Is graffiti art — or is it vandalism? And who owns street art after it's painted? They’re questions at the heart of a film called Saving Banksy, which opens at FilmBar on Friday, January 13. The 80-minute documentary, which director Colin Day started in 2014 and finished last year, is just now being released. It explores the practice of removing art painted for public viewing, then keeping or selling it against the artist’s expressed wishes.
It’s happened with works by one of the world’s most renowned graffiti artists, an anonymous painter who hails from Bristol, England, and uses the moniker Banksy. Often Banksy satirizes contemporary society using black stencil art, incorporating familiar icons but giving them a dark twist.
In 2010, Banksy made Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. Like other über-popular artists working today, from Jeff Koons to Kehinde Wiley, Banksy must contend with controversies surrounding the intersection of art and commerce – which is one of many issues addressed in this film.
It follows the case of Banksy’s Haight Street Rat, painted in 2010 on a building in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco that served as a hub for artists and drug use during the 1960s. It’s a simple stencil of a rat donning a Che Guevara-style beret and writing on a wall in red.
During the film, viewers follow the work’s fate. In the process, they’re confronted with issues involving ethics, politics, and unintended consequences. The film includes multiple perspectives, from art collector to graffiti writer.
Several artists are featured in the film, including Blek Le Rat, a Paris artist and stencil street art pioneer who influenced Banksy’s work. Saving Banksy also includes conversations with artists Ben Eine, Risk, Revok, Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman, Anthony Lister, Doze Green, and Hera — as well as photographer Glen E. Friedman.
Banksy's influence spans the globe, and has clearly touched the Phoenix arts community. When Nuestra Gente and monOrchid presented "The Real Nitty Gritty," an exhibition featuring primarily works by local graffiti artists, in March 2016, it included a nod to graffiti pioneers by the artist Move.
In February 2015, Paul Horner created a digital image in Banksy's style, and led people to think it was painted on Roosevelt Row art bar The Lost Leaf. For a time, some were actually fooled by Horner's hoax.
As of this writing, only two metro Phoenix movie theaters are slated to screen Saving Banksy. FilmBar will show it eight times between Friday, January 13, and Thursday, January 19. Harkins Valley Art will open the film later this month.
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It’s fitting that FilmBar is showing Saving Banksy first, given its own connections to local street art culture.
During the Paint PHX street art festival in 2015, it screened another film exploring the world of street art. And it welcomed artist Joerael Elliott to paint a mural called Dissolving Demarcation, which spans two of its exterior walls. Allow time to check it out, along with other street art in Roosevelt Row, while you’re in the area.
FilmBar’s first Saving Banksy screening happens at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, January 13. Tickets are $9. Visit the FilmBar website for details.