Early in to his art “residency” on the streets of New York, when Banksy’s newly-revealed stencils were getting tagged awfully fast and not preserved immediately by metal gates, I asked a handful of graffiti writers (and Shepard Fairey) to help explain why the British street artist’s NYC work was getting ragged so quickly. It was well received, so here’s Part II with a whole new crop of people who know a thing or two about putting up their art illegally.

“Shirt King” PHADE

Coming from an old school writer’s perspective, I understand that New York ‘aerosoul artists’ are not haters or dick riders!

New York is a zoo, baby, and this has always been a jungle. Survival of the fittest. We fought each other, together and side by side.

New York is like a big ass jail cell. You come in and the young guns are gonna try your chin. This shouldn’t be taken as disrespect. Just that a lot of people got robbed, stabbed, electrocuted for this aerosol art.

I respect Banksy, but NY is a different monster. If you don’t defend your art with your knuckle game you will not get any OGs respect. He needs to fuck one of those little punks up and New York will respect him. Welcome to the jungle, the bullpen called NYC.

COST

At the moment, Banksy has the art world in the palm of his hand with New York in a “frozen zone,” awaiting his every next move. It’s actually quite impressive as his one month street tour is a great topic of debate in NYC. His work goes up then comes down, almost never riding clean for long. Most people in general have a tendency to view things from the ‘outside in,’ never reading between the lines.

However, the work he and his team offer the public via the streets provoke many individuals to subconsciously alter their natural thought process, as he forces them to look at things from the ‘inside out.’ He’s literally monkey-wrenching the root of human thought order for your average thinker while adjoining it with a ‘fuck the system’ attitude, thus virtually exposing the status quo with a combination of honesty and anonymity. This seemingly frustrates the average Joe causing a multitude of adverse reactions, and to boot, the fact that he lines his pockets more by the day is likely causing a lot of inner jealousy within the culture. It’s no wonder people are in attack mode versus ‘Banksy’ or ‘Team Banksy,’ goal-wise. An artist’s intent is to always produce a reaction–that is of the utmost importance to any piece of work–and yes, he’s undeniably achieving that.

Whether you like what he does or not, he’s certainly not floating in that alarming state of ‘mediocrity’ that any artist should dread. He’s stirring the pot appropriately, in my humble opinion–as Banksy should. Personally, I’m enjoying his process as I sit back and enjoy the show. I’m a fan and intimately enjoy what he’s doing no matter what the mayor says… How could you not?

ENX

The reason Banksy’s work is being attacked, besides the human emotion of straight up jealousy is because Banksy’s work is highly valued and sought after. Within our society, objects that have high market value almost always are locked, gated and very protected by whoever owns them. It’s unusual to see something so coveted to be out there in the open, for the taking or destroying.

This becomes extremely seductive, which is the position Banksy operates from. He’s a master at seducing and tricking the public, just like all big advertising companies, thus creating drones of humans to wear their clothes, buy their products and in Banksy’s case, buying or stealing his art at a feverish pace.

Next phase, I hope he takes this lightening power he wields and funds an army of soldiers to battle in the “Blood Ivory War,” protecting African elephants. Currently, thousands are being slaughtered for their ivory, elephants are the true light of the world and must be protected at all COST!

DAZE

New York City is a tough town where in order to gain respect you really have to put in a lot of work. That could be said for any field here. I think people are dissing his stuff because they probably feel he hasn’t put in enough work. The insane amount of attention from mainstream media doesn’t help.

Right now, it’s less about the work and more about the surrounding hysteria. I mean, here he gets dissed but in England, where he’s from, people steal his stuff off the street all the time.

I think it’s probably real hard for him to do street work and maintain street credibility.

Personally, I like his stuff. It’s clever. Lately it’s been hit or miss but when he’s good, he’s real good.

CYCLE

Going back to the early 70s, we see “writers”–I use the term “writer” since that is the label New York City subway graffiti writers gave themselves–pioneering the use of markers and spray paint as a means to express themselves while using public space for ulterior means. This graffiti art is based around the writer’s name and letter forms. Now fast forward to the 80s we find galleries such as Fun Gallery and 51X Gallery start showing graffiti work as legitimate art after years of graffiti receiving bad press in the media, as graffiti is poised to make its jump to the fine art world with traditional writes such as Lee, Crash, Futura and Lady Pink leading the way.

Alternative artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, though not of the traditional graffiti culture, are added to the mix since they t0o are using public space as a means to illegally showcase their art. The gallery system soon picks Basquiat and Haring as their darlings and bar a few traditional graffiti writers. The door closes for the rest of the graffiti community. By the early 90s, graffiti in galleries is dead. At this time Cost and Revs, who come from the traditional graffiti scene, use untraditional means to get their names and art around by using wheat pastes, roller letters, and free form characters in door ways with clever sayings and commentary on society. Then it was “alternative” graffiti now it would be labeled “street art”. It is ahead of it’s time and they never make the jump to the gallery world.

