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October 05 2013

Banksy se fend d'un dessin par jour dans les rues de New York

Banksy se fend d’un dessin par jour dans les rues de New York
http://www.romandie.com/news/n/Banksy_se_fend_d_un_dessin_par_jour_dans_les_rues_de_New_York6505102013112 ?

Le célèbre graffeur Banksy s’empare tout le mois d’octobre des rues de New York, spectacle qui fait courir les « hipsters » et amateurs de street art. L’artiste anglais, dont nul ne connaît avec certitude l’identité, a promis de révéler une nouvelle oeuvre d’art chaque jour en ville.

Connus pour leur finesse, leur humour et leur sens politique, ses pochoirs ont fait de lui une célébrité. Certains ont été récupérés de leurs murs et revendus aux enchères, parfois à des milliers de kilomètres de là, pour des centaines de milliers de dollars.

Mais le show new yorkais, intitulé « Better Out Than In » (Mieux vaut dehors que dedans), est gratuit et ouvert à tous... à condition d’y arriver à temps. Banksy peint ses pochoirs en secret et leur localisation est ensuite annoncée sur internet.

Les fans se ruent sur place, parfois pour découvrir qu’ils ont déjà été recouverts, ou tagués par des artistes rivaux, à peine quelques heures après avoir été achevés, ce qui ne les empêche pas de faire le buzz sur la toile.

Sur internet

Sa première pièce représentait un enfant sur le dos d’un autre, qui essayait d’attraper la bombe de peinture figurant sur un vrai panneau affirmant que le graffiti est un crime. Il a été peu après recouvert de peinture blanche.

L’exposition dispose d’un compte Instagram, qui pour ses trois premiers jours d’existence avait déjà accumulé 30’000 abonnés. Le site banksy.com publie également les nouvelles oeuvres et @banksyny poste des messages cryptiques sur Twitter.

http://res.cloudinary.com/boti/image/upload/v1380574103/bt0hv6k2i2noex7olcgc.jpg

http://www.banksyny.com
#banksy #streetart

August 05 2013

« A Tottenham, la disparition d'une œuvre de Banksy ravive la “guerre des murs” »

« A Tottenham, la disparition d’une œuvre de Banksy ravive la “guerre des murs” »
http://www.lemonde.fr/a-la-une/article/2013/08/05/a-tottenham-la-disparition-d-une-uvre-de-banksy-ravive-la-guerre-des-murs_34

’tention, y a un #paywall, auquel je n’ai pas plus accès que toi, mais on a l’essentiel de l’info avant ça : le #street_art c’est tellement in qu’une compagnie découpe un bout de mur dessiné par #Banksy pour l’exposer...

http://s1.lemde.fr/image/2013/08/05/534x0/3457441_6_d5cb_l-uvre-de-l-artiste-banksy-sur-un-mur-de_5e4141ef53a36c0bdadaa33e695aec1f.jpg

#Tottenham est l’un des quartiers les plus pauvres d’Europe. C’est là, dans le nord de la capitale britannique, qu’éclatèrent les graves émeutes raciales de l’été 2011. C’est là aussi que, grâce aux artistes de rue, cette zone qui broie du noir peut rêver en couleurs. D’où l’émotion qu’a provoqué la disparition d’une oeuvre murale intitulée No Ball Game (« ballon interdit ») signée du célèbre plasticien anglais Banksy.

Au croisement de Tottenham High Road et de Philip Lane, le mur beige de l’épicerie a été découpé. Une compagnie événementielle, Sincura Group, a fait enlever fin juillet le graffiti réalisé en 2009 par Banksy qui montre un petit garçon et une fillette jouant au ballon. L’oeuvre de l’artiste – qui a toujours choisi de rester anonyme – doit traverser l’Atlantique en 2014 pour être vendue aux enchères à Miami. Les « muraux » de Banksy s’arrachent à prix d’or.

« Ce dessin faisait partie de notre identité » : telle est l’antienne des habitants de Tottenham qui se sentent dépossédés d’une oeuvre que l’as du « street art » leur avait offerte. La colère est d’autant plus vive que l’auteur du coup de force, Sincura Group, est un récidiviste en la matière. En février, la société avait fait enlever d’un mur de Wood Lane, dans le nord londonien, un autre pochoir en noir et blanc de Banksy.

Lequel pochoir, intitulé “Slave Labour”, avait été vendu par le groupe pour la modique somme de £750,000.
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/no-ball-games-anger-as-another-banksy-removed-from-north-london-wall-

https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/ay_111269365.jpg

En angliche, tu trouveras davantage d’explications, et notamment cette splendide justification du Sincura Group : mais puisqu’on vous dit que c’est pour restaurer cette oeuvre splendide, et en plus on fait dons des bénéfices à une ONG
http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/494859/20130726/banksy-tottenham-sincura-art-auction.htm

Sincura pledged to hand profits from the auction sale to a charity. A statement said: “A number of attempts have been made over the past to deface the piece. [With] further concerns about its safety, the piece has been removed to be sensitively restored to its former glory.”

Dans un communiqué sur son site, le groupe ajoute dans un bel effort de #casuistique que 1. cette restauration parfaitement désintéressée a nécessité un gros investissement en temps et en énergie (sous-entendu en argent) ; et 2. de toutes façons, c’est le dessin qui était illégal, pas le fait de l’enlever
http://www.thesincuragroup.com/uploads/statement_11052013.pdf

The showing of this piece was the culmination of months of hard work and we simply wish to display it in again its home city before it disappears forever.

It should be noted that both Scotland Yard and the FBI have issued statements that there is no evidence of criminality involved in the removal of this illegally painted mural and therefore no case to answer.

Le Sincura Group, qui semble en effet un excellent expert en #récupération, #foutage_de_gueule et #mépris, comme en atteste son slogan

your gateway to a VIP life

et son manifeste pour une “conciergerie” de luxe
http://thesincuragroup.com/about.html

The Sincura Group started as a secret organisation opening buildings and acquiring access to the inaccessible. Having been unhappy members of other concierges in the past, the company grew to offer a full range of services worldwide, based on three simple values we felt where missing from the concierge industry.

Value for money – we offer the best value for money service on the market; from tickets to travel, fashion to frolics we are here to offer you that VIP lifestyle at an affordable price.

Contacts and delivery – quite simply we are the best connected network in London and indeed worldwide and our experienced and highly skilled team are hired for their connections and the doors they open.

Old fashioned values and knowing our clients – we have met every member and every affiliate we work with and can tailor services for our members’ needs.

Cela (re)pose l’intéressante question du #bien_public : ce qui n’appartient à personne, n’importe qui peut-il se l’approprier pour en faire commerce ? Comment ce découpage de mur se passe-t-il sur le plan des droits : accord de Banksy, impossibilité pour lui d’agir là-dessus ? Et la ville, le proprio du bâtiment ? Tout ce qui se propose comme bien public, dans la forme, le support, la diffusion, etc., ne devrait-il pas tomber automatiquement dans le #domaine_public ?

#gentrification #artification

June 28 2012

Street art takes London by storm

A 10-storey Shepard Fairey megaphone, a bus covered in bubbles, a Banksy work on the nose of a jumbo: London Pleasure Gardens has unveiled new pieces by the world's top street artists





Street artist Shepard Fairey unveils largest mural in the UK

The artist responsible for the Obama 'Hope' posters has made a 10-storey artwork broadcasting the power of free speech over London during 2012

London Pleasure Gardens, a new event space in Newham, today unveiled important new artworks by several prominent US street artists. The unveiling coincides with the official launch of the London Pleasure Gardens on Saturday 30 June.

The most prominent new work is by California's Shepard Fairey, also known as Obey, who has painted a huge mural in his characteristic black, white and red, of a megaphone that "projects free speech great distances". Fairey said: "I am really happy to be associated with LPG … it will be something that unsuspecting Olympic enthusiasts will stumble across. The mural symbolises freedom of speech and expression and is the tallest piece I have ever done." Fairey's megaphone mural is over 10 storeys high and is visible from Pontoon Dock DLR station.

