Martin Gayford tries to solve the riddle what to do about graffitti. In one accepts the sensible interpretation that graffitti is an intolerable sign of social fraying but also recognizes that accomplished artists can use it as a medium, the question doesn’t become whether to paint over graffitti on public buildings but which graffitti artists are worth seeing in other contexts:
As a general proposition, there’s no argument about it: Graffiti is part of art history. It has been around since the era of ancient Greece and Rome. In the 20th century, graffiti was an important source of inspiration for artists such as Miro, Dubuffet and Cy Twombly.
The first wave of New York graffiti artists, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in particular, long ago joined the roster of major modern painters. It’s beyond discussion: Graffiti can be good art.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Banksy himself is a good artist. One of the odd things about him is that his work isn’t derived from the crude yet lively tradition of graffiti. Stylistically, he comes out of photo-based commercial art.
The Guardian asks who else is worthy of consideration:
Blek le Rat Born Xavier Prou in Paris, 1952. The grand old man of street art and greatest influence on Banksy. A trained architect, making serious money after years of evading the authorities. His nom de guerre comes from the rats he painted around Paris.
Jean-Michel Basquiat The first African-American painter to become an international art star. His work can sell for millions. Started spray-painting buildings in Lower Manhattan using the infamous tag SAMO (same old shit). Became part of the neo-expressionist movement.
Fab 5 Freddy Credited with spreading the influence of graffiti and rap beyond the Bronx, Fred Braithwaite is a well known hip hop pioneer. Got his name by targeting the No 5 subway train.
Lee Quinones Another key innovator in the early days of New York’s street art. Moved from trains to canvas and his work is now in several permanent collections.
Keith Haring Began chalk drawing on New York’s subways and progressed to painting the body of singer Grace Jones for a music video. Opened Pop Shop in 1980s to make his work accessible.
And one to look out for: Solveig A 10-year-old from Brighton. Acclaimed as “the young Picasso of street art”.
Banksy’s Streetwise Images Amuse, Irritate (Bloomberg)
Beyond Banksy, Other Great Street Artists (Guardian)