We walk away, and Hanksy is telling me how Bucky is one of the ‘haters.’ I am brought back to my punk rock phase of adolescence, and the idea that going mainstream and signing to a major label was “selling out.” I ask him what his thoughts are on the commercial side of street art. “I mean, man, my stuff sells all the time in galleries, it’s great, it funds my lifestyle. I have a really bad lifestyle filled with gummy bears and bad afternoon movies, like I need money for that. So I have no problem with it. Look at my stuff, I’m not taking myself too seriously so, if you want me to sell out, sure I’ll sell out. Look what I’m selling out, I’m drawing like, silly stuff. And people really accept it. And I think it shows what’s going on with society, people need to laugh a little bit, and it’s okay. It’s okay to smile. It’s okay to have upturned lips.”
The longer I’m at the show, and the more perspectives on art and Hanksy’s work, I get, the more I can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of Hanksy’s haters. He’s sketching caricatures of Bradley Cooper and tilting them, “Bradley Pooper” on the sides of buildings. He’s responding to Steven Colbert’s on-air request for Banksy to get in touch by doodling a bear with the head of Comedy Central host on the wall of the entrance to the show’s studio. You can’t help but chuckle. Arguing Hanksy is too trivial only turns the argument back on itself. It’s like saying you will only eat organic when you live in Kansas City, MO. Wearing camo print overalls in 2013 and pretending like you don’t regret it. Vowing to never download mp3s and listening to strictly vinyl forever. I can’t help but very sarcastically pose the question, how’s that going?
As low hanging fruit humor as Hanksy’s work might be, there’s a bigger picture. Using the national attention he’s received as his vessel, Hanksy carries a simple message, street art in New York is not dead at all. In fact, it’s thriving, and pushing boundaries more than ever. And it’s not just NYC that’s bursting at the seams with talent, pockets of underground art scenes are gaining recognition all of the country, and Hanksy is looking to expose them even more.
We continue on our tour of the space, and he tells me, “I have this really awesome project coming up with Funny or Die. Yeah because everyone, especially Banksy, I love Banksy, you know thank you for everything and putting the focus on New York, put the focus on himself. LA’s great, a great scene out there, but there’s a lot of work going up between the two shoulders, so over the next nine months I’m visiting a bunch of mid-markets. Nothing terribly small, like Portland and Austin, and I’m inviting a bunch of my friends, and basically we’re gonna make this little web series with Funny or Die and showcase the artists that are currently active in those cities. And that will be over the next nine months, and in September we’re gonna have a big ole’ warehouse, Chinatown show. Basically, I’m gonna rent a big warehouse in Chinatown and have a huge group show that focuses on everybody that was in the series.”
Hanksy can barely contain his excitement. He seems over the moon at the chance to bring street art to the masses. I ask him if he thinks that’s a good thing. Without hesitating for a second he says, “I mean for me it’s a good thing because my stuff is so light hearted and trivial, and like, on the surface and topical. The girl that’s down the street, that’s 17 and like, just heard about Banksy and is like, ‘Oh he’s my favorite artist, but who’s this guy Hanksy?’ They can relate to my stuff. It’s like that spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. I’ve become accepted by the mainstream, the general public, but that acts as a gateway for like, everybody else that’s doing like, super freakin’ somber and political work, I mean that’s great.”
Chills are running down my spine and arms as the words leave his lips. My gut instinct from earlier was right. I wasn’t just having some surreal hipster moment at a contrived LES rich kids of New York art event– this guy actually gets it. Hanksy finishes his thought as we walk through the second floor living room’s archways and back to the kitchen where we began our night, “You know, yeah, use me as a gateway drug to get to some like, real actual talent.”
As we stop in front of a pair of black eyes set against a glowing yellow backdrop, I suddenly realize there is no heat in the building and that I’m freezing. A tall guy wearing a beanie with his hands in his pockets is standing next to a plastic bench covered in streaks of thick florescent paint. He’s not looking at any of the art covering the walls, he’s just standing there half spaced out, half looking at the ground. Hanksy pats him on the shoulder and introduces him to me as one of the most talented artists’ he knows. He shakes my hand and tells me his name is Nic. I ask him which work is his and he tells me the sculptures. I immediately realize who he is and start gushing about how impressive it is to see sculpture in a street art setting, particularly sculpture work I actually like. He’s very humble but at the same time, excited about his work. He’s excited for the current project at hand taking place in front of us too. We realize we’re both still kind of in shock over the fact that we are standing in a desecrated building in the unforgiving New York winter on a Friday night to see a one time show with works from some of the most talented artists in the country. I ask what he thinks about Hanksy in relation to the rest of the New York street art scene. He does a kind of laugh-induced sigh and says, “There’s a lot of self-righteousness going around, ‘Let’s take back the streets,’ and that kind of thing. And that’s a healthy part of it, but there has to be another side. I mean, how do you survive without any humor?”
