Wall and Piece

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Wall and Piece Summary

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Wall and Piece (2005) is the autobiographic art-exhibit book by anonymous English graffiti artist Banksy. Born in Bristol, Banksy’s identity remains unknown to this day, despite being one of the most famous and influential modern day “guerilla” street artists. Divided into six parts: Monkeys, Cops, Rats, Cows, Art, and Street Furniture, Wall and Piece tells the story of how Banksy became the renowned artist he is today, and the many detours and speed bumps he overcame along the way. Using his stenciled art projects accompanied by autobiographical bits of information, he creates a new kind of narrative to tell his story. Banksy has painted walls, bridges, monuments, and streets in cities across the globe. He has smuggled his artworks into the four major modern museums in New York City, draped his exhibits from London’s Tate Gallery, and decorated Israel’s West Bank barrier with ironic imagery. Wall and Piece was listed as the #2 book on Library Journal’s Bestsellers Arts titles.

Narrating in the first person, the anonymous, Bristol-born street artist known as Banksy begins by defending the merits of graffiti artwork. “Graffiti is not the lowest form of art…it’s actually the most honest artform available,” says Banksy. “There is no elitism or hype, it exhibits on some of the best walls a town has to offer, and nobody is put off by price of admission.” [TT1] As Banksy exhibits his first section of leitmotifs, Monkeys, he tells of an artistic epiphany he had when he was eighteen years old. Banksy describes painting one of his first walls with the phrase “LATE AGAIN,” and the enthrallment he felt when chased by police officers. While his mates made it to their car and drove away, Banksy was torn to shreds running through a rose bush. Hiding under an oil-leaking truck for hours waiting for the police to leave, Banksy knew right then and there he had to stop copying the work of others and become more original. Banksy presents pages of stencil work involving monkeys he imprinted in secrecy, without a soul discovering his true identity. He has kept his anonymity ever since.

The second part of the book features “Cops.” In a satirical statement on police officers and law enforcement, Banksy showcases a series of art pieces depicting cops in an often unflattering light. Banksy refutes the “Broken Window Theory” that posits that the more dilapidated buildings there are in a city, the more graffiti and crime will inevitably increase. Stenciled images of police officers kissing each other, urinating, posing by anarchy signs, and standing near the phrase “thug for life” are shown, as well as officers imprinted with happy faces stamped on their heads. Banksy’s work is a comment on the hypocrisy of law enforcement, often acting in direct opposition of what it stands for. Banksy relays a story involving a Romanian revolution in 1989 that speaks to his artistic spirit of subversion. He often draws a parallel between war zones and graffiti art spaces.

The third portion of the book features the visual motif “Rats.” Here Banksy draws a parallel between rats and graffiti artists, noting that both “exist without permission. They are hated, hunted, and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation among the filth. And yet, they are capable of bringing entire civilizations to their knees.”[TT2]  Before presenting a series of rat-themed art pieces stenciled throughout the world, Banksy says, “If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model.”[TT3]  The stenciled rat imagery that follows includes vermin with peace symbols around their necks holding protest signs that read, “welcome to hell,” “go back to bed,” and “keep music evil.” Banksy admits to painting rats for three years until someone finally lauded the work as being an anagram of arts, a fact Banksy was unaware of at the time. He concludes this section, “You can win the rat race but you’re still a rat […] what we need in this race is a lot more streakers.”

The fourth section of the book highlights Banksy’s stencil work on “Cows.” He recounts the time he snuck into the Zoo in Central Park, Barcelona, and started printing the phrase “laugh now but one day I will be in charge.” Various bovine images in rural areas are presented under the heading “Hick Hop,” including stencils printed on actual livestock (pigs as well).

The fifth section of the book, “Art,” details Banksy’s work vandalizing oil paintings and preexisting art pieces. A series of subversive, satirical, and highly controversial images follow suit, many of which are painted over famous works inside such places as The Louvre, The Tate Gallery, The New York Metropolitan Museum, The Brooklyn Museum, etc. Most of the images include police tape, infants acting dangerously, and human pollution in natural landscapes. Banksy takes particular delight in posting a stenciled image of a can of tomato soup in New York’s Modern Museum of Art. “I felt like a true modern artist,” he says after watching throngs of people inspect the painting for five minutes.

The sixth and final part of the book features Banksy’s work with “Street Furniture.” Here he argues that graffiti makes boring public sculptures such as statues much more noticeable. Whether construction signs, road cones, security cameras, fabricated “Danger” signs, police barriers, restroom doors, storefronts, subway signs, etc., Banksy shows examples of subverting the “boring” architecture by imprinting his namesake and numerous phrases across their facades. Banksy gives advice on making stencils. His final piece of advice is, “Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous.”

Wall and Piece comprises a three-part series of previously published books by Banksy, including Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall, Existencilism, and Cut It Out.


 [TT1]Quotations need attribution