Iconic and famously anonymous graffiti artist Banksy first wrote about his works in three small books just 148mm x 105mm (5.8″ x 4.1″) Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall came out in 2001, Existencilism in 2002 and Cut it Out in 2004. I bought Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall when it came out but unfortunately missed the other two which were also published by Banksy’s own Weapons of Mass Distraction publisher. I say unfortunately because you cannot pick up any of these for less than £100 each nowadays. Far easier to find is the subject of this weeks blog Wall and Piece first published in 2005 by Century, part of the Random House group, and much larger at 257mm x 210mm (10.1″ x 8.3″) and 240 pages and which is in full colour unlike the small black and white only books which are just 48 pages long.
As for the ‘Now with 10% more crap’ sticker on the cover, my edition is the 9th impression and talking to a friend who has an earlier version, without the sticker, she confirmed that my copy is noticeably thicker than hers. We haven’t done a page by page comparison to establish the additional material but it was clearly an evolving project and I would have expected this to be a second edition rather than the 9th impression of the first. Wall and Piece, as a mass produced book running into multiple print runs is unsurprising quite cheap to find second hand, costing just a few pounds although I bought it new from a book shop and paid full price (£12.99) for mine.
The art is roughly in chronological order, starting with his chimp wearing a tabard with assorted messages on it to his rats which is when he really started to be noticed with his instantly obvious style and sense of humour. It is probably the fun in what he does that makes him so different to the vast majority of graffiti artists and which makes him so collectable with one of his works recently selling for £18.5 million, including premiums at auction. But this book takes us back to the beginning and he explains where the idea for the stencils came from, he was trying to paint ‘LATE AGAIN’ on the side of a train and taking far too long about it so that the police arrived and he only avoided being caught by escaping through thorn bushes and then hiding under a dumper truck. Looking up he saw the stencilled plate on the base of the fuel tank.
I got home at last and crawled into bed next to my girlfriend. I told her I’d had an epiphany that night and she told me to stop taking that drug ‘cos it was bad for your heart.
More rats, and this shows how he makes use of existing things on the walls he paints on either because it’s funny as in this example or because he is trying to make a more serious point. The vast majority of his works in the past have been either painted over or simply cleaned off the wall involved so it is the photographic records that are his lasting legacy. Most recently, due to the considerable value of his authenticated works, huge sections of wall have simply been removed and presumably sold such as the seagull art in Lowestoft taken earlier this month, see here.
The newest works in the book are from 2005, which is when the book was first published, and feature the works that Banksy, and a team of helpers, painted on the segregation wall illegally built by Israel through the occupied West Bank, the one above is near the checkpoint in Ramallah. They mainly appear to be holes in the wall with attractive views, one has a mountain range, another a tropical beach although one looks simply like the dotted line with scissors used to surround items to be cut out from printed items, this particular image is over twenty feet high. Although the paintings are largely appreciated by the inhabitants Bansky describes the wall in the book as something that “essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison.”
Old Man You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful
Old Man We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home
One section I particularly like deals with his re-interpreted art such as Sunflowers (from a Petrol Station) seen above. Banksy has managed to hang his parodies in numerous famous galleries by simply walking in and putting them up usually with explanatory cards in the form used by the gallery itself. These establishments include The Tate Gallery in London, The Louvre in Paris, The new York Metropolitan Museum and the Natural History museums in both London and New York amongst others. In the book these works are often accompanied with various photographs of Banksy hanging the ‘fake’ painting, the pictures normally survive on the walls for a few hours before being removed after which they have been discarded by the gallery or more recently added to their own collections.
Above is part of the rear of the book which not only completes the image on the front where the masked man is shown to be throwing a bunch of flowers rather than the Molotov cocktail that might have been expected from first impressions but also includes a quote from the Metropolitan Police, London’s police force, which may or may not be genuine.
Finally below is the book that started it all, a lot of the images from ‘Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall’ are also in Wall and Piece but in colour and much larger than could be achieved in such a small book. Surprisingly though there is a quite a lot of text in this small volume whilst Wall and Piece is largely a picture book, although it does include quite a bit of information about the various styles he has used and little bit of biographical detail but not enough to come any where near identifying him. There are also hints for how to do your own stencil graffiti in a few pages at the back and some introductory paragraphs at the start of each section.