“Underneath the Pavement, the Beach!”

The most exciting and relevant art around at the moment isn’t in the white cube galleries, it’s on the streets. Fuck Saatchi and Hirst. Banksy knows what time it really is. Time for a revolution.

The catchy Situationist slogan “beneath the pavement, the beach!” (or “Sous les pavés, la plage!”) has stayed with me since I first heard it in a lecture at art school, and I thought it’d be an appropriate title for this post about “street art”. Googling for background info to blog about on the slogan, I found the photo of the Banksy, left. I had no prior knowledge of this piece before stumbling upon it just now. Quite a coincidence, and satisfying find to boot!

It echoes my feeling, that there are links between contemporary street art, its reaction against the art establishmen/general establishment/advertising industry, and the anarchistic [anti-] art-based movements of Dadaism and Situationist International I studied in my early 20s.

The background info on the slogan. Apparently it refers to the sand found beneath the cobble stones French rioters tore-up to hurl at police during the general wildcat strike riots of the 60s. It suggests, or implies that liberty emerges from the “underground”; la résistance.

The Saatchi era of art, to my eyes, it’s… simply bollocks.

Advertising magnate Charles Saatchi, patron of British art. I remember seeing billboard adverts using concepts/imagery from the Saatchi collection. Funny thing is, I didn’t make the connection at the time. Art as not only a commodity for the rich, but for the advertising industry too?

Saatchi hi-jacked the British art scene in my opinion. Right from the moment he signed the cheque to buy-up all the work in the Hirst curated (and tailored – its layout was based on Saatchi’s new St John’s Wood gallery space. Hirst always has been an excellent salesman) Freeze warehouse exhibition of Goldsmiths students, Saatchi dictated the 90s British art scene. His “sensationalist” artists (see the Sensation exhibition of pieces from Saatchi’s collection) playing the tabloid media like genius publicists.

Damien Hirst admitted he was a businessman before an artist. Platinum cast, diamond encrusted skull to order. More than reminiscent of the 80s stockbroker-cum-artist Jeff Koons and his kitsch, hollow creations of excess and emptiness. Hirst’s diamond skull also reminds me of a Banksy piece I saw in my mate’s video of the Bristol Museum exhibition (Yup, cameras are allowed in Banksy exhibitions. Link to vid is at the bottom of this post. I’m sure neither Adam nor Banksy will mind me sharing it!). A simple painting with an ornate gold frame of two stick figures having a conversation. The one stick figure says, “Do people actually take this art seriously?” to which the other replies, “never underestimate the power of an expensive gold frame.”

I realise art will always be a reflection of the political/cultural climate of the era, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Street art comes, to me, as a welcome and refreshing reaction against all that 80s/90s unashamedly capitalist, defeatist and cynical art. With its sell-out “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. For one thing, the likes of Banksy are giving art back to the people. They are liberators of the visual arts.

Banksy - Hirst Spot Painting

I saw Banksy’s documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” the other day (if you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it enough – it’s a must see. I’ll provide a link to it at the bottom of this post), and that got me delving into the world of street art a bit deeper. I knew of Banksy, obviously, and I’d seen some other street art, but I was pretty ignorant on the topic as a whole. ETtGS opened my eyes to a wealth of surprising and exciting new art. Like this by Eyesaw (who obviously acquired an ad shell key on their travels and has put it to good use! ):

COKE SHREDDER
“Buying is Believing” – should read “Tasting is Believing”
(Click on photo for link to more Eyesaws).

From the Eyesaw website:-

Advertising is everywhere and there is no escape from it. It’s propaganda used as a front line weapon to make you part with your money. It’s in the street, on tv, in magazines, on the internet. Damn, you can’t even enjoy a peaceful cup of tea in your own home without the phone ringing and some robot trying to sell you more crap you don’t need. You may think that you are immune to it and it does not affect you, but constant bombardment feeds into our subconsciousness. Advertising and the media have painted a distorted image of the world and the consumer. Advertising affects everything around us it has shaped the world we live in, the way we live our lives and the way we view ourselves. Advertising promotes greed, jealousy and sexism; it affects our self-asteam and makes us feel inadequate. Advertising is suicide material.

What distinguishes street art from its roots, i.e. graffiti culture, and raises it above most contemporary “traditional” fine art, is the combination of its accessible yet politically charged “low-art” heritage and a sophisticated “high art” aesthetic language. Anything goes as long as it’s witty and creative, if it’s got an overt political slant, all the better. The most important thing is the canvas, which is, as the name implies, the streets.

Links:

Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy documentary

Street Art Utopia on Facebook

My friend Adam Baker’s video of the Bristol Banksy Exhibition

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