There are multiple versions of some works in this exhibition. Some show development of ideas, such as Trolley Hunters, printed with and without background colours. Other work saluted Warhol, like the Tesco Soup Tins or the absolutely divine Kate Moss series (a homage to Warhol's Marilyn Monroe). I smiled as he poked fun at society. At all of us.
The further I went through the exhibition it moved from wry humour to the punch in the stomach I have come to expect from Banksy. A quote by Banksy at the beginning of the exhibition really summed up how I felt. 'Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable'. We need to be shaken up. Stare uncomfortable truths in the face. And this is where Banksy excels.
There were moments I just stood, thinking about the work and letting it hit me in the chest. Simple imagery saying so much. Making me sad, uncomfortable and distressed by the world. But really, I was already in that headspace. After the American election result I have been feeling unsettled. Fearful that compassion has been lost on a world-wide scale. Hate seemed to be winning.
Billy Bragg recently shared an article written by Tracey Thorn (of Everything but the Girl fame) asking 'What has happened to political pop music?' The 70s and 80s saw many UK musicians writing songs and playing gigs as a statement against fascism and racism. A couple of weeks ago we watched London Town a movie about teenagers and The Clash, being beaten up by nazis or the police or both! So where has all this political fight gone in music?
When our politicians have lost the ability to say anything meaningful or speak for us, and when society is divided how do we stop feeling despondent? I'm not alone is thinking that perhaps the only good thing to come out of these ultra conservative right-leaning times is that our artists and musicians will kick back. A show I listen to on PBS, Fang it! had a post election playlist - Songs of discontent and anger Driving home in my car after work it made me feel better. It reminded me that I'm not alone. There are lots of other people afraid and angry by the state of the world.
And this galvanised my thoughts after seeing the Art of Banksy exhibition . Perhaps we need thought provoking work now more than ever. Beautiful is great, music we can tap our toes to is fine. But we need anthems to bring us together. We should be waiving our fists in outrage.
As I left the exhibition I smiled. In a post-ironic statement, I was forced to exit through the gift shop. Touche Steve. Nice touch. There is an ongoing debate about the commodification of street art and in particular Banksy. As this is an unauthorised exhibition I'm sure the artist isn't getting his cut of tshirt sales. But I surrendered and bought a fridge magnet and mug. How could I pass up drinking coffee from a mug emblazoned with this image?
Fight the fighters. Not their wars. Yes, Steve may have my $20 but Banksy has my heart and mind. It will remind me that what the world needs now, more than ever is people taking a stand. Pushing back. Saying no to hate, divisiveness and apathy. Thanks Banksy. I look forward to seeing what you do next.