Fairey started making street art stickers in 1989, which evolved into the iconic Obey stickers and posters featuring the face of now-deceased wrestler Andre the Giant that were posted worldwide. Fairey is best known in 2008 for his red, white and blue Hope posters, used in Barack Obama's US election campaign.

Other artists involved include Ron English, featured in the films Supersize Me and Exit Through the Giftshop; TrustoCorp from New York, who twist corporate branding for their own purposes, and LA's Risk. Ron English has painted the nose cone of a jumbo jet and speech bubbles on hoardings on the site. Risk's colourfully painted bus is another highlight.

The artwork has immediately established London Pleasure Gardens as an important hub for street art in London, and confirms London's importance as a major street art centre globally.

The directors of the London Pleasure Gardens have a long track record of arranging large shows featuring national and international street artists. Another of their projects, Mutate Britain (a play on Tate Britain) in 2008, included a large exhibition in Ladbroke Grove, west London, under the Westway flyover called One Foot in the Grove. London Pleasure Gardens director Garfield Hackett said of the project: "The pleasure gardens of old showed the positive effect that sharing in art and culture can have on London. We can't wait for people to join us here to see what we're creating."


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June 23 2012

Renowned street artist Shepard Fairey commissioned for north London mural

Work by artist who rose to prominence with Obama 'Hope' poster is located on wall of Turnpike Lane shop

The natural territory of the street artist Shepard Fairey would seem to be as all-American as it gets. Emerging from the country's skateboarding scene he achieved global prominence with his much copied, much parodied Hope poster displaying a stylised Barack Obama in shades of blue and red.

He spent much of Friday assembling his latest street mural in a seemingly less likely locale – a suburban street in Turnpike Lane, one of north London's more economically mixed neighbourhoods.

Hoisted aloft by a rented cherry picker, the 42-year-old artist used stencils and paint to create Envision, an image of a giant, stylised eyeball design, set in the frame of a disused Victorian placard site on the wall of a local shop.

The unlikely public commission, carried out with any charge by the artist, was the almost accidental result of a wider community regeneration programme carried out by the local council, Haringey, and the green travel charity Sustrans.

In getting together to decide options for more pedestrian-friendly street layouts, locals pondered what to do with the crumbling and slightly tatty shop wall, and decided the existing frame left by the long-disappeared Victorian placard would be best filled by a mural.

James Straffon, a local who helped organise the project, went to a London art gallery specialising in graffiti artists to seek help.

He said: "The woman from the gallery asked: 'Ideally, who would you like?' I said: 'I know it would never happen, but Shepard Fairy.' She said: 'Shall I get in touch with him, then?' I stuck my neck out and said yes and sent them a diagram with the sizes, thinking nothing would happen. Literally a week later they said, he's interested and he's coming over."

Straffon says he remains unsure why such a celebrated artist would be interested in a relatively out-of-the-way location. He said: "I think what sold it was that it's an old Victorian billboard. I think they like the fact it's the old London thing."

Before Fairey arrived, Straffon and some neighbours spent a day preparing the wall, painting it in a specified shade of red for a background to the stencilled design.

The US artist and his team spent several hours in decidedly mixed weather putting the design in place. Straffon said: "He's come from west coast America to dreary, sodden London. He must be thinking: 'Great, I've got to do this.' It's quite windy, too."

Another oddity is that this is Turnpike Lane's second work by a globally-known street artist in a matter of months. Last month, a mural believed to be by Banksy, a rough UK equivalent to Fairey, appeared on the wall of the area's local Poundland shop, showing a child sweatshop worker sewing jubilee bunting.


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May 17 2012

Rats! Banksy doesn't need more publicity

Witty it may be, but Bansky's art is nothing to aspire to. The Australian plumbers who destroyed his work have created something infinitely more useful to humanity

Good news from Australia! While fitting out a cafe in Melbourne, builders have managed to run two pipes precisely through the middle of a Banksy. Where once there was a rat with a parachute and a briefcase, there are now two plastic elbow-joints and a bit of a mess. By creating something of lasting value for humanity, the plumbing is a clear improvement.

Because Banksy is easily Britain's most overrated artist – cynicism's Vettriano. In its banality and self-importance, his work towers over all contemporaries. A policeman snorting coke, a helicopter gunship with a pink bow on top, and this week, on Wood Green High Road, the appearance of a child labourer making bunting: this stuff insults us all, vapid consumer drones that we are, by presuming that its insights will be news. One of the triumphs of the Cultural Olympiad, which showcases British art, is that Banksy appears to have no role in it.

Clearly it's the subterfuge around his work that has made him famous and revered. (There is to be a candlelit vigil in Melbourne, for goodness sake.) This fame has made the pieces valuable, and the value seems to have deluded many people into considering them profound. Not Banksy himself, however: he was deluded from the beginning. "I like to think," he says in his book Wall and Piece (RRP £20), "that I have the guts to stand up anonymously in a western democracy and call for things that no one else believes in – like peace and justice and freedom." Yes indeed, I bet he likes to think that frequently.

There certainly is some wit and chutzpah in his work, and he is a fairly polished illustrator. But what should be the right amount of reverence for that? Other graffiti artists have judged it fairly well, by eventually obliterating the sweeping maid in Chalk Farm Road and the hitchhiking Charles Manson in Archway, among many others. Also, accidents keep happening. In Melbourne alone, three Banksies have been destroyed in the past two years.

To be clear, Banksy's work is not wholly unenjoyable – and Big Macs don't taste terrible either – but if he is starting to inspire people then their sights are being set about a mile too low. The whole point of graffiti is to be transitory and disposable, so let's hear it for the planet's cleaners, builders and vandals who, recognising instantly the uninterestingness of Banksy's art, dispose of it.


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April 13 2012

March 11 2012

Damien Hirst: 'I still believe art is more powerful than money'

Damien Hirst has gone from mouthy YBA to global brand over the past 25 years – and become the world's richest living artist on the way. Here he talks about money, mortality and his first retrospective in Britain

Exclusive poster downloads: butterflies shark spin spots

When Damien Hirst was looking though his archive recently, in preparation for his forthcoming retrospective at Tate Modern, he came across some film footage of an interview he did with David Bowie in the Gagosian Gallery in New York in 1996. "I'm sitting on a big ashtray talking bollocks," says Hirst, laughing. "At one point, Bowie says, 'So what about a big Tate gallery show, then?' And I say, 'No way. Museums are for dead artists. I'd never show my work in the Tate. You'd never get me in that place.'"

He grins ruefully and shakes his head. "I was watching it and thinking, 'Jesus Christ, how things change.' Suddenly, I'm 46 and I'm having what they call a mid-career retrospective. It doesn't seem right somehow."

We are seated on a sofa beneath a big blue Francis Bacon in an expansive first-floor room in Science Ltd, Hirst's central London HQ. It is a vast building on several storeys, and it contains more contemporary art than many medium-sized galleries. There are pieces by Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Sarah Lucas and, of course, several spin and spot paintings, and steel and glass medicine cabinets by the man himself. Hirst's Prada loafers are on the floor in front of us, but his signature tinted glasses are nowhere to be seen. He looks stockier than the last time I saw him, just over two years ago, and a bit quieter, more reflective. "It's mortality, mate," he says. "My eldest boy, Connor, is 16. A few of my friends have died. I'm getting older. I'm not the mad bastard shouting at the world any more."

But you're only 46, I say; it's not as if the reaper has you in his sights. "I know, I know, but it's more that realisation that you're not young any more. I've always thought, 'I don't want to look back. Ever.' I think I was obsessed with the new. That's changed."

A mid-career retrospective will do that, I say, teasingly. "Maybe," he says. "But I think it's more that when you're young, you're invincible, you're immortal – or at least you think you are. The possibilities are limitless, you're inventing the future. Then you get older and suddenly you have a history. It's fixed. You can't change anything. I find that a bit disturbing, to be honest."

