Monthly Archives: August 2010

Vigilante Gift Shop – another Banksy/street art post

Last year, I wrote a giant post that mostly discussed street art in general and Banksy in specific. It bounced around a few topics that seemed related to me and was at least loosely connected – street art, Banksy, my volleyball teammates, my time in St. Petersburg, Russia with SLS. Before I wrote that post, I was lucky if I got 20-30 hits a day on this blog, but since then, I’ve seen a leap in traffic and searches like “banksy,” “banksy pictures,” and “robin banksy.” Most of the searches are pretty standard, though there was a few of “бАНКСЫ" searches and I did see an odd one recently – “gross vandalism art.”  Kinda intriguing.

Earlier this year, I revisited the idea of street art, particularly one of the images I’d included in that first post and the story of a friend of mine’s mural.

I’ve been meaning to write a true follow-up to the first street art post, because I stumbled on a lot of new information (and street art) since then. Where do I start?

Let’s start with New Orleans. In my first post, I linked to articles about Banksy’s visit to New Orleans and showed pictures of some of the work he did here. He mocked the “Gray Ghost,” who is a guy named Fred Radtke who paints over graffiti and street art. I’ve since found this piece that asks if there might be more than one “Gray Ghost,” if the Ghost has his own ghost. It raises the question of what distinguishes art from crime:

“Has its original intention been blotted out by Radtke’s approach, which some consider overzealous and unchecked that makes no distinctions between art and vandalism, or is he being unfairly criticized for what most would agree is a dirty job?”

Around the same time I first read this Gambit article, I found the website and trailer for Vigilante Vigilante, a film that looks at three men, including the Gray Ghost of New Orleans, who have made it their mission to “buff out” street art. Watch the trailer, it looks pretty amazing:

And of course, I found out about the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, about Banksy taking over the documentary a guy was trying to make about him. I’ve been waiting eagerly to see it. When our most arty theater, Canal Theaters, was under construction, I thought there was no way I’d get to see it on the big screen. Then, oddly enough, a friend discovered it was playing at the recently renovated and re-opened Chalmette Theaters. This theater, like most everything else in Chalmette, was destroyed during Katrina. And it wasn’t easy to figure out where this theater is or what the showtimes were, let me tell you. My friend and I and a co-worker all had to investigate and then, of course, I had to drive out in a rainstorm to Chalmette, not really knowing my way. Anyway, I’d do it all again because it was an awesome experience. It should be said that the Chalmette Theaters is open, but only just. When I first walked in, I obviously walked in the side that’s not yet renovated and open for business. It was a big empty shell. When I found my way out and inside the open side of the theater, everything was glitzy and great, still smelling of fresh paint. It was, for that surreal reason alone, probably the best possible place I could’ve seen Exit Through the Gift Shop.

I shared the theater with one other patron, a completely unexpected middle-aged white guy, which just goes to show my own expectations and prejudices. We said hi as took my seat a few minutes before showtime, but didn’t speak again through the movie. I loved that the opening included a shot of the giant “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” on the back of an abandoned building near NOCCA, on the river. Check out one of my pictures, below:

Abandoned building on the river, near NOCCA

The movie was absorbing and really smart. I only wished it had something about Banky’s visit to New Orleans. Anyway, I don’t want to give too much away by detailing everything that happens, but if you’re a geek for street art like me, it’ll be your thing. When it was over, my mind was reeling. Me and the unexpected middle-aged white guy walked out together and had a tiny conversation about what we thought of the film and I left feeling freaked out, amused and very excited about street art, about New Orleans (and Chalmette) and re-inspired by Banksy all over again.

You know, some people grumble that he’s sold out, is selling out, or has always been a sellout since it’s likely he’s an upper middle class British guy. And I wonder, sometimes. Especially when I read something like this short Artnet piece:

Everyone’s talking about the Banksy-directed film, Exit through the Gift Shop, which showed at the Sundance Film Festival and tracks the antics of street artist Mr. Brainwash. Also getting some press: the London band named Exit through the Gift Shop, which has understandably benefited from some free publicity. The similarity in names was apparently a coincidence, with the band having been founded a few years ago out of the “midlife crisis” of band member, 41-year-old web developer Simon Duncan.

