Once again I board a flight on the airline that shall remain nameless, and I arrive at my destination only 10 minutes late after having decanted 2 passengers and their luggage before departure. Why? Trying to get in the papers no doubt like those naughty U.S based airlines? But there was no drama to film, no compensation to pursue.
So, Banksy, I have arrived at my destination to find you. Where could I be? Jerusalem, visiting your new hotel? No. Weston-Super-Mare, checking to see if there are any signs of you? But no, your bemusement park Dismaland is long gone. Am I in New York, looking for you amongst the stalls in Central Park, checking to see if anyone is pretending to be selling knock off Banksy’s only for them to be the real deal and worth a wee bit more than I can afford to pay?
You see, Banksy, I have been to all these places but unfortunately I always seem to turn up before you do. So this time I feel the stars have aligned and our fate is sealed. I have beaten you to New Zealand by quite a few years and you have turned up quite randomly in Tauranga of all places. Why Tauranga? Nothing wrong with Tauranga I hear you cry. Surely no better place to retire? Lashings of Vitamin D to be had. Art and culture capital of Aotearoa - umm, not quite. But yes, I have it on good authority that your work can be viewed at Tauranga Art Gallery.
The day arrives, a clear blue sky, balmy temperature, palm trees moving to a gentle breeze - not feeling like autumn to this wee Scot. I walk to the centre of town which is busy with tourists, parents and their little people (it is the school holidays). I am more than a bit fizzy as I approach the gallery.
To say that I am a Banksy fangirl is a bit of an understatement. Banksy is high on my fantasy dinner guest list which, I admit, is quite extensive. Of course he would have to eat his dinner behind a screen as I would want his identity to remain a secret, or the other guests might have to wear blindfolds (not quite decided on that one yet), but fear not as mostly everyone else on the list is dead, they are not going to let the proverbial cat out of the bag.
I have so many questions for you Banksy. Are you a Girl? (No, I think that’s Bambi). Is there more than one of you? Are you the front man of a famous “Trip hop” group? Are you a Public school drop-out? Taunting us with your witty, satirical and graphic depictions of modern life?
Your work is extensive, you’ve been nominated for an Oscar for your 2010 film Exit Through the Gift Shop, you are credited with an episode of the Simpsons and as of 2014 you have been named a Cultural Icon - alongside Shakespeare, J.K.Rowling and Queen Elizabeth II, to name but a few.
I enter the contemporary building that is Tauranga Art Gallery. It is buzzing with people, for what should be a quiet Monday morning. We are all here for the same purpose, seeking Banksy (and maybe a few of the other artists on show too!).
I am like a sniffer dog at an airport. I know what I am looking for and I walk swiftly past everything which is clearly not my target. I turn into a room on my right and there before me is *Rage* The Flower Thrower - probably one of Banksy’s most well-known pieces. A child is standing in front of it recreating the pose whilst his mother takes a photo. How many artists would provoke such interest in a tween boy?
The viewers around me are animated and there is much chatter and quite an excited vibration in the room. As I move along the wall, greedily taking in every piece before hastily moving onto the next - I am not savouring this art, I am consuming it.
I want to come to a quick conclusion, is this The Emperor’s New Clothes I am viewing or the work of a genius? People around me are laughing and smiling as they take in the collection. Dads explaining stuff to kids, the art critic talking pretentiously of anarchy.
I stand in front of an Andy Warhol inspired piece of the supermodel Kate Moss. I know Banksy created an original for Kate Moss as a surprise for her whilst she was on honeymoon and had it installed in her bathroom. She has since divorced and the valuable artwork was stolen from her house in 2010.
I must confess to being a tiny bit of a crazy around certain people, and I once followed Kate Moss around Harvey Nichols in London - up the escalator and everything! It was in the “heroin chic” days. I am not proud of it but these days I have it mostly under control. So standing in front of that work gives me a thrill.
The collection is creative, imaginative, witty, ironic and to me - oh so clever. A columnist in the UK writing for The Guardian wrote of Banksy “his work looks dazzlingly clever to idiots”. All I can say is I must be an idiot because I love it with a passion. Banksy your work through the decades from the “Cool Britannia” era of the nineties right through to present day has been original and thought provoking, it appeals to the masses, from your average Joe to the art collector willing to chip away at concrete walls to preserve and own your work. I can’t think of another artist in present times that has the same appeal. Not Tracey Emin, not Damien Hirst (although it has been hinted that you are Damien Hirst) I am not convinced.
You provoke people to comment, whether that is by defacing your work or by smirking and commenting that it is too obvious (anarchy-lite). Maybe you are a victim of your own success. Popularity often leads to contempt. But you get people talking and debating about art. Is your work just hipster vandalism?
Art through the centuries has been argued in exactly the same way whenever the new boys take over. Being original is extremely rare these days and it should be celebrated. And not just by the people who can afford it. Banksy celebrates us all.
In 2004, Banksy printed one million pounds worth of his “Di Faced Tenner”. The play on the word defaced being he replaced the Queen’s face for Princess Diana. The ten pound notes were dropped into crowds at the Notting Hill Carnival and The Reading Festival leading to people actually using his work as legal tender. The notes have cropped up again at his Dismaland installation in 2015.
Most Banksy work can be authenticated through Pest Control but because the fake notes are considered counterfeit they cannot be processed for authenticity. How blimmin’ clever is that? I want one and I would never know if it was real or not. Who cares, it is just the story and the touch of magic and mystery about it.
There just isn’t enough of that wonderment around when you grow up and Banksy manages to keep it alive in this cynical, jaded grown-up woman.
Out of all the work on view I would choose the “Morons” piece to start my collection. The print features the words “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This S***”. I ponder for a second - will anyone stop me if I just remove this convincingly from the wall and walk purposely out the front door. Ummm, probably got CCTV. Is it worth the jail time? Probably wouldn’t get to keep it anyway. So I just look longingly. One day Banksy, one day.
Until then, I do have quite an expansive blank wall on the side of my house if you have any free time and you are this side of the world. I would even offer you a cup of tea, chocolate digestive and a chat. I am led to believe that you are a thoroughly nice individual who after you did a piece on the door of a youth club (Mobile Phone Lovers) and the sneaky council claimed ownership of it. You sent a letter to the owner of the club condoning the use of it as a fundraiser.
I am ever so good at keeping secrets. And I promise not to be going at the wall with a mallet before the paint is dry. Tempting as it would be.
I am asked as I leave the gallery “did I enjoy it”? The answer is yes, I had quite the emotional response. I came for Banksy as I am sure 99% of the rest of the people did. I would have liked to have left with at least a Banksy postcard as a souvenir but was told that all memorabilia sells out as soon as they get it. I thoroughly recommend viewing the ‘Oi You! Collection which is part of Paradox: Tauranga Street Art Festival. 28 March – 15 June 2017.
It wasn’t until after I had left the gallery and was reading the exhibition brochure that I discovered Banksy was not likely to be found in New Zealand. I was disappointed to find out that the collection was on loan from a UK couple who are now based in South Island. While this was very nice of them to loan out their collection, I was hoping to see an original Banksy pop up somewhere in New Zealand. Oh well, it saved me the time and trouble of scouring the streets and back alleys for a glimpse of the elusive Banksy’s infamous spray paint.
One day Banksy, one day…
P.S. Not Banksy related, but if you are in Tauranga check out the Hairy Maclary sculptures on the Tauranga waterfront. They are amazingly well done. I think Banksy would like them. That’s a thought…