tue 19/02/2019

Graffiti Wars, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Graffiti Wars, Channel 4

Graffiti Wars, Channel 4

It's spray-paints at dawn as Banksy battles Robbo

Banksy painted over Robbo's work. Spray-paints at dawn!

Before Banksy's work became the object of desire for champagne-sipping, canapé-snaffling hedge fund managers at auction houses' private views, there was something of the curled lip about street art. Indeed, for years it wasn't known as street art but graffiti - the painted defacement of walls. London in the Noughties saw the evolution of that view: there could be a legitimate artistic value of this sort of work. However, not all graffiti qualified - much was still mindless vandalism. That is what Graffiti Wars on Channel 4 last night tackled: the battle between art and spray-painting, between intellectual execution and basic daubing.

Banksy was the king of the Noughties street art scene. His work was protected under perspex by local councils, gathered around by gaggles of tourists snapping away at the chambermaid lifting a wall to sweep dust underneath. He made amusing, allusive, subversive work which pleased the art crowd and the public alike. He was asked to do museum shows and monographs are written about him.

Robbo, by contrast, was the supreme Eighties tagger, who gained respect for his command of logistics: he knew how to gain unseen access to write his name on tubes and trains, winning a crosstown audience for his work, which, while prolific, has about as much artistic intent as a dog pissing on a lamp post. The voiceover suggested it was an expression of anger at society or the government, but I would hardly even credit it with that much integrity.

The incident that sparked this programme goes as follows: in the late Nineties, a young Banksy met Robbo at a pub and said he had no idea who he was; Robbo slapped him and said he'd never forget. Banksy denies this ever happened, but after Robbo published it in a book, Banksy painted over Robbo's last extant tag (pictured above). Incorporating another graffiti artist's work into your own without permission is an unspeakable sin in that world.

This caused a tit-for-tat campaign where Robbo would in revenge deface a work of Banksy's and Banksy - or one of his partisans - would counterpaint. Robbo's efforts were ugly, simple, unartistic, whereas Banksy's were elegant, witty ripostes. It was like watching Garry Kasparov and a five-year-old play chess.

Graffiti Wars entailed a history of street art, too. Robbo scorned Banksy as a thief because he borrowed techniques (stencils) and motifs (rats, for example), from the original street artist, Blek le Rat, who in Paris made street art a respectable branch of the visual arts, one taking in social and political commentary rather than just sticking two fingers up to the authorities. Of course, in the art world Banksy is doing exactly what all artists should do, which is learn from their predecessors, moving on from their work with their own inspiration and application. But Robbo couldn't see this - all he saw was laziness.

The entire programme was a battle between art and not-art, and was in its way a category error: you can hardly compare Banksy's apples and Robbo's sour grapes. Robbo hoped to be legitimised by a gallery show, but his work was awful, just his tag over splotches of paint. The programme-makers had to build Robbo up as their subject, but Banksy seemed to care little about the competition (although the tit-for-tat implies an irritation, if it is Banksy doing it). Does Steve Jobs worry when some inventor develops a new CD walkman in their garage?

The graffiti wars, such as they were, ended when Robbo fell and hit his head so hard he was put into a coma, which he has not yet come out of. Robbo, who had waged such a raging, misguided campaign out of pride, paints no more.

Comments

I watched this documentary. Robbo was equally talented and at least got to put his work out there for real. He had an untapped talent which for so many go to waste because graffiti is not recognised as an art. However, it has taken it's time to become recognised as an art thankfully. Hope Robbo's family can get through his ordeal and continue to keep his work out there.

You for whatever misguided reason have failed to appreciate the quality and talent displayed in Robbo's work. His attack was a shame and his work will be missed in London.

Original robbo all the way , shout 2 u, banksy Is a la rat copy and this story above is obviously wrote by somone who has no clue, robbo run London late 80's 90's and is original no imitate ,all the best to you. Banksy who?

Banksy plays an important role through his fans in allowing us to identify the fadists and the misinformed, the tasteless band wagon jumping gold fish brained irony free, cargo panted, sloganeering t-shirt, trainer collecting, mediaphile, urban advertsisng exec, historical and soul impaired gormless vapid generation who diassfected and media lead with no social responsibilities buy into faux political message through appropriaiting and name checking Wanksy.

If I was seen to imply that one of these champagne charlies who buys into a gimmick(janksy) thought it would be important to expel a true artist(robbo) because they thought there artist? janksy was more important to be alive, then so beit. watch your backs whoever the twat was who initiated the attack, Robbo will rise to a greater height time after time at every turn!!!! FELT.

