Hackney Council vs Banksy: some graffiti should be left alone

If there was an Olympics for graffiti reporting, I’d rather fancy my chances in the final (137 items reported so far this year to Islington Council; let’s not get started with Haringey, Westminster or Hackney Councils). But despite my enthusiasm for getting graffiti cleaned away, there’s some I regularly pass that I’ve never reported. It’s the graffiti that really counts as art.

Banksy is by far the most famous example of someone who paints items that add to the location rather than detract from it. His paintings are inventive, humorous, famous and widely praised. His Bristol exhibition this year has resulted in huge queues. Thankfully I went soon enough after it opened and early enough on a Saturday to only have to queue for a bit over an hour. Those queues attest to the fact that there is a world of difference between Banksy’s art and the scrawled tags which are little more than the equivalent of a cat urinating on an area to mark its territory.

But Hackney Council has other views of Banksy’s work:

Council officials have painted over a Banksy graffito sketch from which a reworked version was derived as the cover artwork for the 2003 single Crazy Beat by the band Blur.

The artwork – a cartoon of the royal family waving from a balcony – had been left untouched on the side of a block of flats in Stoke Newington, east London, for eight years before Hackney council intervened last week…

A Stoke Newington blogger known only as Kris broke the news of the artwork’s removal.

She reported that council workers said they had told their employers about the importance of the artwork. “We knew it was a Banksy, love. It’s a Stoke Newington landmark; we know that. We told them, but they wouldn’t listen,” wrote Kris.

The owner of the building, Sophie Attrill, told the Hackney Gazette that she was devastated when she saw the wall being painted.

“I looked out the window and saw what they were doing, so I ran downstairs and I told them to stop,” said Attrill. Hackney council said it tried to contact Attrill before ordering the artwork to be painted over, but notices asking her to remove or cover up the piece had not reached her address due to the Land Registry having the incorrect contact details.

(Source: The Guardian, whose piece includes before and after pictures.)

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  • It’s fair to assume that at least some of the 137 pieces of graffiti reported to Islington Council are also considered art rather than mess, even if only by the people who wielded the spray cans. But the Council will most likely over-rule their concerns and get rid of the graffiti (eventually). Aren’t Hackney Council equally entitled to over-rule Kris and his friends, and remove work that is, after all, illegal?

    I too visited the Banksie exhibition, and thought it was grand. But the qualities his work has in abundance – artistic integrity, satire, humour – could be argued to play a part in a hell of a lot of other graffiti. I think that, like it or not, our Councils are there to enforce rules, and we shouldn’t expect them to apply art criticism first. Even some (though by no means all) tags have a complex creative history behind them, but I don’t hear any clamour to safeguard the walls on which they’re scribbled.

  • AIUI the owner of the property didn’t want it removed which makes it different from a lot of grafitti

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