How High-Low Can You Go? New Banksy Mural in London Rips Basquiat for Basquiat’s Sake

There’s a new Banksy in London!   Okay, okay, okay — calm down! We know how exciting this must be for you. Us, too! But let’s take a moment and catch our breath, ’cause this is no ordinary new piece of street art from the world’s most mysterious artist.

The latest Banksy is ripping off one of the most famous and original popular post-modern artists to emerge from New York City in the heady 1980s.

You know the ’80s, right? It’s that era when people did lots of coke and wore lots of pastel-colored clothing in America, say, like a a pink linen blazer with the sleeves rolled up past the elbow (’cause in the ’80s they figured out that wearing your blazer that way made it all the easier for you to drive your convertible white Ferrari Mondial around the broad and desolate mean streets of Miami at midnight with a moody expression on your face).

Anyways, that important ’80s artist was the late, great Basquiat, as in Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the 1990s, Hollywood produced a biopic about him with Jeffrey Wright, Dennis Hopper, and David Bowie (who played artist Andy Warhol in the film).

So Banksy is ripping off Basquiat for his latest work. Well, “rip off” is a harsh term. Did we really say that? Kind of, maybe, not really. We meant “riffs” off. (Or is it “riff on”?). Or rather what we meant was Banksy is giving “a nod” to Basquiat.

Let’s clarify. Banksy has created an original Banksy artwork that depicts two police officers in his usual style of monochromatic black and gray graffiti-painted stencils.

The police are patting down and writing a citation for a very authentically-rendered impressionistic black figure painted in a style that is mind-blowingly like a Basquiat painting.

Nearby is a painting of a very Basquiat-esque dog growling, as well as a mash-up of a very Keith Haring-esque (as in Keith Haring, another late, great ’80s NYC art star) and a very Basquiat-esque human figure leaping into the air.

 

Is Banksy ripping off Basquiat (or Haring for that matter)? No, Unequivocally, “no!” we say.

The artwork is an homage and a site-specific work referencing a new massive exhibition of Basquiat’s work at the Barbican Centre in London. The show is awesomely titled “Boom for Real.”

Banksy’s artwork here is fucking brilliant. It’s a collision of high-brow and low-brow in a way that makes so much sense and says so much.

Basquiat, a street artist who became a legit art star and darling of the art world, if he were alive today and walking down the streets of central London might not be able to go see his own exhibition at major museum without being stopped by police or racially profiled as suspicious. There’s some bitter irony here.

Go see it while it lasts or before the neighborhood becomes so much more expensive that you’ll need to take out a mortgage to buy a flat-white coffee.

 

Here Comes the Neigborhood: Mural of Basquiat Ups Real Estate Values in Hip Gentrifying Hood

There’s a pattern of tell-tale signs that indicate that a once-undesireable neighborhood is undergoing gentrification. One of these signs is the changing nature of street art, and, more tellingly, the arrival of public art.

Although street art is kind of constant throughout the gentrification process, it’s usually in abundance in the neighborhood pre-gentrification and continues to pop up more frequently and blossom as the process unfolds. What’s different over time is the type of street art and its content and how it changes as the neighborhood gentrifies.

As the process plays out and rents and condos become more expensive, the street art becomes “neater,” bigger, less controversial, broader in appeal, and more referential of the established traditional post-modern and contemporary art canon.

More importantly, the street art you see starts to be commissioned rather than illicit. Galleries pop up. Art “events” appear. There’s public art. There are bigger and bigger murals. The “street art” at this stage is increasingly really officially developer-approved mural work by established street art figures and established non-street artists instead of “guerilla” artworks painted in the dark of night. 

The mural pictured here in the Los Angeles Arts District depicting the late, great artist Jean-Michel Basquiat seems to fall somewhere in between the official and unofficial, a signpost somewhere in the middle of the gentrification-process spectrum. In and of itself, it is not significantly remarkable. In the context of the streets, it’s awesome, it’s cool, and will add to the area’s cachet for would be home buyers and investors who love it and want to tap into the “cool” of the Arts District.

The artwork is adding value. Rents will go up — ARE going up — and fast!  (In fact, since you started reading this, the average monthly listing price on a 400 square-foot studio apartment in the area has probably increased by $2,416.39, to the penny.)

The painting is by the very talented artist Alex Ali Gonzalez, and it’s self-referential for the art world and also a kind of visual, symbolic creative cue, an homage to an important beloved artist and what that artist represents — Basquiat started out by creating graffiti and street art in what at the time were the derelict streets of downtown Manhattan, an area of New York City that is now completely gentrified and unaffordable for most people.

Basquiat symbolizes something for both the struggling young artist being priced out of the Arts District and to the property developer turning a textile warehouse or widget factory into multi-million dollar condos affordable by only the wealthy, who it has been observed are often people who are not professionally creative and often lack imagination in a way that is inversely proportional to their wealth.

Neighborhoods pass through phases of gentrification, from pre- and “pioneer” phases through to “early hipster,” “late hipster” and “second,” “third,” “fourth” waves, etc., and finally “establishment” phase. (You’ll know the last phase because hipsters are no longer moving to the neighborhood and there’s at least one condo with its own private elevator.)