Josh spero you are elitist. The chess analogy was weak. Robbo is a guy who created his own original typeface and put it out there for the world to see. Banksy cuts out stencils. Any ten year old can do that. What banksy has done is try to intellectualize spray art so latte sippers such as yourself can feel edgy when talking about it. You offered such a one sided argument I won't bother tearing it down. Get well soon robbo.

Josh, your article here has unfortunately completely missed the point of Robbo's work. You must be under Banksy's spell. As somebody without much knowledge about the world of graffiti watching this programme from a neutral stand point, and if anything, a fan of Banksy's work, I found myself falling into the Robbo camp. He is not the 'artist' you want him to be, and your criticism of his exhibition only shows that you missed the point of his work; he was not trying to be an artist, he never was. He tagged for himself, for fun, for the challenge and the notoriety. He agreed to put on an exhibition to make a bit of cash for his family, not to make a grand political or artistic statement. Of course he has an ego, but the guy gave up at the peak of his popularity and like it or not, is an important character in the history of street art in London and should not be dismissed as anything less.

It's lovely that tiresome, pseudo-intellectual, self-important 'art' causes you to stroking your chin and rub your penis so rigourously. Your superbly accurate and reasoned dissemination of 'Graffiti' and 'Taggers' further emphasise the dire need for pretentious, middle-class commentators to offer critique when not asked for. Indeed, where would us, the simple-minded public, be if it weren't for such courageous bastions of culture to tell us what we should like. Your excellently written article has really opened my eyes. For years I too, like Robbo, polluted your world with crudely drawn graffiti, some of which, I'm ashamed to say, failed to include a single pop-cultural reference. I now realise that beneath all the male bravado I emitted at this time, subconciouslu all I ever wanted to achieve through my mindless scrawls was to gain the acceptance of people like yourself. Now, for the first time, I can see how futile graffiti truly is. What's the point in anything if it's not 'high culture'? You will be glad to know Iam shortly moving to East London to live with my new lesbian girlfriend and her spirit guide 'Umbala De Faso'. I endeavour to free myself from the pursuits of the proletariat (football, lager, coal- mining) and instead adopt a new and 'cultured' existence whereby I will profess adoration for things my peer group inform me to be worthy and offer only ironic platitudes for those things that continue to stimulate my feeble, uneducated brain. Hopefully, by the end of the summer I will have at least three university educated associates (St martins and/or Goldsmiths). I shall consider Will Self the thinking mans Steven Fry, I will start making my own humous and I will patronise the one black person my new friends allows me to admit into our social network. Thank you Mr Spero

Please who gave this dude a voice.... You wrote this article with such good command of the English language for a minute you actually sounded like you knew what you were talking about...but writing is yr forte ... you should stick to writing about things you actually know something about...you clearly have no knowledge or background in street art and more importantly graffiti. You should refrain for making any comments on the subject because it is truly offensive to those who know better!!! Although Banksy is what he is and actually grew up in my area....He is by no stretch of the imagination a graffiti artist and having grown up in the same era when stencil was emerging on the streets of Paris...I always regarded them as two different expressions of art.... In any event I would much rather see graffiti on the wall than plain brick..... and I would rather paint my house than to pay stupid money to hang something up in it... that money would serve better purposes feeding the hungry...However pompus idiots like yrself would rather compete with one another on the price tag!!!

Josh Spero, please shut up. You know nothing of the power of seeing a whole-car roll onto a platform painted by a king. Go back to scratching your chin over a coffee table book in the comfort of your sofa because you obviously know nothing about the culture you slag off. Respects to Banksy, but political quips and punchlines that are aimed to tickle the media doesn't really compare to adrenalin fuelled master pieces from a well respected and acknowledged king. You may have short success as Heat magazines favorite 'street artist', but don't think any writers care about your gimicks or support you more than Robbo. Just a shame Robbo real fanbase is the unknown, not art critics. Get well soon, respects

