While London and the world is enthralled with Olympians showing us what they worked their entire lives for, there will be distractions that take the focus away from the athletes. One individual who isn’t competing in the Games but is sharing the Olympic spotlight is London-based street artist and Oscar-nominated documentarian, Banksy.
On Monday, Banksy posted photos on his website of his latest works: “Hackney Welcomes the Olympics” and “Going for Mould.” Both stencils, locations unknown, are Olympic-themed and may trouble the International Olympic Committee which maintains an iron fist over Olympic branding, not to mention the British Transport Police (BTP), which have been busy arresting alleged street artists and banning them from coming within a mile of any Olympic venue.
The Guardian reported last week that the BTP had begun a pre-emptive sweep of alleged graffiti artists in preparation for the London Games. Street artists in London have also told the BBC that, “walls which they say have not been touched in years are now being cleaned off.”
If and when Banksy’s new pieces are found, officials may want to think twice about removing the world-renown artist’s work. In March, 18 original Banksy artworks sold for over £400,000 at an auction in London. In the ever-present battle of street art vs. vandalism, Banksy’s form of self expression has grown from being viewed as a criminal act into a valuable commentary on society.
Helen Bingham of Keep Britain Tidy told the BBC: “There’s a difference between low-grade tagging and the work people like Banksy do … You have to look at it and know the difference – it’s not a black and white thing.”
Tourists don’t come to London for shining perfection. They come for old and new in chaotic ungainly juxtaposition. And they come, partly, for Banksy. The prince of street art is our most famous contemporary artist, however much the moneyed art world would like to believe otherwise. Banksy postcards and canvas Banksy reproductions sell alongside royal memorabilia in London — West Country man as he may be. So how is the Olympics benefiting London by enforcing a clean-up of its most globally recognized art movement?
This is not just about the freedom of a few artists to mess up the pristine Olympic bubble. It is about the identity of London.
On Banksy’s website there is a frequently asked questions page in which the street artist answers critics who say his work is “crass, dumb and simplistic.” Banksy’s response is that they are correct. “Most of this stuff is designed to be viewed from a moving vehicle.”
Armando Botello II | Fourth-Place Medal