Banksy and street art

Level B1

In October, the famous street artist Banksy played a prank on Sotheby’s, one of London’s famous auction houses. Sotheby’s was selling one of his paintings, Balloon Girl, depicting a girl trying to catch a heart-shaped balloon. As soon as the painting was sold – for more than one million pounds – it slid out of the frame in shreds. Banksy (or somebody working for him) had secretly turned on a paper shredder hidden inside the frame of the painting. After the initial shock, the auction house said that Banksy’s painting was “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction”. Indeed, the painting – renamed Love Is in the Bin – is worth more now that before. Banksy released a video about the whole event, from when he hid the shredder inside the frame to the moment the painting was sold and shredded. His video seems to say that he wanted to make fun of the art world and of the rich clients of the auction house, whom he shows drinking champagne at a buffet.

 

Underground art

Banksy comes from a humbler background. He began producing street art in the 1990s, as part of the underground art movement of the city of Bristol. ‘Underground’ art is the opposite of mainstream art. It is critical of the status quo and wants to break with tradition. It is often revolutionary. Banksy’s main art form is itself unusual: a street artist does not paint on canvas or create his works in a studio, but rather he draws and paints directly on city walls. Street art becomes part of the city environment. Over the years, Banksy’s art has appeared on city walls around the world. He has become very famous and appreciated, and his works are sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Yet, Banksy seems to have stayed true to his underground origins, uninterested in fame or in making money. For example, a few years ago, on his website he gave away images of his works for free, encouraging ‘buyers’ to print them out “using the company printer ink when everyone else is at lunch.”

 

Banksy’s style

Banksy is popular because his art makes interesting political or social statements. He is against violence, as shown in his iconic painting of a rioter throwing a bunch of flowers instead of a bomb (Rage, Flower Thrower). His art is often critical of greed and consumerism, as shown in a picture of a girl falling off a building holding a trolley (Shop Until You Drop). He said: “I want to show that money hasn’t crushed the humanity out of everything.” His art often contains an element of humour. Some are clever, yet meaningful jokes. For example, on a wall of the Brooklyn Museum he managed to place a fake painting of a 17th century military officer holding a spray paint can, with anti-war graffiti in the background. Banksy is considered the world’s most famous street artist, and one of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists. Despite being such a famous man, his identity is secret. Banksy is a pseudonym and only his closest friends know his real name.

 

Art or vandalism?

Back in 2003 not even his parents knew what he did. In an interview he said: “They think I’m a painter and decorator.” The reason for his secrecy is because drawing on public walls is usually illegal, and street art is considered vandalism. A street artist could be arrested and his art removed. London’s Westminster Council even removed works by Banksy saying that “Banksy has no more right to paint graffiti than a child”, and that “if we condone this then we might as well say that any kid with a spray can is producing art.” The council has a point: not any scribble on a wall can be considered art. Yet, this is probably what makes Banksy special: his acts of vandalism can be called art because they do what art does best: they offer a new, deep, subversive look at reality.

Useful links

1) Look at the video showing the shredding of Girl with Balloon:
https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/banksy-video-girl-with-balloon/index.html

2) Look at Banksy’s own video about the event:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxkwRNIZgdY

3) Check out some of Banksy’s works on his official website:
http://banksy.co.uk/

4) Learn more about Banksy here:
https://wiki.kidzsearch.com/wiki/Banksy

5) Read about street art and look at the gallery (and ask yourself: is all of it art?):
https://kids.kiddle.co/Graffiti

6) How about street art in school? Check out this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXYvm9RNCok

 

COMPREHENSION

1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the right alternative.

1. Balloon Girl was shredded

  1. before it was sold.
  2. by Sotheby’s.
  3. at Sotheby’s.

2. Banksy shredded Balloon Girl

  1. so it would be worth more money.
  2. to make a statement.
  3. to create art live during an auction.

3. Underground art is often

  1. critical of tradition.
  2. A street artist works
  3. in a studio.

4. A street artist works

  1. indoors.
  2. outdoors.
  3. in a studio.

5. Rage, flower Thrower shows a man throwing

  1. a bouquet.
  2. an icon.
  3. a bomb.

6. Shop Until You Drop criticizes

  1. money.
  2. violence.
  3. consumerism.

7. Banksy’s art is often

  1. funny.
  2. serious.
  3. meaningless.

8. A major reason why Banksy keeps his identity secret is because

  1. he doesn’t want to tell his parents what he does.
  2. he risks going to prison.
  3. he doesn’t like being famous.

9. Street art is

  1. always illegal.
  2. often illegal.
  3. legal.

10. Westminster Council said that Banksy

  1. behaves like a child.
  2. should be treated like a child drawing graffiti.
  3. should be condoned for his graffiti.

 

VOCABULARY

2) Complete the sentences with the following words. Put the verbs and nouns in the right form, if necessary.

canvas  *  rioter  *  prank  *  pseudonym  *  humble  *  to depict  *  greed  *  fake  *  scribble  *  to condone

1. Sometimes artists use ______ to avoid revealing their true identity.

2. ______ is a selfish desire to have such things as money, wealth and power.

3. Another word for ‘false’ is ______.

4. ______ is a synonym of ‘modest’.

5. A ______ is a cloth on which an artist can paint.

6. A ______ is a practical joke.

7. ______ often fight the police during violent protests.

8. Banksy’s works often ______ children and animals.

9. I can’t read this ______; you shouldn’t write so carelessly.

10. The state does not ______ acts that break the law.

 

GRAMMAR – Prepositions of time

3) Complete the following sentences with the correct time preposition (on, in, at, during, since, until, for).

1. Banksy draws his street art secretly ______ night.

2. One of Banksy’s early works, The Mild Mild West was painted ______ 1997.

3. Banksy played a prank on Sotheby’s ______ October.

4. Banksy shredded Balloon Girl ______ the auction.

5. Banksy’s exhibition Barely Legal was held ______ a weekend of September 2006.

6. The auction started ______ seven o’clock.

7. Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop premiered ______ 24 January 2010.

8. Banksy was probably born ______ the 1970s.

9. ______ the beginning of his career, Banksy has held many exhibitions.

10. Probably we won’t know who Banksy really is ______ he tells us himself or is arrested!

11. Banksy has been doing street art ______ almost thirty years.

 

SHORT ESSAY

4) Look at some of Banksy’s works. Choose one that you like. Describe it and explain why you like it.

5) Do you think that street art is always vandalism, or are there cases when it can be considered art?

(Carlo Dellonte)

(Image credits: niki81, flickr)

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