Friday, 31 July 2009


Residents of Bristol, and more recently the wider community, are familiar with the contributions of ’Banksy’ to liven up their urban life. Views polarise as to whether these brighten the drab parts of the environment or are just visible presentations of disaffected youth – often called graffiti. My personal view is towards the former, provided that, done well, it does not deface personal property in an offensive way or cause inconvenience. Some modern architecture is arguably ‘graffiti’ in concrete and can well be leavened by the application of street art.

The picture on the wall above is, to me, just such. On an otherwise completely bare rendered wall at the bottom of the hill from the Bristol City Museum.
(We have to leave aside finer issues of ‘learning curves’ and the unknown character and quality of Banksy’s early work.)

In a co-operation or invasion, Banksy has an exhibition - or part take-over - of Bristol City Museum. Search for other information using the heading of this piece, look at Sunday Times article
Times-on-line for more information. The invasion lasts until 31 August 2009.

(Technical bit: I had a day out on the train from Worcester, for once with the intention of just looking, taking only my compact 'briefcase camera' a Ricoh Caplio R4 rather than lugging my asad (all singing all dancing) Canon 40D. It's virtues are a 28mm equivalent wide end of a 7:1 zoom and some 'image stabilisation' of uncertain effectiveness. It lacks a viewfinder, so one frames shots by peering at the screen at arm's length in typical tourist fashion. Not the best operating routine for the environment of much of this exhibition. Many of the pictures here show an exposure time of half a second on the EXIF data - not textbook approved, and accounting for some lack of clarity. (Incidentally, having bought the camera, I found there is no iris control; it always works wide-open so it is impossible to improve depth of field when there is adequate light. This is my first attempt at using Blogger and I see that I could have uploaded larger images; when I'm bored with watching the paint dry I may reload larger versions.)

A glimpse of the popularity of this invasion can be seen in this picture including the 'Ice Cream Van' (also seen in the article about the exhibition in the Sunday Times).

I had to queue for 40 minutes (on a Monday !) before entering through a side door.
This has the unfortunate result that the intended introductory section - pure graffiti to provoke the hackles of 'Disgusted of TW' - becoming the last piece you see as you leave.

As you enter this large open area, you find that the invasion is not just gratuitously sprayed paint. There are apparently classical statues that have taken new form and everyday objects put in provocative contexts. This is not just clever humour, there is irony and challenging social commentary.

The Sunday Times article by Waldemar Januszczak tells that the museum staff other than the Director were totally unaware of the nature and origin of the invasion until it happened. I won't try to compete with the excellent words of his review, even if I don't agree with all Waldemar has said.

There are two other galleries which are all Banksy.
Most of the pictures are in a dim and spottily lit section (hence the quality of some of my images).

A second large central area, up the steps from the Ice Cream Van, is also dimly lit and has a dozen or so animatronic items which need video to bring out their cleverness and subtlety of creation.

The rest of the Banksy contributions are hidden among the rest of the museum's galleries; some only appear after a 'double-take'.

The outright pun among them, a classically framed picture with the title label 'Girl at the Windows. By a local artist' and showing the Windows caption 'A system error has occurred' over the focus of the picture.

I include one 'real' picture. An excellent example of the use of light within a picture by an artist: 'Moses and the children of Israel' (I failed to note the full details).

It would also seem as if Banksy has become more 'Studio of Banksy' like the classical painters and sculptors - I don't see how one person could have created all this work - unless someone can tell me otherwise.

The following pictures are in no particular order other that the route I found my way round the museum.

Thank you to Banksy and Bristol City Museum.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, it took over two hours to go round and I confess I cheated and looked only for the Banksy bits rather than studying everything, but I did stop and take pictures. I don't know how many items I missed, and some were effectively un-photographable. Had I been accompanied, I suspect it would have taken longer as one discussed each item.

If you have the opportunity before the end of August (and it's free) you will find it challenging and amusing at the same time.

I hope this collection goes on tour and eventually finds a permanent home. I have not seen a better visual commentary on our times.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to blogland, Howerd.

    Cheers, Peter.