Banksy is going underground with tunnel art exhibition


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Banksy is going underground with tunnel art exhibition

The elite of the London art world will convene in Lambeth tonight to examine graffiti in a dank railway tunnel.

It is not a location that has been listed among London’s main cultural attractions. In fact, it compares unfavourably with other dank tunnels in the capital.

From tomorrow, however, when the tunnel opens to the public, the graffiti are expected to attract thousands, because they represent the largest exhibition by Banksy, a determinedly anonymous British graffiti artist. He has gathered 40 of the chief proponents of the form to transform the tunnel into a showcase.

Banksy himself has contributed depictions of a self-harming hoody, the Buddha wearing a neck-brace, a council worker spraying over some ancient cave paintings and a sculpture of a tree sprouting CCTV cameras.

The Dutch artist Hugo Kaagman has attempted to capture Boris Johnson. The Norwegian artist Dolk has painted the Pope in the style of an iconic image of Marilyn Monroe, smiling coquettishly as he tries to push down his windblown robes.

The exhibition is entitled the Cans Festival. Last night the tunnel was thick with fumes as the artists worked to finish their paintings in time for a private viewing this evening. They had come from all over the world. The Argentinian artist Frederico, half of the graffiti collective Run Don’t Walk, said of Banksy’s invitation to participate: “It happened really fast. They just told us our flights. It’s great to meet people from all over the world to paint. This isn’t some branded event, it isn’t in a gallery, it’s unique.”

The London-born artist Leon arrived from Los Angeles. “It’s traditional for graffiti artists to paint together,” he said, “but it’s never happened in Britain on this scale.”

Banksy said: “I’ve always felt anyone with a paint can should have as much say in how our cities look as architects and ad men. So getting to cover an entire street with graffiti is a dream come true, or as some people might call it — a complete and utter nightmare.”

The Times undertook not to disclose the precise location before 10.30am today, when it will be revealed at the exhibition website. It will be open to the public for the Bank Holiday weekend.

As well as looking at art, visitors will be invited to make it: anyone who brings a stencil will be allowed to add their own design. Banksy said: “Graffiti doesn’t always spoil buildings. In fact, it’s the only way to improve a lot of them. In the space of a few hours with a couple of hundred cans of paint I’m hoping we can transform a dark, forgotten filth pit into an oasis of beautiful art — in a dark, forgotten filth pit.”

None of the works is for sale, nor is the tunnel, which has been rented from its owner, Eurostar, and which will revert to public use after the show.

Last night Jo Brooks, Banksy’s spokeswoman, said that Eurostar had agreed to leave the work in place for up to six months. “They were very happy with what they saw,” she said.

The early visitors included Kevin Spacey, the actor and artistic director of the Old Vic.

It is the first exhibition staged in Britain by Banksy since Crude Oils in 2005, when he filled a shop in Westbourne Grove, London, with 164 live rats and vandalised pastiches of works including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Jack Vettriano’s Singing Butler.

At a Sotheby’s charity auction in New York in January, a Banksy image sprayed on top of a Damien Hirst spot painting fetched £950,000, a record for the artist.

Guerrilla art

— Adam Neate hung his canvases on nails on London streets, leaving them to be discovered

— Jeff “Doze” Green began tagging New York subway trains as a student in the 1970s. His work now hangs in galleries in the US, Europe and Japan

— The self-styled French “guerrilla artist” Space Invader secretly created mosaics of the arcade game figures on the city streets of six continents over ten years. There are 75 in London alone

Source: Times archives