The exhibition in question, simply entitled Damien Hirst, will "be a map of my life as an artist, not a greatest hits". It will include most of the greatest hits, though, as well as some not so well-known early work. "There's the painted boxes and boards that I put in Freeze [the groundbreaking show Hirst curated in 1988], from when I wanted to be the new Kurt Schwitters. And there's stuff from my student days at Goldsmiths – gloss-painted frying pans I hung on the wall. Embarrassing stuff like that."

It was Nick Serota, director of Tate, who also insisted that Hirst show the early work, as well as the first piece from every series he has made ever since. "The first spot painting, the first spin painting, the first vitrine, the first medicine cabinet. They're all in there, for better or worse," says Hirst. He then relates an anecdote that illustrates both his cavalier attitude to his work and the weight the work carries. It concerns an early spot painting, executed by Hirst himself, rather than (as is the case with the 1,500-strong series that followed) one of his production team.

"I showed Nick a photo of it and he wanted it in the show. It's all drips and splats. Terrible, really. When I moved down to Devon, I stuck it outside behind a barn. Millicent [Wilner] from Gagosian came down to visit and she was freaking out: 'Why have you put it there? In the rain! Jesus Christ, Damien!' It was like gold because it was me, but, really, it's shit."

Is he happy it's in the show, now? "I am, yes. It tells part of the story of my last 25 years as an artist. It's important on that level. It says that I didn't just arrive on the planet going 'Fuck you' to everybody, which is what a lot of people seem to think."

The "fuck you" work is there in full force, too, though. There's the famous shark in formaldehyde, entitled with typical Hirstian extravagance The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) and described in the catalogue as "one of the most iconic images of late 20th-century art". There's Mother and Child Divided (1993), a bisected cow and calf suspended in four tanks, and the mythical bestiary that is the collection Beautiful Inside My Head Forever (2008), which includes a zebra, a unicorn and a golden calf.

There are pristine steel and glass cabinets full of neatly arranged pills, and evil-looking black paintings made of thousands of flies congealed in paint. There are spin paintings with and without human skulls at their centre, and spot paintings that move between the vibrant and the purely ambient. There are more flies, live ones, hatched from maggots and feeding off a severed cow's head in a vitrine, and butterflies, pinned and painted and pressed on canvas, and a single white dove suspended in mid-flight above a human skull. Life and death, beauty and ugliness, the sacred and the profane; all the big Hirstian statements that have appalled some critics with their supposed obviousness, but have also dragged conceptualism from the margins of the art world into the mainstream.

Outside Tate Modern will stand Hymn (1999), Hirst's monumental take on a child's educational figure, complete with exposed stomach organs. Inside, in the massive Turbine Hall, flanked by security guards, will sit a relatively tiny piece entitled For the Love of God (2007), the most expensive work of art ever created in terms of its materials: a human skull cast in platinum and encased in diamonds. A modern vanitas piece about death and money, but mostly about money.

"Putting the show together," says Hirst, "was like a big 180-degree turn for me. I'm looking back at all this work and trying to make sense of it. Some of it is great, and some of it is unrealised and didn't make it in there, and some of it is just shit. It's 25 bloody years of work and, of course, I'm proud of it, proud that I put the effort in, but there's also one part of me going, 'How did that happen?'"

How, indeed? It is a question that exercises the minds of his many detractors in the art world: how did a mouthy, working-class lad from Leeds, with hooligan tendencies, become the biggest – and the richest – artist on the planet? (In the Sunday Times Rich List of 2010, Hirst's wealth was estimated at £215m.) The answer is long and complex, and has much to do with the radical shifts in culture that have occurred over the past 25 years or so, both in Britain and the world: the unstoppable rise of art as commodity and the successful artist as a brand; the ascendancy of a post-Thatcher generation of Young British Artists (YBAs) who set out, unapologetically, to make shock-art that also made money; the attendant rise of uber-dealers such as Jay Jopling in London and Larry Gagosian in New York; and the birth of a new kind of gallery culture, in which the blockbuster show rules and merchandising is a lucrative sideline.

At the centre of this ultra-commodified art world stands Damien Hirst, art superstar: the richest, loudest, biggest YBA of all. Except that, no longer young, he seems – at the very moment when his canonisation by the art establishment is complete – to be in a long period of transition. When I last spoke to him, in September 2009, in his vast studio near Stroud, Gloucestershire, it was exactly a year after the astounding success of Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, his record-breaking Sotheby's auction of 2008. Back then, just before the world markets tumbled, Hirst made headlines by bypassing his dealers, Jopling and Gagosian, altogether, and taking more than £111m in sales in two days of often-frenzied bidding. Right on the cusp of the recession, the Sotheby's auction was a pivotal moment for Hirst – a grand farewell, he told me, to the "big work" he had been making for years. He also told me then that conceptualism was "a total dead end" and said: "You spend 20 years celebrating your immortality, and then you realise that's not what it's about."

Since then, he has been relatively quiet on the creative (if not the commercial) front, working mainly on his own paintings: that is, canvases on which he, and he alone, applies the paint. Many of them, including a series made after the suicide of his friend Angus Fairhurst in March 2008, were completed in a room in Claridge's that his good friend Paddy McKillen (co-owner of the hotel) loaned him rent-free, in return for some paintings that now decorate the Connaught, another of McKillen's London hotels. An exhibition of that work, No Love Lost, opened at the Wallace Collection in London in October 2009 to uniformly murderous reviews, the late art critic Tom Lubbock comparing Hirst to "a not very promising first-year art student".

Undaunted, Hirst has continued to paint, and when I travelled down to his country home in deepest Devon a few weeks ago, he showed me briefly around his garden shed, where a paint-splattered stuffed bear stood sentinel over a group of partially completed canvases, featuring brightly coloured parrots in lush landscapes and a single big painting of a human head in a wash of what you might call Bacon blue. A few stuffed parrots stood on perches in the centre of the cluttered room, bright yellow and green, as if staring at their painted selves. "When all else fails," Hirst quipped, "get yourself a few dead parrots." It all seemed a long way from a giant blue shark in a tank of formaldehyde. "I've spent a long time avoiding painting and dealing with it from a distance," he said. "But as I get older I'm more comfortable with it."

The house in Devon, where Hirst currently lives with his wife, Maia Norman, and their three children, is one of several properties he owns. He also has a stately home, Toddington Manor, in Gloucestershire, that will one day house a collection of his own work. Near Stroud, he has another house with a vast studio attached, where, not that long ago, many of his 150-strong team of assistants laboured over his serial works: the spot paintings, spin paintings, cabinets and vitrines. He has a houseboat in Chelsea, a house in Thailand, where he spent Christmas, and another in Mexico, although he hasn't been there for a while because "it's a bit wild west out there at the moment".

In London, as well as Science, his organisational hub, he also owns a big chunk of Newport Street in Lambeth, which is currently being turned into a new gallery that will open in 2014 and house his extensive collection of contemporary art by the likes of Bacon, Koons, Murakami, Richard Prince, Sarah Lucas and even Banksy – "We do these collaborations with my spots. I got one from him recently and he'd written all over it in big black letters: Sorry, The Lifestyle You Ordered Is Out of Stock."

Over lunch in Hirst's quayside restaurant in Ilfracombe, beneath a pristine glass cabinet full of pills, I ask him if it was always his motivation to be the biggest, the most successful? "I always wanted to be bigger, but not biggest. Even as a kid in drawing class, I had real ambition. I wanted to be the best in the class but there was always some other feller who was better; so I thought, 'It can't be about being the best, it has to be about the drawing itself, what you do with it.' That's kind of stuck with me. Being best is a false goal, you have to measure success on your own terms."

With Damien Hirst, though, it aways seems to come down to three things: art, ambition and money, though not necessarily in that order. For that reason, as curator Ann Gallagher asserts in her catalogue introduction to the Tate Modern show: "Like no other artist of his generation, Damien Hirst has permeated the cultural consciousness of our times." What that says about us – and about Hirst – is a matter of some debate. Writing recently in the New Yorker on the simultaneous exhibition of all Hirst's 1,500 signature spot paintings in all 11 Gagosian galleries dotted around the globe, the American art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote: "Hirst will go down in history as a particularly cold-blooded pet of millennial excess wealth. That's not Old Master status, but it's immortality of a sort."