Call it a happy coincidence though. According to the Guardian, Duncan’s band started receiving “hilarious emails from someone saying he was Banksy,” asking for them to change their name. Soon, in return for changing his band’s name to Brace Yourself, a white van delivered to Duncan a giant new Banksy painting — “the size of a double bed” — depicting a grim reaper driving a bumper car, with the words “Brace Yourself” written on the front.

A Sotheby’s appraiser estimated that the work is worth a cool $200,000, and has taken the original into storage. Brace Yourself plans to play in front of a full-sized replica of the Banksy at a gig this week.

That’s kinda a big corporation move, to demand that somebody change their name because it closely resembles that name of your project. Yet, I guess Banksy wasn’t exactly demanding, he was asking, as the piece says. And, not only did he gift them with a $200,000 piece of art, he linked his name to their band and provided media exposure. I, for one, wouldn’t know anything about this band if not for a having read this write-up.

So, knowing I was going to do a follow-up, I did a couple of searches to see what’s going on currently. As always, I found some really cool stuff to read and look at. Like the Tumblr page that’s constantly being updated with pictures people have tagged. And the photos from Banksy’s tour of New York. And this piece about a “graffiti war” between Banksy and Team Robbo, who are going behind Banksy and altering his pieces. Kinda like Jenn’s mural being tagged by someone else, like I mentioned in my “Reconsidered” post. And this YouTube video, which is interesting in and of itself, because it might as well be a guided tour of a museum, except the curator is a kid explaining a “graff war”:

Which kinda brings me back full circle again. In my first post, I tried to find something to indicate whether or not Banksy had been to Russia, especially St. Petersburg, where I found a lot of amazing street art. Well, I found this great image from Russia, probably St. Petersburg, actually.

And then this great article on the English Russia site about the “Ukranian Banksy.” Some really great stuff, here. My favorite may be this one:

The "Ukranian Banksy"

And I think this is the best bit. It’d old news, but I hadn’t heard of it. The Cans Festival of public street art where spectators were encouraged to bring spray cans and wear clothes they didn’t mind getting dirty. I think every city should do this regularly. Would be really cool. Here’s my favorite of the pieces featured in the article:

Anyway, so that’s a lot of photographs and videos, just like the first post. I kinda get lost down the rabbit hole once I start talking about this stuff. I’ll leave you with my new favorite Banksy:

my new favorite Banksy

And some street art/graffiti images I’ve seen around New Orleans lately.

On the same building as "YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL"

Exemplifies our attitude in New Orleans, I think.


Filed under art, movies, New Orleans, pop culture, Uncategorized

Update! Update! Read all about it!

It feels like a while, even if it hasn’t really been all that long. But here are a few updates on my own writing and some writer friends of mine.

I have a new 225 piece out – this one is on Best of LSU Fiction, which just so happens is edited by two friends of mine, Judy Kahn and Nolde Alexius, which I talked about a little while back. The book is an amazing collection and really absorbing. LSU has a great reputation for fiction writers and if you want to know why, check this book out.

Just heard that Pamela DuMond’s Cupcakes, Lies and Dead Guys is going to be published later this year! I read an early manuscript a while back, so I’m excited to see the finished book.

And Nick Fox has had not one but two newsletters come out without me updating y’all! So, you can check out excerpts from his summer adventures below.

From the July 2nd newsletter:

Three years of work. Four drafts. 385 pages and 110,343 words. I completed the novel in Cape Cod, at my dear friend Lili Flanders’s place in Truro. That’s the same place I finished my first draft last year.

I completed the final draft in the same chair, at the same table, exactly one year and one day later. This is what I’m talking about with the circles.

The book seems to have followed the arc of my past couple years. I started this novel while I was attending Warren Wilson. I started this novel while I was going through my divorce. The book carried me through both things, and I don’t think I realized how much I depended on it for the past three years. This is something I grew with, something I leaned on when little else made sense. Even the book didn’t make sense for most of the time I was working on it. I almost abandoned it after the first draft. I almost didn’t start it in the first place. I don’t know what made me decide to keep going ahead. There’s something kind of penitent about it. It’s a humbling thing putting together something that you slowly grow to love. I’ve suspected that a penitent man puts out an offering not because he believes the god he serves needs it, but simply so he can remind himself that he has something to offer.

