolved a cheekily subversive style. His most famous images include two policemen kissing, armed riot police with yellow smiley faces and a chimpanzee with a sign bearing the words "Laugh now, but one day I'll be in charge."
In various corners of London he stenciled a rats holding placards saying "You Lose" or "Get out while you can."
Several of the rats are in the new show, as are Vladimir Lenin on roller-skates, a masked rioter preparing to hurl a bouquet of flowers, a military helicopter topped with a jaunty pink bow and a group of well-heeled lawn bowlers tossing bombs.
Andipa says Banksy has a knack for "boiling satirical points down to a simple, single image."
"Everybody gets it. It's so accessible," he said.
That accessibility does not impress everyone. Art critic Matthew Collings wrote recently in The Times newspaper that Banksy's ideas "only have the value of a joke."
Owning his work "would make you modern and clever. Or stupid. It's a fine line."
Banksy's reputation has been boosted by a series of attention-grabbing art pranks.
In 2005, he hung an image of a spear-toting ancient human pushing a shopping cart in the British Museum. The next year he smuggled a life-sized figure of a Guantanamo Bay detainee into Disneyland.
In the Middle East, he painted trompe l'oeil holes in the concrete barrier between Israel and the West Bank. For a 2006 exhibition in Los Angeles, he spray painted an elephant red and gold and placed it in a living room with matching wallpaper. People lined up around the block outside the warehouse where the show was held. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were among those who bought work.
"There has always been a commercial side to Banksy," said Andipa. "His notoriety has come through the street, but he has always worked in a studio fashion as well, creating works on canvas for commercial sale."
As his fame and reputation grow, it's becoming increasingly hard to see Banksy's work in its original setting _ the streets. At first, the main threat was local authorities removing it. In recent years, building owners have sold entire walls, or covered up Banksy stencils to preserve them.
Lately someone has been painting over Banksy works in London, leaving the stenciled words "all the best" beside them. Some say the vandal is a rival street artist. Others say it is Banksy himself. We may never know.
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On the Net:
http://www.banksy.co.uk
http://www.andipamodern.com


Updated : 2021-03-08 18:05 GMT+08:00