Schjeldahl's critical hauteur is not untypical. The bigger Hirst has become, the more he has become an object of scorn to some serious art critics, a symptom of all that is wrong with contemporary art – and the rampant, market-led capitalism that drives it – as well as an easy target for the flak directed at conceptual art in general. "His work," writes Gallagher, measuredly, "is characterised by its directness as well as its ambition; it is both deadpan and affecting, and it provokes awe and outrage in equal measure."

That, one senses, is exactly how Hirst – mellower these days, but still a northern prole with attitude to burn – likes it. Is there a little part of him that still rejoices in the notion that he is, at heart, a working-class lad who is somehow sticking it to the toffs of the art world? "All of me, I'd say," he replies, cackling. "I mean, I don't fit, do I? I can play the game, but I don't really fit. But you get older and you realise that rebellion doesn't really matter to the market. I kind of learned that early on and I've never forgotten it." How early on? "Well, I remember in about 1989, when I was still an outsider and all my mates were having shows and I wasn't, and it really bugged me. As I was making the fly piece, I was thinking: 'I'm gonna show you. I'm gonna kill you with this one, knock you down dead, and change the world.' And I showed it to a few galleries and they all just turned round and went 'Marvellous, darling.' It didn't have the effect I wanted. It had the opposite effect. I was gutted, in a way."

As a young teenager, Damien Hirst wanted most of all to be a punk, but, as he now puts it, "I was just too young and not angry enough." He remembers his mother melting his one Sex Pistols record to fashion it into a plant holder, and he remembers sneaking out, aged 12 or 13, with his "punk clothes" hidden in a bag, then changing into them when he was out of sight of his house. "I think that attitude crept into my art somehow. I was always looking for ways to sneak stuff into the art world and make it explode in their faces. I was an infiltrator."

Growing up in Leeds, Hirst was a handful for his mother, Mary Brennan, who worked in the local Citizens' Advice Bureau. His punk phase came just after the man he thought was his father walked out on the family when Hirst was 12. He also went through a brief shoplifting phase – he was arrested twice – before he was finally accepted on his second application to study an art foundation course at Jacob Kramer College in Leeds.

As a teenager, he made regular visits to Leeds University's Anatomy Museum to practise drawing, and it was there he found inspiration for his first piece of shock art: a photograph mounted on a steel frame called With Dead Head, first exhibited in 1991, in which his 16-year-old self poses, grinning, beside the severed head of a middle-aged man which sits on a mortuary table. It set the scene, if not the tone, for much of what was to follow.

Hirst moved to London in the mid-1980s, and for a time worked on building sites, before being accepted to Goldsmiths in 1986. There, under the tutelage of the artist Michael Craig-Martin, he realised that for the time being, at least, painting was over and that, in contemporary art, the idea was the be all and end all.

"When I arrived there, I was this angry young painter looking at all the conceptual work being made there and dismissing it as pure crap," he says, laughing. "But I got seduced by it. Initially, I was finding pieces of wood, banging them together, and slapping the paint on. It was Rauschenberg, de Kooning and a bit of Schwitters. It had been done to death and they told me so. I went back up to Leeds and I thought, 'OK, I've got to deal with the world I live in – advertising, TV, media. I need to communicate the here and now.' I realised that you couldn't use the tools of yesterday to communicate today's world. Basically, that was the big light that went on in my head."

The rest is art history, though it took a while to be made. You could even say that Hirst the entrepreneur arrived in the public eye before Hirst the artist, when he curated Freeze, a three-part group show of his contemporaries, including Angus Fairhurst, Gary Hume, Michael Landy, Sarah Lucas and Mat Collishaw. It was held in a disused warehouse in London's Docklands in the summer of 1988. The space – and the ambition – was influenced by Charles Saatchi's big gallery in Boundary Road in north London, which opened in the mid-1980s, and initially showed work by pioneering American conceptual artists like Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd, both of whom influenced Hirst.

Despite being a student show, Freeze became the most talked-about art event of the year in London, attracting the attention of both Saatchi and Serota. "It amuses me that so many people think what happened was calculated and cleverly manipulated," Craig-Martin said later, "whereas in fact it was a combination of youthful bravado, innocence, fortunate timing, good luck and, of course, good work."

By the time he left Goldsmiths, Hirst was already making spot paintings and medicine cabinets, both in highly formalised series, and made with the help of a small team of assistants. In 1991, he had his first solo show, In and Out of Love, in a disused shop in central London. His creative imagination had taken another leap. Visitors entered a room in which live butterflies fluttered around, having hatched from canvases embedded with pupae. In another room, dead butterflies were arranged on white canvases placed around a white table with four overflowing ashtrays. All the Hirstian themes were already in place: life and death, beauty and horror, as well as the sense of spectacle that would become the defining aspect of his work.

At a Serpentine gallery show that same year, Hirst met Jay Jopling, who would soon become his dealer. Things moved even faster after that. For a show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, Hirst referred in the catalogue to a work in progress that had been commissioned by Charles Saatchi. Entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of a Living Person, it comprised a 14ft-long tiger shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde. It did not appear in the Saatchi Gallery until 1992, but when it did, it radically changed the world of contemporary art – and the course of Damien Hirst's life.

Having been bought by Saatchi for £50,000, the shark in the formaldehyde-filled vitrine became an icon of contemporary art of the 1990s and perhaps the defining work of what would come to be known as the YBA movement. ("£50,000 For Fish Without Chips" ran a headline in the Sun at the time.) In 2004, the work was sold to an American collector, Steven A Cohen, for a reputed $8m. In 2006, the original shark, having deteriorated, was replaced at Hirst's insistence by a new formaldehyde-injected one, which was then loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is that shark that visitors to the Tate Modern show will see. (Both Hirst and Cohen seem unfazed by the big art-historical question of whether a replacement can ever have the import of the original art work. Only time will answer that one.)

"It's what Jeff Koons once referred to as a high-maintenance piece of art," says Hirst, when I ask him about the practicalities of owning a shark in a tank. "The formaldehyde works are guaranteed for 200 years. I would like it to always look as fresh as the day I made it, so part of the contract is: if the glass breaks, we mend it; if the tank gets dirty, we clean it; if the shark rots, we find you a new shark." At 22 tons, it must be a bugger to transport, though? "Not really. The tank and the shark travel separately. Then you clean it and set it up, add the formaldehyde. Basically," he says, without irony, "it's just a big aquarium with a dead fish in it."

Since the shark first swam into the public consciousness in 1992, it has, as Hirst once admitted to me, "been hard to see the art for the dollar signs". His astonishing earning power came to a head with the Sotheby's auction in September 2008, when total sales were 10 times higher than the previous record for work by a single artist. By then, he already held the record for the most money paid in auction for a single work of art by a living European artist, the emir of Qatar having paid £9m the previous year for Lullaby Spring, a steel cabinet containing 6,136 neatly arranged pills.

"Money is massive," says Hirst, when I remind him of the above quote. "I don't think it should ever be the goal, but I had no money as a kid and so I was maybe a bit more motivated than the rest. I used to argue with Angus [Fairhurst] and Sarah [Lucas] about that all the time when we were starting out and struggling. They'd say: 'You're obsessed' and I'd be like, 'It's important.' See, if you don't care about it, often you don't deal with it, then it screws you. I do believe art is more powerful than money, though. I still believe that. And if I ever find out money's more important, I'll knock it on the head."

For all that, Damien Hirst has become for many the epitome of the artist as businessman, entrepreneur and global brand. It is quite a transformation, given that in the wild years of the 1990s, when the YBAs held their own in the drinking, tooting and necking pills stakes with Noel and Liam and the rest of the Britpop crew, Hirst was the loudest, drunkest and, some would say, most objectionable lad of the lot. His bills at the Groucho club, sent monthly to his home address, were legendary, as was his tendency to go out for a drink on a Friday night and get home in the early hours of Sunday morning. He has not touched a drink – nor popped a pill, nor snorted a line – in five years. Does he miss the good old, bad old days?