By the late 90s, it looked as though the gallery scene was becoming excepting of the graffiti culture again. You had people such as Twist and Kaws breaking through, The Guernsey’s auction in 2000 and Espo and Reas joined by Twist produce the Jeffery Deitch-backed “Street Market.” Soon, Shepard Fairey and later Swoon–two wheat pasters–are joined by Banksy, a stenciler, and pick up a large audience. Their art is now known as “street art”. Street artists, though more image-based rather than letter based, do use illegal means to place their art in public space. At times they use similar materials and means. This is the same formula graffiti writers have used for years. Graffiti still vilified in the media gets passed over once again for what seems safer and easier to understand Street Art. Once again, with the exception of a few writers, the gallery doors slowly close on graffiti as it welcomes street art. Is there a riff between Street Art and Graffiti? I would say yes. You are left with two cultures — one where the media and the gallery scene praises the artist, one where the media and the gallery world reject the artists.

It’s social and economical disparity. So, why are people dissing Banksy so fast? Banksy represents the zenith of the polar opposite to the graffiti world. He is welcomed by the gallery world. His art is selling for hundreds of thousands. He is praised in the media with flocks of followers bowing down to give praise at a simple stencil of a dog pissing on a fire hydrant or a quote on a wall. People rush to preserve his work on the street while the graffiti writer is buffed immediately, even though they are technically the same thing, spray paint on a wall, placed illegally. It has become class warfare with Banksy being the figurehead.

I do not view all street art/artists as bad (some I like) and I do not view all graffiti as good, but there does seem to be an imbalance. I doubt the art world will ever see 25,000 JA tags as a collective body of work of exterior installation art produced over a quarter of a century making a statement about man’s place in urban society.

SMELLS

I do admit, I’ve always been a Banksy fan, mainly just because his work was funny and he did it right. But whether you see the stencils as clever or boring, his artistic presence is far beyond that now. He has grown into a high level conceptual artist able to effect society on a massive scale while still remaining mysterious. The hype that surrounds his pieces and the passionate reactions, both negative and positive, have become the most intriguing aspect of the work. The hatred of his art can be both entertaining and aggravating.

Many graffiti writers feel since Banksy is labeled as a “graffiti artist,” he should paint REAL graffiti and since he’s not a bomber, his work is invalid and he’s no more than an art fag. Also, many are simply haters, jealous of someone getting so much fame for their art.

The rift between street artists and writers goes along the same lines.

To certain writers, if it’s anything but traditional graffiti, it’s toy and worthless.

But then there are writers who transcend both artistic plains, going hard and getting weird. This balance will probably remain that way forever. You can’t please everyone and graffiti is not an art form anyone can easily control. Just have fun out there.

MOODY

The reason Banksy is getting ragged… People are jealous. Trying to get fame, trying to get attention.

I was hating a bit myself the first few days he was in town. I’ve been putting work in these streets for over 20 years and I don’t get the attention he gets, but for the most part he been putting on a really good show.

I really can’t hate on what he’s doing. I would be cool if he came down and dropped something in South Brooklyn.

Carlos MARE

At first, NYC writers reacted to him as an outsider coming in to their backyard uninvited and killing it, then the hype got too irresistible not to tone it down. Keep in mind, he hasn’t earned credibility by the NYC graffiti scene, the ‘street art’ scene perhaps, but the hardcore writers? Not so much.

There are also writers who see the opportunity to cop a little fame by going over him. Several were even caught on camera smashing his work so they become a part of the Banksy story even though they seek to dismiss him.

What is graffiti? Here in NYC, it’s our native tongue, it’s our history, our aesthetic and street code, despite the fact that media has turned ‘writing, hitting up, tagging’ into the buzzword ‘graffiti,’ we are 40+ years deep into a history of name writing and letter culture that is uniquely NYC.

We as a writing culture are very tight-knit group here in NYC. We all grew up knowing one another or about one another. There were very few ‘anonymous’ writers, so his anonymity leaves him outside the culture. For some, Banksy is a stranger who is garnering all this fame from a culture whose shoulders he is standing on.

Granted, he does brings a lot to the table for contemporary graffiti/street art. His agitation of writers, the art market and public space is unquestionably a jolt to an already exhausted city, this I find both entertaining and important for an honest discourse about what he represents and what he is trying to say with his art. He also poses a serious question in the Village Voice as to whether or not NYC is relevant any more but yet he feels he has something to prove here.

I was at the opening of the Write of Passage show at the Red Bull Space where Mass Appeal, Sacha Jenkins and Chino BYI curated a terrific show of true classic NYC graffiti past and present. This is the art people should be looking at to understand the difference between writing, Banksy and street art. It all stems from this period where dues were paid on the streets and subway trains not galleries or auction houses.

Is there a rift in street art and graffiti? Or has there always been one? First off, writing or ‘graffiti’ was born on the streets, the terms street art and graffiti were both conjured up by the media and those with vested interest in making a class of people more relaxed or opposed to what they both represent.

Writers have always had territorial beef with one another going back to the gang culture days of the 60s-70s and during the train writing era as well. It’s a real estate issue, a turf war.

Today’s street art gets a pass by and large, so I don’t really see this rift on the streets. When it comes to the commercial space like galleries and media space, writers tend to get overlooked in preference to their counterparts and perhaps this is where it get contentious.

Graffiti writers have their own lane and are by and large a bigger community than the muralists and today the lines continue to blur and blend as letter writers turn muralists. To the untrained eye they may seem like two different things, but in fact they are one in the same.

Previously: Part 1