Friday, 9 November 2007

Big art

Channel 4’s Big Art Project website, for which I’m supplying some of the words to go with the pictures, has just won a Royal Television Society innovations award for its Big Art Mob project. This is a great wheeze whereby members of the public take pictures of ‘public art’ (anything that isn’t private seems to be the definition we’ve settled on) and post them on the website via their mobile phones.

There’s a huge amount of it around, from the big prestige artworks like Manchester’s B of the Bang, currently the subject of a £2 million court case because bits of it keep falling off, to the unofficial additions to the urban art scene that test the boundaries between creativity and vandalism. To be honest, I’m getting a bit bored by the Banksy wannabes, who’re generally not as good technically and nowhere near as imaginative as the man himself. And now that his works are fetching up to £300,000 a time at auction, much of the original anarchic edge has rubbed off along with the paint on some of his classic works.

My local council in Islington has just drawn up a list of officially protected Banksies in the borough to avoid them being painted over by its anti-graffiti team. Some of them are even being ‘restored’ by council workers, who paint over the tags of less well respected graffiti artists.

Nearby Tower Hamlets has apparently gone in the opposite direction and decided to remove the lot. In a way, you can hardly blame them. Where might this sort of thing lead, after all? There are already heated discussions taking place in parts of north London over whether particular graffiti are genuine Banksies or, perish the thought, stylistic copies. The idea of council officials having to make an expert aesthetic judgement on every piece of graffiti in the area before deciding whether to remove it is an odd one indeed.

I was once what Jill Posener, in her book Spray it Loud, called a ‘graffitist’ myself. I’ve even got the convictions to prove it. I believe, for example, that I am the only person ever to have been prosecuted for ‘putting up posters without permission’ on the old Widnes market (fined £5 and a night in the stocks). All that’s left of my work now is Posener's book and a few photos, which I haven’t yet decided whether to post on the Big Art Mob or auction off at Sotheby’s.

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