"Nah. I've done it, man," he says, shaking his head and reaching for a Diet Coke. "I had a beautiful 10 years and then, suddenly, it started to hurt. I couldn't handle the hangovers: waking up in the sticky filth of the Colony Room on the floor; sweating my way though meetings at White Cube; going to meet Larry [Gagosian] on the Anadin, the Nurofen, the Berocca and the Vicks nasal spray, looking like an alcoholic tramp. It wasn't good. I just woke up one day and thought: 'That's it. It's over.' Haven't touched a drop since."

We talk about Louise Bourgeois, whom Hirst visited before her death last year, and I mention her belief that happy people could not make great art. Is he happy? He laughs. "Making art, good art, is always a struggle. It can make you happy when you pull it off. There's no better feeling. It's beauteous. But it's always about hard work and inspiration and sweat and good ideas. I don't believe it's about God-given genius, but I do believe somehow in the magic of art even though I don't want to. I believe in science. I want clear answers." He pauses for a moment. "I want to make art, create objects that will have meaning for ever. It's a big ambition, universal truth, but somebody's gotta do it."

Damien Hirst is at Tate Modern, London SE1 to 9 Sep, sponsored by the Qatar Museums Authority. Observer readers can buy two tickets for the price of one: the offer is valid on full-price tickets only and must be booked before 4 April. Visit tate.org.uk and quote promotional code OBS241


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February 26 2012

From Russia with love

Russian street artist P183 is covering Moscow with his politically charged murals – and says he's doing it for a 'strong, educated and cultured homeland'

Decorating the walls of Moscow with politically fuelled graffiti isn't met with quite the same admiration as it is in the UK, yet an artist known only as P183 has made a name for himself by capturing the zeitgeist of modern-day Russia in his work.

P183's portfolio includes a sprawling mural of a masked protester holding a flare, a CCTV camera fitted with machine guns and a cardboard cut-out of a young girl hanging baubles on a barbed-wire fence. After gaining notoriety when photographs of his art got picked up around the world, he is now preparing a new series that will be unveiled around the Moscow streets soon.

Dubbed the Russian Banksy, or "Bankski", his art resembles the world's best-known street artist, although P183 insists he has never tried to imitate the Bristolian. Speaking from Moscow over Skype, dressed in his usual black garb and balaclava, he says: "I fully understand that we both have a common cause, but I never sought to emulate him or anyone else. I use the songs of people such as Yegor Letov and Konstantin Kinchev for inspiration – not public figures."

P183 first began writing poems at the age of 11 on the Tsoi Wall in Moscow, which pays tribute to Soviet musician Viktor Tsoi. Then as he got older, he began to spray murals elsewhere in the city. Lately he has set up guerrilla installations, including a giant fork shovelling industrial piping that looks like a plate of spaghetti.

As with most street artists, P183's canvas is all too soon covered with grey paint by the authorities. "The city government is categorically against street art, so any wall drawings are painted over. Graffiti with political meaning and social subtext are painted over especially fast," he says.

At the mere mention of this week's Russian election, he scowls. "I'm not going to talk about Putin, it's too much. In our country, there is a very heavy atmosphere. People are closed-minded, and money is the most important thing. Our state does not support creativity. To me, street art is a tool to send thoughts to people."

His motivation remains "to have a strong, educated and cultured homeland". If photographers continue to get to his work before the authorities, he may help to achieve just that.


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December 15 2011

Banksy wades into Catholic church sex abuse scandal with new sculpture

Cardinal Sin is the bust of a priest with its face sawn off and replaced with a mosaic of bathroom tiles

Banksy has waded into the child sex abuse scandal of the Catholic church with a sculpture of a priest with his face obscured called Cardinal Sin.

The graffiti artist's piece is a replica of an 18th-century stone bust, which has had its face sawn off and replaced with a mosaic of bathroom tiles to replicate the pixellation effect used on TV to prevent identification of victims of sex crimes.

Announcing his indefinite loan of the piece to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, Banksy strongly implied that Cardinal Sin is a comment on the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.

Describing the statue as a Christmas present, the artist said in a statement: "At this time of year it's easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse."

The bust went on public display for the first time on Thursday in the Walker's 17th Century Old Masters gallery, alongside works by old masters including Van Dyck and Poussin.

Reyahn King, director of art galleries at National Museums Liverpool, said the Walker was "thrilled" to display the work of a "major contemporary artist".

"It's a huge coup and we are sure his work will spark a reaction with visitors.

"Banksy specified that it be shown alongside our period collection and we were very happy to oblige."


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October 03 2011

Back at cha! Banksy graffiti war re-erupts

Attacks resume between Banksy and apparent King Robbo supporters after police marksman work is defaced

One of Banksy's most famous works has been defaced in what may be the latest episode of a long-running spat with a rival street artist.

The image above a shop in Bristol, which is generally accepted as the artist's home town, shows a police marksman with a child about to burst a paper bag behind him.

It appeared near Bristol city centre four years ago but has now been defaced with black paint. The vandalism has been signed "Team Robbo" apparently a reference to King Robbo, regarded as a founding father of the London graffiti scene.

The pair, or perhaps their followers, have been blamed for defacing or manipulating the other's work over the past two years.

A key battleground has been a spot under a bridge on Regent's Canal in London where an artist said to be the mysterious and elusive Banksy painted over a section of a 25-year-old mural by King Robbo.

Robbo was thought to have retired but he – or perhaps someone else – emerged to partly restore the work.

The much-loved "paper bag" image opposite Bristol children's hospital was defaced at the weekend. It was tagged "Team Robbo" and "BSK".

It is not yet known if the defaced work will be repaired. Bristol city council says it is not responsible as the image is on a privately owned building.

The council cleaned up a previous Banksy mural – of a naked man hanging from a window – which was vandalised in June 2009.

Also in 2009, red paint was splattered across Banksy's Mild, Mild West artwork in Stokes Croft, Bristol, and repaired by the community group the People's Republic of Stokes Croft.

In July, a Banksy image of a gorilla in a pink mask on the wall of the former North Bristol Social Club, in Eastville, was mistakenly painted over.

Saeed Ahmed, the building's new owner, said he had never heard of Banksy and had had the wall whitewashed. Ahmed apologised. The artwork has now been partially restored.


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September 03 2011

Banksy's 'war of the walls'

Artist complains of inaccuracies in programme about his feud with the underground graffiti hero King Robbo

Graffiti artist Banksy is demanding an investigation into a television documentary about a "battle of spray cans" between him and underground graffiti hero King Robbo. Banksy says it implies that he was responsible for putting his rival in a coma.

The film focused on the extreme rivalry between Banksy, known for his stencil-based images, and the London-based Robbo, famed for his old-school style. Banksy is outraged by what he calls inaccuracies and distortions in "a wilful and malicious attempt by the film-makers to damage [his] credibility and reputation". The artist is so disturbed by his portrayal in Channel 4's Graffiti Wars, shown last month, that he has resorted to more conventional protests – a formal letter of complaint to the broadcaster.

In the programme, Robbo claimed to have slapped Banksy at their first meeting for treating him like "a nobody". Later Banksy painted over the "retired" Robbo's last surviving graffiti along the Regent's canal in London dating from his 1985 heyday. "What started off as tit-for-tat one-upmanship … degenerated into a wider battle of vitriol," the narrator told viewers, as footage showing the defacing of each other's work was screened.

Just after Robbo was shown setting out into the night to target another Banksy work, the film ended, reporting: "Robbo would never get his chance to retaliate against Banksy. Just days after this filming took place, he was found unconscious in the street with life-threatening head injuries and he's been in a coma ever since."

In a statement Banksy said : "Graffiti Wars contained some inaccuracies that I've asked to be investigated and some facts that need to be corrected. They alleged I painted over a piece by Robbo and led viewers to believe I had something to do with him being in a coma. I wish Robbo a full and speedy recovery."

