The Art of Banksy at Regent Street: “A kaleidoscopic showcase of subversion and wit”
The art of Banksy, forever the embodiment of an irreverent and defiant voice against social injustices and the establishment, is now on display in London. And where of all places? Regent Street, amidst the hustle and bustle of the city centre, where hordes of shoppers and tourists gather at every hour of day. It’s a testament to Banksy’s ability to bridge the worlds of underground rebellion and the high-end. This exhibition charts the journey of an artist who has achieved international stardom over the years, yet whose identity remains a closely guarded secret.
Comprising key phases of his career, from the early days without a stencil to the graffiti that caught the public eye, this unauthorised show – not curated by the artist himself – has toured 15 countries. A few exclusive pieces are making their debut for this UK stint, hot on the heels of the Cut and Run “official” exhibition in Glasgow last August. Among the highlights is the touching Valentine’s Day Mascara, first unveiled in Margate this past February, prominently placed in the foyer and free to see for any passer-by. The mural, in its entirety with the wall, was expertly craned into place overnight – an impressive, powerful opening move.
The space, covering over 2,000 sqm, spans three floors, its white entrance defined by black borders and adorned with red hearts. Descriptive captions accompany each piece, providing a timeline and context. Thus, visitors are guided through the iconic sketches from his home turf in Bristol: the concrete block of Clifton Leopard, the placards from the 2003 march against the Iraq invasion, and his first self-curated exhibition, Turf War, followed by Crude Oils. For each of the artist’s display, Banksy also released a series of postcards that, when assembled, offer a glimpse of what the vivid and striking illustrations might appear as a whole.
Altered replicas of notorious paintings by Monet, Van Gogh and Hopper invite guests into a spirited dialogue with the classics. As Ben Eine, Banksy’s printer, notes in brief video clips interspersed along the corridors, the artist didn’t just settle for licensed locations. He ventured into places like zoos and museums, not with the intent to vandalise, but to make his own addition – his signature – challenging the status quo. The gallery’s journey, continuing through to Dismaland and the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, testifies to a voice that’s both far-reaching and perpetually relevant. It’s not about engaging in destructive acts, but rather employing clever wit and simple tools to express dissent and derision. As a quote at the entrance highlights: a standard 400ml can of paint can cover up to 50 A4-sized stencils, a rather modest equipment for such potent expression.
The shredded Girl with Balloon is likely one of the most telling examples of the satire on offer. Other standouts include prints Monkey Parliament and Kate Moss. The Mona Lisa and the original drawing for Flower Thrower – a gift to his then-girlfriend before being reprinted and circulated in thousands – debut here for the general audience. Worth noting is the section devoted to musical collaborations, creative endeavours that Banksy started in 2000 with Wall of Sound and carried on with Blur and Stormzy.
Given the nature of street art and the subversive distribution of these works, seeing them neatly framed and arranged brings a sense of order to the oeuvre of such an eclectic artist – but it might feel a touch too constrained for someone who typically avoids conventions. Remembering the vibrant settings in which these pieces were birthed and the rebellious aims they pursued, the collection emerges as a kaleidoscopic display of notable craft.
Photos: Courtesy of The Art of Banksy
The Art of Banksy is at Regent Street from 13th September 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.