The truth here, as ever, lies somewhere between the opinionated extremes. Banksy has indeed brought the techniques and ideas of graffiti to a broader audience - including the "latte-sipping" middle classes. However a quick look at the ordinary people queueing up for his vastly successful exhibition in Bristol not long ago would show that his appeal cuts across classes and social boundaries - a long way from the gentrified art-ponce crowd that the class-warriors of the traditional graffiti world would have us believe he speaks to. Banksy has used his style to successfuly make people think again about writing on walls, and even about our cities themselves. However, Spero has got the traditional graffiti world badly wrong. With an artist like Robbo, the audacity of the painting is part of the art itself, its placement and the danger of painting are what make it what it is, and the subtleties of lettering style place it within a long lineage stretching back to 1970s New York. And the complex heirarchies of the graffiti world reflect this, with no desire to be accepted by or taken into the art world... By deliberately cocking a snook at a piece which had historical value for everyone in graffiti, Banksy was biting the hand that had fed him and taught him, thoroughly disrespecting a world that he had made large amounts of money from. Perhaps this in itself was audacious and "dangerous", but in terms of subtlety and wit, it was Banksy who was acting like a five year old kicking over the pieces of the complex chess game of graffiti culture (and yes, Spero, it is a culture). Either way, the story has no happy ending, and rather than sniping and point scoring, best wishes for Robbo and his family are the order of the day.

Wow, thanks for all the comments. I was going to say 'positive and negative' but there aren't any positive ones! One of the main complaints is that I don't see graffiti as a culture, which couldn't be further from the truth; i just don't see it - in the form of tagging - as an art, which most of the commenters concede it isn't. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it (legalities aside). I am aware of the long history of graffiti in New York and then in London, but I think Banksy and his predecessors like Blek le Rat were trying to elevate it into something different - perhaps less credible to the street and his peers, but more so to the art world. That was what I was considering. Robbo's self-presentation in the film did not help him, I thought. He seemed focused on his pride and territory, whereas Banksy was more interested in the content of his work. And - of course - I wish nothing but a speedy recovery to Robbo.

Awsome...loved the comment by Mr Grayson... wow thanks to this stupid stupid Stuuuupid article.... the writer gets to read some real home truths.... was disgusted at this article but having read the comments ... I feel a little better knowing that he has been put in his place!

It is interesting, mind you, to see how much hate there is for the art world from graffiti lovers, specifically in this country. In almost every other country where graffiti is a living force, from Australia to Spain, you can see a broad range of graffiti and street art coexisting more or less happily on the streets and in galleries. In the USA this coexistence of art and street writing dates right back to Futura 2000, Keith Haring and (to some extent) Rammellzee... but in the UK the line has always been drawn far more firmly, with the fury at Banksy daring to transgress and try and operate on both sides of the line a perfect illustration of this. Why should it be that the UK is so ferociously protective of its own graf culture? Or is it really that our gallery world is so much worse than that in other countries?

Also interesting how single-minded - some might even say blinkered - a lot of the graffiti fans are. They don't like an opinion that differs from graffiti orthodoxy, do they? Some of them even go so far as to get their own culture quite wrong... so Banksy introduced "pop culture references" did he? Unlike all those New York writers with their Loony Tunes and Vaughn Bode characters, Ms Pac Man and this, that and the other icons lifted from cartoons, pop and life.... As I say, Britain LOVES to draw the line between street and gallery, shame it leads to closed-mindedness to do this.

The two are incomparable, do you compare water with wine? No you just know they are both forms of drinks, which have different levels of relevance to each individual ... Art has always been a form of expression which graffiti can be so you could say its a very distant relative to art but to dismiss it completely just makes you seem like a truly uncultured, narrow minded John! You're just a huge dick

Ever get the feeling people are piling on here from some other messageboard, where they've been told that there's an article they should comment on? They all seem to be making the same comments, without much reference to the original article or to the writer's response. It's almost as if they've made their mind up in advance... just as they're accusing the writer of having done!!

I go along with Josh on this, at the risk of infuriating the rabble. As much as graffiti is a strong, powerful culture, in terms of pure aesthetics Banksy's work has much more merit than Robbo's - and indeed value, as the council man said. Even with artists like Ben Eine and TYPE, who simply write letters or names in large, bold typography, there's an attractiveness to his pieces, a beauty . I find no such beauty in Robbo's pieces. The accusation of cheating is silly - really it's just an extra bit of kit that undoubtedly enhances a piece of work on the street. Robbo's later stencilled pieces were his most appealing, uncoincedentally. For all that, Banksy shouldn't have gone over the classic Robbo work, even if it was far more defaced than any hardened graffhead would ever dare to admit. What bugs about the tit for tat war that followed is that Robbo and his team were carrying it on long after Banksy and supporters had moved on. There was a definite sense of 'get over it' in the air. And Robbo's exhibition? I don't want to speak ill of the comatose, but I agree with Josh's critique. I did think his Berlin piece was decent, though. Banksy has far more to answer for when it comes to Blek Le Rat - he really has ripped off a lot of Blek's work - and I'd say ripped off, rather than developed, as Josh says. Even if Banksy's overall body of work is more substantial and rounded - and I'm not at all convinced it is - the 'copy' pieces are not developing Blek's originals in any way. They're just plain pinching them.