I have 385 pages, and I like what I have. That’s worth three years to me. That’s what I have to offer.

And later in the same update:

You cannot overestimate how important it is for someone who is focused on an art form—any art form—to be around people who affirm that they are making the right choices. They are doing the right thing. I heard a writer at a lecture recently who said, “Writing is done in solitude, but it cannot be done in isolation.” In the end, we feed off each other, and as one person grows and prospers and finds success, everyone around them benefits. A high tide lifts all boats, as Kennedy said.

And from Nick’s more recent August 7th newsletter:

A few days later, Matthew shot me a letter with a quote from Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior. It goes like this:

The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

Basho is Japan’s most famous haiku poet, and he spent most of his life wandering the coast and interior of Japan. Writing. Teaching. Reading. Leading classes that strung together chain poems known as renga, capturing moments in extended quotes, in seventeen syllable cubes. He wrote the above words over three-hundred years ago. And last week, I sat in my friends’ apartment in Chicago, reading them. Taking in this idea, sent three centuries forward, sent from Edo Japan by way of Detroit to me in Chicago. I sat there reading and realized, again, that I was home.

I was home when I was in Chicago in the same way I was home when I was in New Orleans. The same way I have been at home many times over the course of this trip. I felt at home in Maine, in Philadephia, in Vermont. Staring out at America’s only fjord in Mount Desert Island, Maine. Trying to sleep on an overnight bus from New York to Boston. Hitchhiking through the Adirondacks in a series of strangers’ cars. Looking over the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. Camping in a grove of pecan trees in Oklahoma, caking insect repellent on my arms to keep off ravenous mosquitos.

It isn’t the road that’s home. I don’t mean it like that. I don’t mean I never want to be settled in one place for an extended period of time. I’m just finding a much deeper joy in being unsettled right now. I suspect I’m growing more by rattling my own compass and testing to see if it comes back to true north. And when I’m done with that, I’ll put down stakes for a while and dig into a solid routine until it’s time to go again. This no longer seems like a crazy way to live for a simple reason: I’ve been doing it for a little while now, and I’m managing to do it in a way that is sustainable.

That’s what I’ve got for now. I might’ve forgotten some folks and I know there are rumbles of other awesome things in the work, but nothing bloggable just yet. Enjoy!!!

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Filed under book news, bragging on, freelance work, Friends, writing updates

God bless you, Albert

When I moved into my New Orleans neighborhood, I quickly became acquainted with Albert, who is legendary and beloved around here.

He is someone I probably never would have met in Baton Rouge, because in that city, you cage yourself up in an arctic car to get around and go about your life. But here, in New Orleans, you have every motivation to stay within a few square blocks, easy walking distance, because there is so much life and magic in even that small amount of space. Especially in my neighborhood.

I didn’t quite know what to make of Albert when I first met him outside the A&P, which has since become a slowly renovated Breaux Mart. An older black man wearing shabby, dusty black clothes, with a cataract and a constant smile, he looked like a shaman who’d crossed a desert. Every time I saw Albert after that, no matter what, he always said to me, “God bless you, baby” as we crossed paths.

I soon learned that he blessed everybody he met and saw, each and every day. This in no way diminishes the fact that each time he spoke with you, it was a unique and personal greeting. He and Jamey seem to have a very special bond, as do many people and merchants up and down Magazine in particular – spoken, unspoken, negotiated, created, serendipitously discovered, it makes no difference – everybody around here knows and loves Albert, takes care of him when they can and receives his blessing no matter what.

“God bless you, baby.” It always made my day to see him, to be blessed by our neighborhood shaman, but I took him for granted as part of my neighborhood, part of the fabric and magic of my life here. I didn’t realize how much until today, when I discovered that Albert has died and passed on from this neighborhood to another.

While those of us here in his old neighborhood will miss him, I know he will be beloved there as well, and bless all those he meets.

Tributes and remembrances left on a bench that Albert frequented.

[8.7.10 Update: The bench memorial has grown. And I found a wonderful picture of Albert online. Look below:

Right before the rain, on Magazine Street.

Found this great photo on a Flickr page, click on the image to go to the page.


Filed under New Orleans