C4’S Street Summer has thrown out some fairly engaging content, if only in tried and tested formats, which provide a nice counterpart to the backwards looking programming favoured by Auntie and the Other Channel of late. One programme that particularly caught my attention was Sunday’s Graffiti Wars– an hour long interview-doc about tagger King Robbo and his childish feud with the fabled Banksy. [In the absence of doing any actual research, I’m going to assume that all the information contained therein is factually accurate and impartial. Or pretend that I am assuming as much. I’m also not going to bother roasting Banksy- it’s been done over and again.]
Both men take great pains to conceal their identities- in order to avoid prosecution for their profligate and ostentatious criminality and to perpetuate the myth of some kind of urban heroism. Like Batman or something. But with spray cans instead of an unassuagable desire for justice. Robo- who must be well into his forties- spends(t) most of his time working out how to plaster his trademark in hard to reach places. Legendary in the underground- figuratively and literally- for plastering his squiggle all over Tube trains throughout the eighties, he resents Banksy’s cult→mainstream appeal and mushrooming commercial success. He feels that stencilled pictures are artistically and politically inferior to the timeless art of writing your name on things- the accepted gold standard way of fucking the system and raging against the machine.
A “seminal piece” of his, wittily placed on a canal underpass beneath the London Transport Police HQ, which had been left untouched by city clean-up crews since 1985, was half obliterated by Banksy and incorporated into a new work by the Bristol spritzer.
This followed the low key rumbling of a newspaper flame war between the two and resulted in full-scale street conflagration. KR had ‘retired’ from his life as an eloquent and demonstrative political activist on account of his children needing a father. A grown man who runs around with his hood up and a scarf over his face, slapping people who haven’t heard of him, being the kind of role model children are desperately in need of, judging by recent events. Banksy’s aesthetic affront (tantamount to child murder apparently) was enough to bring our Bob out of retirement and back onto our streets with Teams Robbo and Banksy taking every opportunity to sting each other and escalate a tit-for-tat campaign of defacing each other’s work.
What with his being neither famous, nor apparently gainfully employed, our Bob had plenty of time to stew over the dispute, taking any chance he could engineer to snipe at his more successful rival and ‘modify’ Banksy’s works. Because at forty-five your priority in life should be getting revenge on some bloke who painted a picture over the name that you painted on a public wall twenty five years ago. Suggestion: Try using the expression ‘street cred’, unheard by relevant ears since 1991, to point out to your opponent how much cooler you are than him. Failing that, you could get your mum to tell his mum that he hasn’t being playing fair and it’s your turn.
Incidentally the GraffitiArtists™ (men who tag and write their names on things- as opposed to StreetArtists®: self-dubbed artists who paint on streets and buildings) so outraged by Banksy’s imposition in assimilating KR’s famous tag, are the ones who so besmirched this ‘priceless’ work of British urban art that it was barely recognisable by the time Banksy did his thing. But that’s okay, cos they’re graffitos.
Heaven forfend graffiti should be overlaid with art. It’s worth noting that the film opens with Robbo himself painting out someone else’s tag.
Banksy had it down with this quote:
“If you want things to last you shouldn’t paint them under a bridge on the canal.”
According to the programme, shortly after his first exhibition as a legitimate if highly derivative artist, King Robbo was set upon in the street and left in a coma. It’s considered poor form to kick a man when he’s down, but I considered the programme itself worthy of response. If he comes round, hopefully he’ll reassess his priorities and stop griping over such a minor act. Maybe. You’ve got to hope it was random street violence and not one of Banksy’s sycophants fans who did this, because as far as Robbo took it- that is well beyond a joke or even childishness.