In August, Enter Gallery headed up to Scotland to catch Banksy's solo exhibition, Cut and Run: 25 Years of Card Labour at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA).
This show is the first first major retrospective of Banksy’s work, and an uncharacteristically personal look behind the curtain at the most secretive artist of all time.
Sadly, the show has now finished its 10-week run in Glasgow. If you weren’t one of the lucky 180,000 people that visited during this period, fear not – Banksy has plans to take the show on the road. For now, here are some of our highlights from the show…
Banksy is one of the most in-demand artists of all time, so you might wonder why he chose Glasgow rather than a more obvious location like London or New York. Banksy begins the exhibition by explaining his choice, attributing it to the fact that the Scottish city is home to his ‘favourite work of art in the UK’.
Just outside the GoMA is the Duke of Wellington statue (pictured below). For the last 40 years or so, Glasgow’s residents have taken it upon themselves to uphold a superb unofficial tradition – to ensure the Duke is sporting a cone on his head at all times. Despite the councils best efforts (which reportedly cost them upwards of £10,000 a year), whenever a cone is removed, a new one is guaranteed to appear by morning.
This tale guarantees a laugh the minute you enter the exhibition, and reminds you of Banksy’s sense of humour - a factor that’s helped his work connect with people around the world, and from all walks of life.
Stencils and pencils
As the name suggests, Cut and Run, brings together Banksy’s stencils from the years spanning 1998-2023. Referring to the many unauthorised shows that have happened over the years, which Banksy states “might look like sweeping from my studio floor. CUT & RUN really is the actual sweepings from my studio floor”.
By showcasing the stencils that form the basis of his art, visitors are gifted an understanding of the work that goes into each seemingly-simple piece. These stencils are also marked with fun touches, like scrawled reminders in pencil not to look in the direction of nearby security cameras. Speaking of why he chose to centre the stencils, Banksy reveals:
“I’ve kept these stencils hidden away for years, mindful they could be used as evidence in a charge of criminal damage. But that moment seems to have passed, so now I’m exhibiting them in a gallery as works of art. I’m not sure which is the greater crime”
After 14 years of relative silence, Cut and Run grants us access to the human behind the spray can, and it’s these previously-unheard insights that makes this show so special.
Each of the artworks comes with an anecdote from the man himself. Some are touching like the interaction with his sister, described in a new comic-book style work, that inadvertently helped him to develop his artistic style, or the heartbreak that sparked him to commit to his craft…
“I had moved to a new city with my girlfriend after hustling us work at a dispatch centre. Things soon started to unravel, I was mercilessly bullied by my new colleagues and my girlfriend ran off with the supervisor (he had a car). I handed in my notice and considered scratching up the boss’s car but realised that would be childish. So instead I took the lift to the vacant top floor, wedged the doors open and painted a swarm of ants all over it before setting off the fire alarm. It felt like I’d finally found a practical application for art – revenge.”
Other anecdotes are hilarious, like the time a one-way system stopped Banksy getting nicked by an inept security guard, or how working on the stab vest that Stormzy wore at Glastonbury almost led to his true identity being revealed:
“I sent a dressmaker friend to buy a pile of ex-police equipment to adjust to his measurements. A few days later I was in her sitting room painting a vest when there was a knock at the door. Two plain clothed detectives stood there saying they were responding to a tip off that someone at her address had been purchasing items that could be used to impersonate a police officer. I crouched behind the door she’d casually left half open with a brush in my hand thinking, I didn’t expect gents tailoring to be my downfall.”
The finale of the exhibition features a reconstruction of Banksy’s childhood bedroom, complete with jungle music and dog-eared posters for his favourite bands and local raves, granting you an idea of the cultural influences that shaped this generation-defining artist.
“I grew up feeling trapped between two worlds, there was graffiti – painted by a small band of enthusiasts and requiring inside knowledge to decipher. And there was fine art – painted by a small band of enthusiasts and requiring inside knowledge to decipher. There was literally nowhere for me to go, besides the enormous space in the middle where normal people live.”
