Did I inspire a Banksy?
I love street art, so one of my favourite cities to visit is Bristol. The infamous Banksy hails from there, a city wrestling with the conflict of maintaining its anti-street art stance whilst celebrating him - and other renegades - whose art makes the streets vibrant and a major tourist attraction.
We went to Bristol last Monday to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Museum & Art Gallery. In the entrance hall is an enormous painting by Banksy - Devolved Parliament - the artists largest work on canvas. And in the gift shop, there are several books and cards featuring his work, including one of a gorilla holding up a pink mask.
An early graffiti work by Banksy, it was painted in Fishponds Road, Bristol in 2007. It really grabbed my attention - as did the blurb on the back
‘This highly unusual piece has no obvious references and is unique to Bristol.’
- from Banksy’s Bristol: Home Sweet Home by Steve Wright (Tangent Books)
Well I can see an immediate and obvious reference.
In 1999 I began work on George and Sylvia - a Tale of true Love by Michael Coleman (Little Tiger 2000). Featuring a pair of gorillas - George and Sylvia - it’s a charming tale self-acceptance.
‘George was madly in love with Sylvia. And Sylvia was madly in love with George. The trouble was that neither of them could pluck up the courage to tell each other how they felt.’
The lovelorn gorillas attempt to turn themselves into what they believe the other is looking for - a slimmer and trimmer Sylvia, a big and strong George - in time for the Valentine masquerade party. George wears a superhero style mask, whilst Sylvia hides behind a Dame Edna-esque mask held on a stick. And seeing Banksy's Gorilla in a pink mask reminded me of my illustrations.
A quick aside. I have always hated the cover of George and Sylvia.
It is not what I planned, and I was shocked when I saw it. Apart from the background colours which have been altered, notice the clumsy handling of the gorillas’ mouths. They lack the finesse and accuracy of my other line work because SOMEBODY ELSE DREW THEM!
I'm not one to point fingers - but it was the Germans. I only saw it when it had gone to print. Worse yet, I didn't know that my publisher had decided to go with the German publisher's adaptation as well. I was incensed. I still feel irritated by it, because it doesn’t show the book off to its best.
Below is the cover I had illustrated and expected to see. So much better.
But back to Banksy and his masquerading gorilla.
"Some people want to make the world a better place. I just wanna make the world a better-looking place. If you don't like it, you can paint over it!"
Sadly, this is exactly what happened to his masquerading gorilla in 2011. In his defence, the new owner of the wall explained,
"I thought it was worthless. I didn't know it was valuable. That's why I painted over it."
Which raises many questions about how we value (or not) art. But I’ll save that for another day.
So, did I - or rather my illustration - inspire Banksy?
I can’t say. I’d be flattered if it had because I regard him as a smart, creative breath of fresh air whose art brings sunshine to my soul. Perhaps he has kids and shared my book with them. I’ve sent an enquiry via banksy.co.uk to see if they can comment, but I shan’t hold my breath.
What I can tell you is that artists learn and take inspiration from many sources, consciously or not. And on both a conscious and subconscious level Banksy has influenced my work - most notably an exciting book project that I hope will go to contract this year.
But that’s a story for another time.
GOOD TO READ
George and Sylvia - a Tale of true Love by Michael Coleman, ill. by Tim Warnes (Little Tiger Press 2000)