Friday, 5 March 2021

Banksy's Wilde Time in Reading Prison

A street art stencil has appeared on the wall of the former Reading nick and after making us wait a little while, Banksy has just this afternoon confirmed it as his, the tease. Banksy, Reading Prison  

 As usual the confirmation comes simultaneously via his website and his Instagram and for the second time in less than a year it is in the form of a video showing in gripping detail an unidentified person spraying a stencil. A well sorted stencilling strategy is so important to a successful outcome and the video contains many fascinating details about the order of operations for this particular artwork.

  tn_Banksy video screen capture 
screengrab from "The Joy Of Painting With Bob Ross...and Banksy", Copyright Banksy 

The artwork depicts old fashioned “over the wall” flit by a prisoner and the presence of the typewriter suggests the escapee is a writer. All the coverage has inferred the art is related to Oscar Wilde’s incarceration in Reading and that seems reasonable. Lots of references to Oscar Wilde’s last published work “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” abound though many contend that the piece was written while Wilde was in Reading while literary historians say it was written post release.Banksy Reading Prison Escape 

Plenty of local coverage draws attention to a campaign to turn the now closed prison into an arts centre so there could be a political aspect with Banksy possibly offering support, though this would be the exact opposite of his intervention in 2010 which condemned the use of his street art as the centrepiece of a new “art-hotel”. 

Three elements really raise this seemingly modest artwork quite high in the Banksy cannon. Its placement is stunning, it is by the give way lines at a major roundabout in inner Reading so the chances of the artist being spotted were very high and indeed there are reports and photographs of work in progress last Sunday.

  tn_Reading Prison getreading news banksy-reading-prison-gaol-scaffold-19949321 Anonymous photographer, Reading and Berkshire News 

Secondly, it has context. There is the physical context which is why you need to see the prison in the backdrop, not for nothing does Banksy’s video includes a rising birdseye view over the wall. If you don’t see the prison buildings well, it’s just a high wall isn’t it. The historical context too is important, this being where Oscar Wilde did time and so the prisoner has the old school (non graff) writer’s tools of the trade, the typewriter. The weirdly downward pointing CCTV almost directly over the spot supplements the giggles nicely. 

Most importantly, while politically it is relatively mute although some are contorting themselves to see it as Banksy support for a Reading art centre, it is a brilliant cartoon. It ranks alongside the Simple Intelligence Test In Dumb Animals cartoon from Banksy’s 2001 book “Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall"

Banksy Cartoon

Banksy Cartoon

Banksy Cartoon
"Simple Intelligence Test In Dumb Animals", reproduced from Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall, copyright Banksy 2001 

There is a key aspect which the media hive seems to have collectively missed. The prisoner has been almost universally described as escaping from the prison using knotted blankets, even this afternoon in its umpteenth repost on the piece the BBC is STILL adhering to the idea they are bedsheets yet that is clearly not the case (Juxtapoz weirdly sees the typewriter as attached to the prisoner's leg).

Banksy Reading Prison Escape

Someone has given the wily prisoner a typewriter and under the guise of a major lengthy literary masterpiece, the prisoner has surreptitiously typed an escape rope on continuous paper.  This is about outsmarting your captors, just like the monkey in the intelligence test. Or, as Banksy himself put it in his punchline to that cartoon “A lot of people never use their initiative, because no-one told them to”.

  Banksy Reading Prison Escape 

 Photos: Dave Stuart except where stated otherwise

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

London Walls ICA Exhibition 10 Years Ago

London Walls photo collection


10 years ago the Institute Of Contemporary Arts was besieged by connoisseurs of graffiti photography when a small group of dedicated amateur graffiti photographers (there was no other type) curated by Delete and comprising himself, Buddz, Lee 102, Howaboutno, Joeppo and myself (under the pseudonym Nolionsinengland) created an exhibition of graffiti photography.  It wasn’t really credible to review the exhibition at the time but 10 years on, possibly less encumbered by modesty, it is nice to look back on fond memories and to reminisce with the London Walls photo gang.


London Walls Flyer, 2011

“Credibility thieves, vicarious thrill seekers, they [6 photographers] follow the graffiti into grime darkened urban corners and locations of un-certain legality; aged limbs but ready cameras scratch deep below the surface of a culture created by a disparate community of egotistical but talented dare-devils, London’s graffiti writers.” (London Walls Zine, 2011)

The first photo cull session was held in the Masque on Old Street, each of us had turned up incredible photos of graffiti by TYPE (Rest In Paint) and after a shitload of horsetrading, the trio that made the cut are fitting reminders of TYPE’s powerful lettering. 

“London walls was an amazing opportunity to exhibit some work, and put faces to many names” – Lee 102


London Walls photo collection

Exhibitions of graff photography just about never happened so the opening night was rammed, the queue went down the Mall around the block, thanks perhaps to the uncompromising venue security for whom this lairy crowd wasn’t the usual ICA opening night set.  At one point Robbo yelled through the door “FAAACKIN sort it out Dave”, I pointed out to him that my wife was in the queue a way behind him and I couldn’t get her in either, “You’re in the shit mate” he astutely observed.

“The security wouldn't let #TeamRobbo in as it was a full-house at the
ICA, I had to go around asking a few people to leave politely... Haha,
not sure that type of exhibition has been bettered since.” – Joeppo

London Walls photo collection

With the space heaving, a wonderful mingling of cultures took place.  Graff writers from all over town and from all crews mingled, bragged and applauded eachother. Robbo met Stik and this seemingly unlikely of pairings hit it off immensely. 