We all know that Banksy is a genius, but a real treat of the exhibition is being walked through how this genius was realised.
Banksy recalls realising the power that came with keeping his identity secret via an early piece from 1997, Easton Hit Squad. It features an image of a group of men with a target painted over them that he spent weeks painting around his neighbourhood. He explains:
“In the queue at the post office I heard people talking about the Hit Squad in the same revered tones as the local crime family. Around the pool table in the pub, there was a rumour they were behind the recent theft of a cash machine with a JCB digger. The Easton Hit Squad never did anything more dangerous than sharpen a pencil. I was the founding and only member, but it was clear the most powerful thing I could do was carry on painting, and keep my mouth shut.”
Time and Place
In Cut and Run, Banksy also explains the factors that contributed to how his art looks, and how this was determined by the conditions he was working in. Being a slow drawer, he knew he had to cut his images out beforehand rather than risk doing them on the fly, and his black and white colour-scheme was chosen not because they were his favourite colours, but because it’s easy to tell black and white paint apart in the dark.
“Most artists have an obsession that defines their work. Monet had light, Hockney has colour, I’ve got police response time.”
He also recalls realising his artworks had more impact when they were life-sized and focused on capturing his subject in a moment, and that his work really took a leap forward when it dawned on him that he didn’t need to paint backgrounds.
“If you paint outside, you don’t need to paint a background, the world does that for you.”
This theory is showcased perfectly in his 2014 Spy Booth piece, which he painted in Cheltenham because it’s home to GCHQ – the government surveillance headquarters, and in Valentine’s Day Mascara, when he used an abandoned fridge in Margate to make a profound statement about domestic violence.
Whenever Banksy is around, you are always guaranteed a good show. The way his art succinctly cuts to the heart of an issue, or derides our government (or the art world), would bring a smile to even the most sceptical face.
Banksy speaks about how, as his career progressed, the reaction to his art almost became part of the work itself. This is relayed via exhibits from Banksy’s 2015 Dismaland and his 2017 ‘artists residency’ in New York.
One such piece is Meat Wagon - a van that was driven around the city full of screaming cuddly toys operated by a team of puppeteers. In another exhibit, Banksy details a market stall he rented by Central Park during the same residency where he flogged genuine originals with a street value of half a million for just $60. Unfortunately, only four sales were made, and whether or not those buyers know they have a Banksy original remains a mystery.
This idea of the spectacle surrounding his art is best demonstrated in Cut and Run by a detailed run down of how he created, Love Is In the Bin, the 2018 piece that was sold for a million at Sotheby’s and promptly shredded before the astonished crowd’s eyes. Interesting fact, the shredded piece has since been resold for £18.7million.
The exhibition has a video of the moment playing on a loop, alongside detailed sketches of the mechanism that made the stunt possible.
Love of the Game
Cut and Run is a brilliant showcase of some of the most memorable art of the century, and an enriching glimpse into the brain of the man behind the mask. Banksy’s passion for street art and the power it has to strike to the heart of the matter is so inspirational, it might just have you reaching for your own stencil and spray can.
We’ll leave you with this quote from Banksy, in which he lets us in on the thrill he feels when creating:
“To leave home in the middle of the night, stomach knotted, mouth dry, bowed head full of plans gone over fifty times. To weave between the drunk, the suspicious and the underpaid. Ever mindful of the thousand beady eyes on poles, with a ready story for the police.
To come up to a wall with pre-shaken cans, a clangy ladder dampened with a towel. To press the cap and know as the first spit of paint hits the wall that it’s too late to turn back. To focus laser-like, moving fast and accurate without a pause, unless signalled by your friend to remain motionless, trying to quiet your breath.
And then to say, ‘that’ll do’, never knowing if it’s really finished, and to leave with your head bowed once more, at every corner a little more confident that you got away with it. Until the key is in the lock, the door closing on the world, picking big lumps of paint from your nostrils you collapse on the couch into sleep. The sweetest sleep you will ever have.”
Banksy has announced that Cut and Run will be going on tour. Watch this space for news of where the show will be next. Sign up to our mailing list here.