Some claim Robbo was injured in an accident. A source close to Banksy said: "He fell down stairs and hit his head, which was nothing to do with Banksy. There was no police case."

Banksy admits painting over Robbo's Regent's Canal graffiti by stencilling a painter-decorator wallpapering over it, but he is angered by the programme's allegation it was "an act deemed so hostile it shocked the graffiti world".

Banksy argues that Robbo's 25-year-old canal graffiti was in such a poor state his signature was not even legible, and says the programme makers were "biased" in using a photograph of Robbo's work in its pristine state immediately before showing Banksy's defacement of it, only later showing the deteriorated Robbo original. He also criticises the programme's filming of a reception for Robbo's first gallery exhibition, focusing on a couple who refused to be interviewed, wrongly identifying them as "two members of Team Banksy … a business associate and Banksy's PR agent", implying they were scouting the opposition. Banksy's official PR agent, Jo Brooks, said she had no idea who the couple were and denied that they were associated with Banksy.

Channel 4 has edited the couple from its website version and denies the other allegations: "Graffiti Wars in no way suggests that Banksy was responsible for the injuries sustained by King Robbo … The documentary clearly states that Banksy did not realise he was painting over Robbo's work and includes a picture of the deteriorated work."


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August 25 2011

Street art is dying – and it's our fault

David Cameron poses in front of it, old folks own books about it … has graffiti's entry into polite society come at too high a price?

Street art is so much part of the establishment that when David Cameron spoke about this summer's riots, he was photographed in front of a bright and bulbous Oxfordshire graffiti painting. Contradiction? Of course not. The efforts of Banksy and all the would-be Banksys have so deeply inscribed the "coolness" of street art into the middle-class mind that it is now as respectable as the Proms, and enjoyed by the same crowd – who can now take a picnic basket down to watch a painting marathon under the railway arches.

No wonder an event described as "the UK's biggest street art project" (60 artists from all over the world decorating Nelson Street in Bristol last week) went down fairly quietly in the national press. It's not that new or surprising any more, let alone controversial. Nowadays, doing a bit of street art is as routine as checking your emails. There's probably an app for it.

Visitors to London buy Banksy prints on canvas from street stalls, while in Tripoli photographers latch on to any bloke with a spray can near any wall that's still standing. Graffiti and street art have become instant – and slightly lazy – icons of everything our culture lauds, from youth to rebellion to making a fast buck from art.

Is this how street art will die – not with a bang, but with a whimper? Maybe there was a time when painting a wittily satirical or cheekily rude picture or comment on a wall was genuinely disruptive and shocking. That time is gone. Councils still do their bit to keep street art alive by occasionally obliterating it, and so confirming that it has edge. But basically it has been absorbed so deep into the mainstream that old folk who once railed at graffiti in their town are now more likely to have a Banksy book on their shelves than a collection of Giles cartoons.

I find 90% of this art form to be boring, banal and unimaginative. Images far too ordinary to be exhibited in art galleries are admired because they are on the street. Then dealers and curators collect them as masterpieces of street art and they do enter the gallery after all, without being any more interesting than they were to begin with.

Meanwhile, young people find their culture has been stolen by the middle-aged and old. Punk? Fifty-year-olds were there. Facebook? Fortysomethings are all over it. Street art? The prime minster is so down with that. At least young people can still shock their elders by attacking the Cenotaph or looting shops – until those activities, too, become fashionable in polite society. I await Grayson Perry's looting bag (convenient for carrying electrical goods, and ecologically responsible) with interest.


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July 15 2011

Banksy's Gorilla in a Pink Mask is painted over

Early graffiti work in Bristol is covered in emulsion by the unwitting head of a Muslim cultural centre

On the face of it, it was understandable that Saeed Ahmed should want to paint over the scruffy side wall of his new Muslim cultural centre in Bristol. Quite apart from the stained ventilation unit, it was covered in graffiti.

It was just a shame that he had not heard of Banksy before getting out the emulsion and covering the artist's Gorilla in a Pink Mask – which may now cost thousands of pounds to uncover.

The picture is part of the Bristolian artist's early oeuvre and had graced the wall of the former social club in Eastville for 10 years.

It is not the first time the anonymous graffiti artist's work has suffered such sacrilege, which was denounced on Friday on the Banksy Forum website as vandalism of the first order. His works can fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Called in to estimate the damage, Richard Pelter, director of the International Fine Art Conservation Studios, said the mural could be recovered but it would be painstaking and costly work.

He told the Bristol Evening Post: "It's quite a notable piece and something can be done I imagine but it would take quite a long time to get it sorted out properly.

"Given the right sort of conditions, I think you would probably be able to establish something. What I found was that the paint there was quite soluble underneath, but no one could actually tell me where it was on the wall. I was seeing if the upper layers of paint can be removed which they can, very carefully. It would take quite a long time and cost quite a bit of money to do it, probably hundreds going into the thousands, because of the complexity of it."

Ahmed apologised. He told the paper: "I thought it was worthless. I didn't know it was valuable. That's why I painted over it."


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June 08 2011

Banksy documentary no hoax, Thierry Guetta lawsuit suggests

Court case against Thierry Guetta, subject of Banksy's film Exit Through the Gift Shop, seems to confirm reality of his art

Some have considered its central story too wild and fanciful to have genuinely been drawn from real life, especially since the name next to the director's credit happened to be that of arch-prankster Banksy. But further evidence has emerged that Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop was not a hoax after a court ruled against its subject, street artist Thierry Guetta, in a high-profile copyright case.

Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles obsessed with street art, starts out as the purported maker of the 2010 film and ends up being its central figure after he reinvents himself as artist Mr Brainwash and puts on his own show. One of the pieces, displayed as part of the latter's Life Is Beautiful exhibition (which provides the film's dramatic twist), landed Guetta in court.

Glen Friedman, a well-known photographer, successfully sued Guetta for breach of copyright after a federal judge ruled that a photograph of the rap group Run DMC, which Guetta manipulated for his piece, could be protected by copyright. A further hearing will decide the extent of damages.

Guetta downloaded Friedman's photograph from the internet, altered it and projected it on to a large piece of wood. He then proceeded to paint the resulting image on the wood, and also glued on 1,000 pieces of vinyl records for good measure. The artist had argued that Friedman's shot was similar to many others taken of Run DMC in the 1980s, but California federal judge Dean Pregerson dismissed his argument, also ruling that Guetta had no defence under a transformative fair use law.

"To permit one artist the right to use without consequence the original creative and copyrighted work of another artist simply because that artist wished to create an alternative work would eviscerate any protection by the copyright act," said Judge Pregerson in his ruling. "Without such protection, artists would lack the ability to control the reproduction and public display of their work and, by extension, to justly benefit from their original creative work."

The decision could impact on other artists working in the US, because it appears to limit their ability to freely use manipulated images in art. The transformative fair use law had previously been seen as a strong defence against copyright claims in such cases.


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May 27 2011

Constructive criticism: the week in architecture

A classicist has his say in Banksy's Tunnel, Ofcom wobbles the Shard's 'tallest' status and Scotland neglects Mackintosh

Francis Terry, the classicist architect famed for country houses, surprised me this week by sending me a video about Banksy's Tunnel and what he has done to it. This made me think about the architecture of the unexpected: the way architecture and buildings can take us by surprise.

Banksy's Tunnel is the stretch of Leake Street that passes under London's Waterloo station. With a benign eye from the authorities, Banksy and other graffiti artists have had a field day here over three years. There is something truly subversive in what Terry has done: painted a classical facade on part of the tunnel wall. Here is classical order among punky chaos, although Terry has been doubly clever in working his design up in a style that is close enough to graffiti to be witty, yet refined enough to be architectural.

So, unexpectedly, the most provocative mural now in Banksy's Tunnel is not some wild-style slashing design, but Terry's classical confection. Banksy has said: "I've always felt anyone with a paint can should have as much say in how our cities look as architects ..." And yet here is an architect with a paint can having his say on what Banksy has to say.

