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Fuck Art, Let’s Art: Hanksy On Pop Culture Satire and New York’s Street Art Heavyweights

Fuck Art, Let’s Art: Hanksy On Pop Culture Satire and New York’s Street Art Heavyweights

They say good things come to those who wait. Just shy of a week since street artist on the rise, Hanksy’s secret art show took place in an abandoned building on the lower east side of Manhattan, Mass Appeal gives you a first-hand encounter of the experience.

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Photos courtesy of No Your City and Gregston Hurdle

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