Guerrilla Graffiti

Banksy’s Unexpected Turn

The street artist caught fans by surprise this weekend with two non-graffiti works—a mobile garden and a satirical video. Justin Jones reports.

10.07.13 9:45 AM ET

The hype is contagious—and everyone is drinking the Kool-aid.  This past weekend, I took to the streets to see just how quickly the buzz surrounding the world’s most anonymous street artist had spread. 

Just to refresh, the graffiti artist Banksy started a month-long residency in New York City at the beginning of this month. He’s already tagged seven areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn, unleashed a mobile installation, and produced a short video in the past six days.  That may seem no different than any other street artist—but, this is Banksy, and anything he touchés could fetch upwards of a million dollars on an auction block.

In case you haven’t been following as closely as we have, Banksy’s first new work went up October 1.  It was immediately painted over—quite possibly by Banksy himself.  The subsequent works that followed include a This is my New York Accent blurb, a dog marking its territory, pre-existing graffiti given a Broadway makeover, a delivery truck converted into a tropical oasis, and a media clip involving rebels firing a missile at the cartoon character Dumbo.

Based on the crowds that gathered over the weekend, its safe to say that the Banksy craze will continue to gain momentum as the month plays out.  Stephen Lancaster, a 28-year-old Brooklyn resident, who we found in front of the Day 3 work, said he is making it a priority to see each new piece as they are announced and located.  And a lot of people agreed.  “It’s rare to have the opportunity to see an artist’s work immediately after it has been produced,” he said. “I have to take advantage of that.”

Others were completely clueless as to what was happening.  A group of friends checking out the galleries in Chelsea didn’t even realize what they had stumbled upon when they crossed Banksy’s Day 2 on 25th Street—a work that states “This is my New York Accent” in iconic graffiti font followed by “…normally I write like this” in traditional typeface.  “It’s normal to see a person taking random photos on the street,” a young blonde woman said. “But, when you see a group of people, you want to know what’s up.”  After all, nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.  “I think its fun what he is doing,” her friend added, “it shakes up the normal routine of an art show, making the entire city an interactive exhibit.”

Interactive is right.  One of his works is now on the move:  Banksy took a break from the walls and unleashed a delivery truck converted into a mobile garden (complete with a rainbow, waterfall and butterflies) on Saturday.  That night it appeared on St. Mark’s Place and attracted a crowd so deep that it blocked street traffic.

The energy of onlookers at the event matched that of a celebrity sighting.  Camera flashes rapidly pulsed as people took turns jumping up on the back of the truck to have their photo taken.  James Camden, a student at the School of Visual Arts, told me that he preferred Banksy’s graffiti works over the installation.  “I love how quickly he can pump out such amazing works so quickly—without ever getting caught,” he said. “Here, there’s no risk of being caught—being found out.  It’s just a stage.”  The truck will travel to a different unannounced location every night at dusk.

Waking up on Sunday morning, it was a disappointment to find that Banksy announced he would not be posting a photo for the day—meaning no new work to find.  I guess everyone needs a day off.  He said it was due to some “shocking footage that had immerged [sic].”  That shocking footage was his.  The video, published on his Website depicts a rebel group firing a missile into the air.  They shot down the beloved Disney character Dumbo.

Banksy has been posting news of his works daily on Instagram while Twitter users reveal locations using the hashtag #banksyny. The Daily Beast is keeping track with our interactive timeline.