The Chartered Institute of Building, meanwhile, is planning to surprise us with new displays of art on the hoardings of building sites throughout Britain. The idea is to put up hoardings around sites that might be enjoyable, provocative, intriguing and unexpected. As building sites can linger around for a long time, making them into something special seems good urban manners. There is just time to enter their competition. While there is nothing new in decorative hoardings, it's fascinating to see the building industry working with artists and photographers, whether established or hopeful, on a national canvas.

There's also just time to get tickets for the talks coming up in June by two architects of the unexpected. Since 1971, LA-based Morphosis architects have designed some of the boldest buildings in the US. Sometimes they remind you of the kind of thing Roger Dean used to paint for Yes album covers. Next month Thom Mayne, founding partner of Morphosis (and, says the Royal Academy of Arts, "a polemicist whose ideas as well as his architecture are constantly provocative"), is giving this year's RA annual lecture.

And then there's Ken Yeang, who is giving RIBA's 'annual discourse', next month in London. Over the past three decades, Yeang has worked hard to make tall buildings "green", subverting many of the conventions of modern design. His most innovative buildings appear to take their cue as much from trees as concrete and steel structures.

Meanwhile Ofcom, the British communications quango, unexpectedly entered the architectural fray with a claim that Renzo Piano's Shard will not be the country's tallest building when completed next year. Ofcom cites as a rival Emley Moor, the broadcasting tower near Leeds that soars 330.4m into the skies. Designed and engineered by Arup and opened in 1971, the tapering concrete tower shouldn't really be compared to the Shard. This is because the top 55m of Emley Moor is an antenna, leaving the "building" element of the structure just 275m high compared to the Shard's 310m. But Ofcom's intervention in the seemingly eternal competition over tallest buildings proves this one will run and run. Or rise and rise.

But perhaps what comes as the biggest surprise this week is the claim from the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society that no fewer than five of the great Scot's buildings are in a state of disrepair. These are Hill House, Willow Team Rooms, Scotland Street School, Martyrs School and Queen Margaret Medical College. It does seem odd that the heritage of Scotland's most famous architect is so poorly served. If anything were to happen to a Mackintosh building, neither Banksy nor Francis Terry could make good the loss – no matter how many paint cans they were clutching.


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May 23 2011

Beauty Is in the Street: the power of protest posters

A new book reminds us of powerful, unifying posters designed by students during the May 1968 Paris uprising. But where are the design campaigns from the youth of today?

Three years ago the media marked the 40th anniversary of the May 1968 Paris uprising with a wave of nostalgic reminiscence. There may have been a nice round number to celebrate, but that was about all there was connecting us to the spirit of '68. Three years later, following a banking-triggered recession and the election of a right-wing government, that spirit seems to have been exhumed. We've seen students occupy universities across the UK, and hundreds of thousands march against government spending cuts. In many ways this is a more propitious moment to release a beautiful volume of the posters created by the Atelier Populaire, and Four Corners Books has done just that.

While their fellow students engaged in pitched battles with the police and millions of workers went on general strike, students at the École des Beaux Arts in 1968 occupied the printing studios and converted them into the uprising's very own propaganda machine. Many of the resulting posters have become icons of political design. The riot policeman bearing down on the viewer with his truncheon aloft, his head helmeted and goggled in a ghoulish mask, has become synonymous with oppression.

By contrast, the long-haired student hurling a cobblestone, which appears to be floating harmlessly in the air, aestheticises resistance as a liberating act. The poster's slogan translates as "Beauty Is in the Street". The book takes that as its title, with these two images as its front and back covers.

The Atelier Populaire may have been a group of art students but – high on the fumes of Marxism – they decried the privileged, bourgeois art world. Out in the real world, they had a job to do. They set up a silk-screen printing press (much faster than the lithography presses in the studios they'd occupied) and worked around the clock in shifts. That way, they could produce thousands of posters at a time, to be slapped up around the city. They were not art, but tools, weapons even. In the frontispiece to a 1969 book of the posters reproduced here, the Atelier Populaire wrote: "To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect." Well, it's too late for that – they are nothing now if not objects of aesthetic interest.

The posters display different styles but the individual designers were never credited (too bourgeois) – they were the work of the collective. What they had in common was an economy of expression: single colours printed on newssheet gifted by the striking newspapers, bold forms and provocative slogans. What stands out today is an extremely concise iconography.

The factory, with its saw-toothed roof and chimney, symbolises the worker's productive role in society, and the spanner his honest labour. The fist is the students' symbol of solidarity and resistance. The real success of May '68 – and arguably its only achievement – was the alliance of these unlikely groups. And so in one poster the chimney becomes the fist. In another, the worker and student stand arm in arm. Often the figures are silhouettes, not just because they are more graphic but also to condense the many into one unified body. Perhaps the strongest poster of all is a six-headed silhouette that reads "We are the power".

The iconography for the forces of oppression, conservatism and capitalism are equally straightforward. There are chains and truncheons and rats and, of course, the long-nosed profile of President De Gaulle. What were the students opposing? What started with a complaint about the old-fashioned regulations at Nanterre University became a battle cry against establishment values and consumer culture – or what the Situationists called "the spectacle". Georges Perec had parodied that culture in his 1965 novel Things, and one example of graffiti here (to its credit the book includes many photographs of the graffiti as well as the posters of this time) reads "L'homme fait l'amour avec la Chose": "Man makes love to the Thing."

Today, the Marxist fervour may have died down but flare-ups against capitalist forces persist. The question is, where is the political design? There was the odd hand-drawn poster at the UCL occupation in December but no organised design campaign to compare with '68. Perhaps graphics were a device that the students didn't need. With Twitter and Facebook and mobile phones to hand, the poster is a less exponential way of mobilising support. Which also suggests that protest today relies more on the telegraphic soundbite than the graphic image – an ironic conclusion given that ours is an age in thrall to pictures.

There remains a counter-cultural graphics, but when it is political it is rarely ideologically so. Banksy's street art adopts a vaguely anti-establishment stance but it is individualistic rather than collective. Similarly, Shepard Fairey's famous "Obey" posters warn against the power of advertising, and yet his explicitly political works give the impression that they are merely endorsements of personality politics. The "Hope" election poster for Obama and his images of other figures such as Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi pursue the Che T-shirt model of iconisation. And this leaves aside the fact that both Banksy and Fairey are commercial artists, whereas the Atelier Populaire refused to allow its posters to be sold and thus commodified.

The UK's political graphics tend to be more stealthy and insidious. Take that odd phenomenon, the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster that has been ubiquitous since the credit crunch. In its appeal to the plucky stoicism of the blitz years, it seems designed to dampen down any unrest aimed at the political-financial establishment. Or think back to the Conservative election campaign. Remember those posters featuring David Cameron's heavily Photoshopped face with the slogan "We can't go on like this"? The dewy ruddiness of Cameron's cheeks, the vagueness of that "this", such is the true nature of political image-making in our time: no bold graphics or progressive rhetoric, just the subtle massaging of the truth into a digestible advert.


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April 22 2011

Street art tours reveal hidden treasure

For those who don't know their Stik from their Roa, a guided tour around London's East End is the way to uncover works by artists on the verge of mainstream recognition

Unlabelled, largely uncontrolled and impermanent, street art is hard to categorise or capture. Which is why self-confessed fan Richard Howard-Griffin is taking me on the street art tour he runs around London's East End, where the wall paintings, pasted-up drawings and sculptures crowd thickly over doors, walls and shop shutters – often only fleetingly considered by passersby.

Griff, as he prefers to be known, says his walking tours help enthusiasts attune their eyes to what's around them. "I'm preparing people to find it for themselves," he says. It's true: by the end of our tramp my taxonomical skills have reached a level where I can tell a Stik from a Roa from a Swoon from an Invader. After a while, you begin to "see" street art, just as an experienced birdwatcher will spot rare species that flit unnoticed past the vision of the uninitiated.

Street art is, arguably, hovering on the verge of mainstream recognition. Works may still routinely be painted over by unfriendly councils – a process known as "buffing" – but last week MOCA, Los Angeles's contemporary art museum, opened a major survey of street art, documenting its development from the 1970s to the present.