“It felt like everyone in the London graff scene was there. A real pleasure to chat with Fenza and Shye, two of my favourite London writers. And Robbo, of course! – Delete, 2021

London Walls photo collection

The positive reception show received from the graff community came as a surprise.  Graffiti writers take wonderful photographs which are now widely seen thanks to Instagram but in those days it was more limited to an audience of fans on Flickr or the few websites such as Hurt You Bad that followed the scene.  Their photos tend to convey the mastery of the can and the energy of the moment whereas the collection in this show took a broader, artier and more contextual view of the culture.

“This was the first graffiti related “thing” to happen at the ICA, which is an amazing location.    It felt like actually being an artist for the night.” – HowAboutNo

When you combine a large graff audience with free beer tagging of surfaces is inevitable, management were loudly un-impressed with the post party state of the premises. 

London Walls Zine, 2011

The opening of the show was accompanied by the launch of a zine “London Walls”, a compendium of more of the group’s photography which for those who were there is now probably the only tangible relic of that event.

 the ICA said it was the busiest opening night that anyone could ever remember, after about 8pm they had to do a one-in-one-out and the queue stretched right up The Mall.” - Delete


London Walls photo collection London Walls photo collection

You probably thought quite a while back "It would be much more interesting to see the photographs than read this babble". Unfortunately there is no facility for showing slideshows on this blog without developing Russian hacker proficiency in html coding. For a full slide show pop over HERE to what is basically the same blog post but with a slideshow

 “All the writers were chuffed about it and thanked us for doing it, which was a relief because there was a bit of a worry that they would think we were using their work for our own glorification” – Delete

Links: Delete Flickr Joeppo LDNGraffiti Lee 102 Instagram HowAboutNo instagram Buddz instagram Dave Stuart instagram

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Banksy v Robbo - New Details Emerge


One of the biggest feuds in art-world history, street artist Banksy v graffiti writer Robbo rumbled on much longer than fans and art historians previously thought. 

In December 2009 street artist Banksy created 4 illegal pieces of stencil art on the sides of a canal in Camden, London. One of the pieces, the Banksy Wallpaperer revived an ancient feud between the street artist Banksy and the then retired but still famous London graffiti writer known as Robbo. By re-imagining a very old relic of Robbo graffiti dating from 1985 into a stencilled worker applying that graffiti as wallpaper, Banksy appeared to be suggesting that graffiti piece was perhaps just forgettable mass produced background rubbish.

  Banksy wallpaper graffiti 
Banksy v Robbo, Camden, Dec 2009 

Robbo and Banksy then engaged in a 12 months tit-for-tat exchange of insults by re-working those four art pieces in Camden, starting with Robbo turning the wallpaper into “King Robbo” on Christmas Day 2010, as first reported here on Graffoto.

  Robbo WD, WRH vs Banksy
Banksy v Robbo, 25th December 2009, photo Dave Stuart

Many articles record that Banksy insulted Robbo at a party in the late 90s, Robbo assaulted Banksy and Banksy had nurtured the grudge ever since until his attack on the Robbo relic at the turn of the decade. In a virtual presentation last week on Banksy’s London street art I played a re-discovered and never before reported snippet of an exclusive interview I made with Robbo in 2010 in which he says that Banksy had been attacking his graffiti years before the Camden 2009 takeover. 

In the interview, asked if he had been attacking Banksy art before 2009 Robbo laughingly replies

“………. before the King Robbo? No, he’s dogged me before that has happened, I can show you a picture, it’s in one of his books.“

  Banksy (not so)  Smiley Copper 
Banksy Smiley Copper amended, photo Dave Stuart 

The picture Robbo refers to is the Smiley Copper in Wall and Piece. Robbo then confirms that the feud started in the Dragon Bar in Shoreditch in the 90s before going on to say 

 “And after that happened, there was a full name throw-up of mine, “Robbo” and he decided to put the grim reaper or the smiley face over the top of it and at the time, I thought if that’s the best he can do ... “

Examination of the Smiley Copper indeed shows the capital R of a piece of graffiti Robbo says was his has been squarely hit by the Smiley Copper which unusually has a huge Banksy tag across the centre of the artwork, leaving the intended recipient of the message in now doubt as to who has gone over him. In the world of graffiti if you intend to insult someone there is no point in making a timid little mark over someone else's graff, you go big and bold.

  Banksy Smiley Copper (amended) Banksy Smiley Copper amended, photo Dave Stuart 

The Smiley Copper is believe to date from 2003 which indicates Banksy was picking the scab on that wound long before 2009 as previously thought. 

Sadly Robbo had a terrible accident in 2011 which left him in a coma until his passing in 2014, rest in peace King Robbo

"Robbo",by Banksy Robbo tribute/vigil piece by Banksy, 2011 

The virtual online presentation “Banksy – The London Chronicle” is to be repeated this coming weekend at times that will hopefully be more convenient for Banksy fans in Latin America and North America and those in Asia, the Far East and Australia. 

Book HERE for 10pm GMT on Saturday 9th January 2021

Book HERE for 12 noon GMT on Sunday 10th January 2021, 

For up to date information on the Banksy virtual tour, see HERE

All photos: Dave Stuart 

Dave Stuart will appear as an Expert Judge on TV art show Next Big Thing coming on London Live in the Spring, details to follow.