FROM SPANISH BROTHEL TO BREXIT COMMENTARY: HOW BANKSY’S JOURNEY FROM OBSCURITY TO OMNIPRESENCE ACTS AS METAPHOR FOR THE CURRENT CLIMATE CONCERNING BRITAIN’S RELATIONSHIP WITH EUROPE

Like all careers of note, there’s always a starting point. An apprenticeship of sorts learning the tools of their chosen trade, far away from the bright lights and big bank balances that come later on as a byproduct of fame.

And in the art world, that can mean years developing their craft, one where talent is honed and experimentation undertaken to find out the direction necessary to take to achieve success and gain a foothold in popular culture.

And for the phenomenon that is Banksy, the path taken to the current status quo of almost saturation of his work was one far removed from the political symbolism that speaks to millions across the globe that we see today.

For Banksy, apart from  his beginnings of painting the walls of his native Bristol and London, his talent also graced the not so glorious surroundings of a Spanish lap dancing club/brothel in the middle of nowhere – yet on a site familiar to millions of Britons.

As far a cry as humanly possible from his most recent work, the Brexit mural that appeared in Dover on Saturday morning. Depicting a metal worker who is seen chipping away at a star on the flag – which themselves signify unity – in what is his first artistic commentary concerning the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

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Banksy’s latest work in Dover

The Devon mural coming off the back of Banksy’s ‘The Walled Off Hotel’ venture in March,  a dystopian themed hotel which he labelled “a three story cure for fanaticism” – one built metres from the barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories.

Again an inherently political motive,  it was opened to foster both a better understanding and greater dialogue about the region, symbolic in that the opening was dated to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration which helped to establish Israel.

A region first visited by the artist back in 2005 when he stencilled the Palestinian side of Israel’s West Bank wall  to highlight what he viewed as a structure which turned Palestine into “the world’s largest open prison”.

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Banksy stencil, Palestine

The surprising fact is to be found within an interview originally commissioned by Dazed and Confused magazine some time in early 2000, and one that the magazine chose not to print for fear that they may face prosecution for ‘inciting criminality’. Eventually published by Level Magazine, the article served to inspire a short film about the street artist by Channel 4, entitled ‘Boom and Bust’.

In it Banksy, then described as Bristol’s ‘most maverick painter and decorator’, denotes how he got into stencilling due to the need to get his work completed in the shortest time possible – a necessity he credits to the rise in more people being on the streets as a result of 24 hour supermarkets and “boozers open round the clock”.

The interview also charts how the man – who got into graffiti through designing a flyer – got lost after spray painting the Tate Modern gallery in London and somehow ended up in front of Buckingham Palace (‘the most heavily policed part of Britain) with his full arsenal of spray cans and stencils one night at 4am.

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Banksy work on the steps of the Tate Modern gallery

But most interesting is his jaunt abroad to mainland Spain, years before he hit the streets of places like San Francisco, Melbourne and New Orleans to leave his iconic marks on such cities.

After also being flown out to New York to paint the rooms of a hotel, Banksy was invited out by “some gangsters” to decorate what was essentially a strip bar/complex (and perhaps a brothel) on the site of the – wait for it –  infamous failed BBC soap opera El Dorado.

The gangsters had bought the complex, known in Spain as ‘La Ciudad de Cine’, and wanted the little established artist to jazz up what was undoubtedly a sterile, colourless former film set. And, gangsters being gangsters, even tried to make Banksy himself pay towards his work.

“True to form they tried to make me pay for it by buying the paint upfront. I’m not a remarkably clever bloke, but I understood the rip-off that was going off, and instead spent the week with this stripper going to work around various different bars. It was interesting”, he says in the interview.

No photographic evidence exists of Banksy’s work there, nor indications of what happened to the strip club he lent his artistic talents too.

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The old El Dorado film set, Coin, Malaga

The site, in the small town of Coin near Malaga, was last home to a nightclub and restaurant, while the nearby El Dorado film set was bought over by a Spanish production company to film two successive (and highly popular) TV shows.

Bizarrely, a UK born artist who lives in the town of Coin claimed, in an interview with local newspapers in 2015, that he is the original Banksy and that his ideas were stolen by none other than Damien Hirst.

Michael Shurman also claims to be behind the iconic alien saucers painted in Bristol in 2004. The 55 year old attended Goldsmiths College in London before working with MAD magazine and as an illustrator for the satirical TV programme Spitting Image.

He claims he created the Banksy persona, that it was stolen from him, and then continued by ‘wealthy and powerful members of Britain’s art circle.’ Shurman also claims that he invented the ‘Banksy’ idea while living in Glastonbury.

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Michael Shurman in his studio, Coin, Malaga.

Conspiracies and smoke and mirrors aside, it’s interesting to note the subtle connection that exists between one of the artist’s earliest paid commissions and his most recent work in Devon.

One which, if we take out everything in between, boils down to Banksy (through European freedom of movement legislation) going to another European country to take on an employment opportunity. The same Banksy who, many years later, comments on an impending political manoeuvre that will see those from Europe who wish to do the same in the UK impeded due to future legislation, thanks to Britain’s exit from the EU.

An exit that, in destroying the European ideal of free movement of people (one set in statute by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993)  will set the tone in the coming years concerning our relationship with the continent.

Perhaps then, with Banksy’s potent (political) message as strong as ever, it’s worth remembering how he himself benefited from what Brexit will hinder.

One however which, perhaps bizarrely, serves as a fitting metaphor of his journey.

 

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