Perhaps always an outsider sitting on the periphery of an underground world steeped in vandalism roots, through his comical cartoon doodles of rappers, cronuts, and odes to his favorite TV shows, Hanksy has created a dialogue between the general public and the underground art world. He’s used his simple sketches as a treasure map to uncover street art’s hidden gem talent buried deep below the surface. He knows his art speaks to people in a particular way and for treasure seekers looking for the chest of gold, his art is just scratching the surface. Yet he’s more. He’s a curator and visionary fighting for art for art’s sake. Instead of taking back the streets, he’s finding new ways to invigorate the streets once more, and he’s just getting started. So as Nas said, You can hate him now, but he won’t stop now — or anytime soon for that matter. So fuck art, let’s art.
@itsadredogg met all of her friends on Twitter
Hanksy introduces me to one of the participating artist’s by the name of “Wretched Beast.” Before I can trip over my own words, he beats me to it, anxiously expressing his excitement around Hanksy’s concept. “It’s one of those things you think happens, it’s like one of those movies about New York; there’s a party or a rave or some shit, or you hear about it happening in the ’80s and you’re like, ‘I wish I was around for that,’ and then here it actually is.”
I ask Hanksy about a reoccurring theme I notice on his Instagram and now throughout the building, this phrase, “Surplus Candy.” Like his work, Hanksy is armed with a clever and humorous response, “I mean the joke is, first of all, there are a bunch of artists, and candy’s so sweet, and I fucking love it [Laughs] and I always eat it, and before I know it, it’s gone. Just like this, it’s transitory. One night, and one night only, you’re either in the know, or you’re not. And that’s it.”
Hanksy gets pulled away by a friend for a moment, so I continue to wander. I am fixated on the only sculpture work in the show by 2013 New York Academy of Art fellow Nicholas Holiber. A guy is standing next to me, also fixated. Hanksy appears next to us. He stays just long enough to introduce the guy next to me as “Alex from Vice,” then disappears again. Alex volunteers he’s there “just kind of supporting the art movement going back to the Lower East Side.” I think he thinks I’m going to ask him for a job, so I quickly turn the conversation back to the subject we both are there for, Hanksy.
I ask Alex what he thinks of Hanksy and his work. “I mean, it makes me laugh every time. It’s so funny. I love the uproar that he causes, I love the hate that he gets. I love the hate that he gets almost as much as he loves the hate that he gets.” That makes me laugh and want to ask Alex a million more questions, so I follow him back down the terrifyingly unsafe staircase to the second floor.
We spot Hanksy. He’s in the center of the same room where our interview began, talking with, well more nodding and grinning awkwardly with a tall, fast-talking guy with his backpack slung over one arm, who looks vaguely familiar. The man is Bucky Turco. A writer of compelling pieces for Complex, Village Voice, Gawker, and more, and editor of New York based cultural digest, Animal. He’s apologizing to Hanksy, I think. His words are just shy of a yell, then again maybe he’s just really excited to be there? I walk up next to them and introduce myself.
I ask him what his thoughts on Hanksy are. “Well, like I was telling Hanksy, we’ve [Animal] kind of been mean about, kind of like this whole crop of like the Patrick Waldo’s of the world, ya know, the Hanksy’s, we always thought it was kind of corny. Of course, when you meet the person, and you kind of see what they’re about, I think it sometimes changes your perception, and I don’t know how comfortable I feel with that, because, right, you get a lot of that, ‘Oh, he might not be a great artist, but he’s a really nice guy.’ Um, but it is fucking humorous. He knows how to get press and he plays off of in the moment things. And I think he did a really good job curating this exhibit, you don’t get to walk through an abandoned building all the time and see art.”
And he’s right, to an extent. But Hanksy is different. He gets it. Bucky is still talking to me, but all I can think about is my favorite Warhol quote:
“The pop artists did images that anybody walking down Broadway could recognize in a split second — comics, picnic tables, men’s trousers, celebrities, shower curtains, refrigerators, Coke bottles. All the great modern things that the Abstract Expressionists tried not to notice at all.”
Except in the social media obsessed world of 2014, pretending not to notice is no longer an option.