The Arts District of Los Angeles, which is really the industrial area that’s psychologically an extension of Downtown LA (DTLA) is not at the establishment phase of gentrification, but it’s very close, or rather at least pockets of it are really close. Other areas, not so much. It’s a vast area that could easily be divided up in to two or three distinct neighborhoods.

But there’s more and more large-to-epic scale commissioned street art. Look for more images of the Basquiats and Warhols and others of the artworld Pantheon in the future and fewer “Kook Streets” and “Wrdsmths” and “Banksys” (although, given the monetary and cultural value of a Banksy artwork at this point, it would actually be a welcome addition even on an expensive DTLA condo, maybe it would be painted inside that private elevator.) 

Artsy: The Mysterious Dog Painting of Artist Morex Arai

Mysterious Honolulu-based artist Morex Arai painted this strangely compelling and intriuging artwork depicting a pensive dog (to the extent that a dog can even  be “pensive”). The dog stands on a shaded patch of green, sloping lawn that stretches down a hill to a parking lot in the distance.

The image begs a lot of questions and invites speculation on many possible narratives, which make this painting so interesting and rewarding. Why is the dog on a leash but nobody is holding his leash? Why is the dog standing there? What is the dog looking at? Are they at a park? Is this in Hawaii? Where is the dog’s owner? Did something happen to his owner? Should I get a pet? What is the meaning of life? And so on.

The painting is on view as part of a group show at Ars Cafe & Gallery in Honolulu.

 

Informative: Tips on Retail Decor Part 1 – Surfboards

Want to add a bit of sexy, aspirational flair to your retail / dining / third-wave coffee establishment, something with a bit of totemic presence and cool-mystique lifestyle cachet?

You say “YES! Yes, I do!” In that case, here’s a tip: Add a surfboard.

That’s it. Just mount a bright colorful surfboard on the wall. Or tuck a couple of beat-up shortboards in the corner of otherwise dead interior space. 

If the board still has wax on it, so much the better for authenticity. If it’s a dinged shortboard autographed by a pro surfer — say, 11-time world champion Kelly Slater — and covered in garish energy-drink sponsorship stickers, well, that’s just great. If it’s a pristine, glossy longboard in a bright, yummy candy color that makes you want to lick the board, that’s fantastic. 

By doing so you’ll have added tremendous value to your business by improving the “customer experience,” and you’ll have instantly hipstafied your establishment by a solid 34%, minimum. We absolutely swear!

Many examples as follows …

From top to bottom: Sunny Days Cafe, Honolulu; Kono’s Restaurant, Haleiwa, Hawaii; G-Shock SoHo Store, New York; Louis Vuitton Store, Santa Monica, Los Angeles; Lost Weekend Cafe, Lower East Side, New York; Chanel surfboard signed by Gisele Bundchen at art gallery, Venice, Los Angeles.

Trouble in Paradise: Street Art in Honolulu

We found this street art on a local newspaper box in the kinda gritty, kinda hipster Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu. It’s a further sign of continuing gentrification of this drab suburban patch on Oahu’s south shore. Truly, there’s trouble brewing in paradise. The opening of more high-quality third-wave expresso bars is only going to accelerate.

The Horror: Cash for Ukeleles

Smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far, far away from any significantly large land mass or continent sit the Hawaiian Islands. This archipelago is a well-known paradise full of lush flora, beautiful beaches, dramatic mountain ranges, gorgeous waterfalls, volcanic landscapes and a warm, balmy climate where the water and air temperature are roughly equal year around. For better or worse, it’s a tourist mecca, but still a genuine paradise nonetheless.

Yet there’s a darker side.

It’s often overlooked that Hawaii is home to over a million people! A MILLION people hunkered down on a few small islands in the middle of the Pacific. That’s a million-plus humans planted on the most remote islands in the world! Most of these people are on the island of Oahu and its modern capital city Honolulu. There you’ll find all the features of a large metroplis — Freeways, skyscrapers, multi-level luxury shopping malls, and hipster-run third-wave coffee shops serving creative and obscure espresso-based beverages!

And like almost any major city there are homeless, crime, and some strata of economic misfortune. The last may be most visibly measured in the number of pawn shops in a city, easily spotted in the evening by cheap neon signage that cut right to the chase of the transaction terms.  

It’s a telling sign of contemporary Hawaiian culture when the pawn shop specifically says it offers cash for ukeleles, like the one pictured here in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu.

The iconic ukelele is Hawaii’s major modern contribution to the world of music and has become a symbol of its culture, even though it was invented in the 1800s and inspired by a Portuguese stringed instrument. Which makes it all the more poignant that there’s probably a person somewhere in Hawaii who is at this moment contemplating pawning their beloved uke so they can pay an unexpected medical bill or make their car payment. That neon sign, and the financial distress it implies, is in stark contrast to every popular image of America’s 50th state.

It’s paradise. But not for everyone, it seems.