And it was a canvas by Eine – who makes large painted slogans on shutters and walls – that was given as a gift by the prime minister, David Cameron, to Barack Obama last year: an act commemorated by the artist in a mural on Hackney Road that reads, simply: STRANGEST WEEK.

The first stop on the tour is the now empty Foundry on London's Old Street. Much mourned, the former gallery and pub is due to be demolished and replaced by a hotel.

On its side wall, protected by wooden hoarding, is a large Banksy, which will be incorporated into the lobby of the new building. The wooden hoarding itself has been painted over by the Brazilian artist Zezão, which in turn has been covered by plastic sheeting to protect it as the wall surface above is prepared for a fresh work by another street artist.

At the back of the scrappy car park a sculpture of a green fungus by Christiaan Nagel sprouts modestly. Nagel recently braved the waters of the Serpentine to place brightly coloured giant mushrooms atop a line of posts that protrude from the lake. They didn't last long.

The protection of the Banksy is characteristic, according to Griff. "If you see a bit of street art behind Perspex, it tends to be a Banksy," he says. Indeed, the other murals – there is also a giant weasel by the Belgian artist Roa, among others – are welcome here. These are "legal walls".

Most street art, though, is less protected. As we tramp the streets, Griff repeatedly points out the shiny black paint that represents recent "buffing"; and shows me fragments of coloured paint – as faint as traces of polychrome on antique statues – by doorsteps and gutters that are the traces of street art past.

There are "carcasses", too, of works by Invader: little patches of white adhesive are often all that remain of the artist's mosaics, in ceramic tiles, representing computer-game space invaders. When complete, they seem to stare discreetly at passersby, keeping the street under quiet surveillance. Like many street artists, Invader's work is international: there have been "invasions" of Rotterdam, Vienna, Los Angeles, Manchester and even Kathmandu.

We dip down into a dark alley called Blackall Street and a forest of art confronts us. Out of the gloom shine neon-bright monsters painted on newspaper and pasted to the wall by Bortusk Leer. And, lurking above some metal steps embellished with what may or may not be human faeces, there are some topical pieces, by an artist unknown even to Griff: the slogan U R SO PORNO BABY is stencilled over pages of the Sun newspaper featuring pictures of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Nearby is an impressive pasted-up image of a woman by the American artist Swoon. "You can't bracket her as a street artist," says Griff. Her work is owned by museums including Tate; in 2009 she mounted a high-profile, if eccentric, project to sail vessels made of New York refuse from Slovenia to the Venice Biennale. For such artists, the work they make on the street may be prey to opportunistic thieves as much as the black paint of councils.

On Curtain Road a slim, long-haired figure in jeans is spray-painting an image of a woman's face on to metal shutters. This is David Walker, who, as his relaxed demeanour suggests, is working on a "legal" site. News of fresh street art travels fast on Twitter and Facebook: he has been working for only half a morning and already a handful of fans have pitched up.

Ten years ago, he says, "You'd do pop-up shows, about 30 people would come and you'd end up swapping your art with friends." Now, the scene is very different: he has just come back from a solo show of his work at the Galerie La Tour in Paris: "I've just spent a month in the bougiest part of Paris – now I'm out in the grimiest patch of Shoreditch," he says. He grins, and picks up his spray cans again.

London street-art walking tours take place on Saturdays and Thursdays http://streetartlondon.co.uk/tours/


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April 21 2011

Brighton kisses goodbye to Banksy's kissing coppers

Graffiti artist's work, originally sprayed on the side of a Brighton pub, to be sold and shipped to America

For years, it has been the two-fingered salute to the conventional art world, a poke in the eye for homophobes and a feather in Brighton's non-conformist cap. But now, seven years after its creation on the side of the Prince Albert pub, Banksy's "kissing coppers" is set to be shipped out and put on sale in America.

The work, which depicts two policemen in a passionate clinch, has become a shrine for fans of the elusive graffiti artist and a regular stop on Brighton's tourist trail. But, after repeated attacks on the artwork left it severely damaged, the pub owner has decided to sell the original through a New York gallery for an sizeable fee, estimated to be anywhere from £500,000 to £1m.

"When he put it on the pub it belonged to the pub and, if it is sold, all the money will go back to the pub," said the owner Chris Steward. "It is very difficult to just keep the pub going, so a little break from that would be very welcome."

Like many of Banksy's street artworks, the kissing coppers has a colourful history. A Banksy emissary had sought permission on behalf of the street artist but the pub had no idea what to expect. "My first thought was, 'oh no'," admitted Steward. "I thought we'd get in loads of trouble for it." And when a group of uniformed officers stepped out of their cars in front of the pub, he expected the worst. "I didn't know what was going to happen but they all stood there and started taking photos of it, it was lovely," said Steward.

But the work also attracted attention of a different kind. Within weeks two men were caught on CCTV daubing the image with black paint and were fined £40 for criminal damage, but soon after it was targeted again. After repeated attacks, Steward decided that to preserve the image it had to be removed.

In 2008 a specialist art restoration company used chemicals to transfer the image onto a canvas, and the original was replaced with a facsimile, encased in perspex. "I don't think we are cheating people," said Steward. "Maybe it's a little bit misleading but it's 80% a Banksy, just the stencil's been done by somebody else."

Anger about the sale of the work, which is set to be displayed at the Keszler gallery in New York this summer, was in evidence on the Brighton Argus website. with one local, Morpheus, worried about the possible repercussions. "If the council hear of this they might get the idea of selling the Royal Pavilion as another way to make money," he wrote.

Others were more sanguine. "I can see the artistic merit but it is still vandalism," wrote Sean Jenkins.

And for Lindsay Alkin, director of the Art Republic gallery in Brighton, one of the first vendors of Banksy's work, the sale was a blow to Brighton's cultural heritage. "What he does on the street should stay on the street," she said. "It is part of Brighton's culture, like an outside gallery, and now that is lost."

Steward said he had attempted on several occasion to contact the artist with no success. Asked what he thought Banksy's reaction would be to its possible sale, he said: "I think he'll just shrug his shoulders and say that's life."


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April 08 2011

Voina, art group backed by Banksy, wins Russian prize for erection

Collective whitewashed 65-metre penis on drawbridge in St Petersburg

Voina, the scatological Russian art collective supported by the British street artist Banksy, has won a state-backed art prize for painting a 65-metre penis on a drawbridge.

Members of Voina (the war) – two of whom are awaiting trial on hooliganism charges – whitewashed the decoration on a bridge in St Petersburg last June. When the bridge was raised the erect phallus faced the local headquarters of the FSB, the successor to the KGB.

The work, entitled A Dick Held Prisoner at the FSB, was awarded the 400,000 rouble (£8,700) 2010 Innovation prize by the National Centre for Contemporary Arts in Moscow on Thursday evening.

The graffito was scrubbed off the bridge by authorities after a few hours but pictures of it became an internet sensation.

The prize, which is supported by the ministry of culture, was awarded after weeks of wrangling, during which Voina's entry was excluded, then reinstated.

Andrei Yerofeyev, the curator who announced the winner, described the phallus as an outstanding work which stemmed from a Russian tradition of "socially engaging art".

No representatives of Voina were at the glitzy ceremony at an art gallery run by Roman Abramovich's partner, Dasha Zhukova. However, the collective issued a statement saying it would donate the prize money to political prisoners.

Two members of the group, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, are awaiting trial in relation to a guerrilla performance in September called Palace Revolution, when the group turned over several police cars in St Petersburg.

The pair were arrested in November but released on bail in February. They face up to seven years in jail if convicted. Banksy donated £80,000 from a print sale to Voina after hearing about the prosecution.

Vorotnikov suggested that the prize jury had defeated bureaucrats who tried to deny the group the prize. "They are professionals after all, and some of them are brave people," he told the Sol website.

Other members of Voina said it should have won the prize for a different "action" – when a woman in the group was filmed stealing a chicken from a grocery store by inserting it into her vagina. "Now that was something," said Vorotnikov.


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