Could everyone stop taking everything so bloody seriously? People paint stuff on walls, sometimes u like it sometimes u don't. Art is completely subjective so its fucking pointless arguing about it.

Long Live Graffiti ! KING ROBBO Fund raiser Event & Art Auction Sunday 4th September 2011 1pm to Midnight/8pm Auction Cargo 83 Rivington Street ,Shoreditch, EC2A 3AY

Josh, what do you actually know about Robbo, his style or his history, apart from what you saw on a 60 minute documentary last night? The fact that you're happy to label all graffiti as 'tagging', really does show what an amazing grasp and knowledge of the art form you actually have. You've shown yourself up to be nothing more than another bandwagon jumping, media lead, banksy fanboy, with you pathetically weak justification for his blatant plagiarism of le blek's work? You really can't see the distinction between learning from and copying? Let me explain. 'Borrowing' your analogies for this article from the writings of a 5 year old child is copying, regardless of whether or not you've actually learn anything from that experience...

David Cameron and Boris Johnson in their Bullingdon Club attire both depicted clutching Molotov cocktails stencilled daringly near Ealing Broadway. I am Banksy. Marvel at my wit. Bask in the satire. Buy your sister-in-law a framed Athena print for her new kitchen.

Long live Banksy, a true artist and deserving of a Stokes Croft kind of knighthood for changing the way people think about liberating and transforming unloved spaces. That his Bristol exhibition had queues all around the block, and of all ages, colours, sizes etc, for an ART GALLERY EXHIBITION speaks volumes for his achievement. I do hope that's really him commenting - which of course he can do anonymously here with impunity - and want to ask him if the White Rabbit I saw in Jerusalem was his.

I would suggest that some of the commenters take note of the tone of the first sentence, which does accord with their feelings about Banksy being too commercial/a sell-out.

So Josh doesn't see 'Tagging' as art, adding that "most of the commenters concede it isn't". Firstly, who are these 'commenters' and why does Josh put So much stock in their opinions? Secondly, I am troubled as to why a person with active interest in the creative arts can dismiss the 'tag' or 'handstyle' so readily yet give no other reason than "I just don't like it". Is that really any different from those who mock Tate Modern because it doesn't show any 'proper' art, like a bowl of fruit in watercolour or an oil painting of the Dorset coast? The art of the tag is pure calligraphy. Yes, alot of tags these days can be quite poor (Banksy was notoriously bad at tagging, hence the move to stencils) but then I'd suggest that the majority of gallery art is equally substandard. A personal opinion perhaps, but a finely crafted tag has more meaning and aesthetic quality than any piece. Here placement is everything. Evedything from the surface it's written on to the weather conditions directly affect the choice of style. The buzz of seeing fresh tags from writers like SHUTO, FUEL, REGRET etc is what made me want to write myself. For me 'bombing' is the only aspect of graffiti/street art that is saying anything anymore.

It seems Robbo had good reason to remain masked up in Channel 4's Graffiti Wars. With all those precious banksys defaced he must be wanted by the police for defacing graffiti with ..graffiti !?. oops looks like graffiti ate itself..thanks banksy!

Yes David, the rabbit is one of mine. As too is the stencil of Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone painted on the side of The Vatican! I am also due to fly out to Libya next week to highlight the human cost of conflict by painting a giant portrait of Colonel Gadaffi as Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Sanders.

Banksy le ratt!!!!! get weel soomn roobo! peace out mang!

TEAM ROBBO!!!

the property market is sluggish ..but hey no worries i've contacted Banksy ..and am now on 'The List' of property owners who want his platinum daubs.. He can do me a rat this September but his team are pushing for a %50 cut of £200,000 of the sale of my soon to be much desired property.. obviously two rats would be super but his diary is chocka. must dash!

Question to you Banksy..... The controversal robbo cover up piece,...... To me looks like a robbo poster being put up as there are rolls under the guys arm... Am I right??.... Love ur work, don't understand this Robbo fued, I think what u did was brill, just like all your work, very interesting.... I also love some of robbo's work... Your both great at what u do... Keep up the work.... How about doing one in w12, we'd love it!!!

Though I can't shuck off the unworthy suspicion that someone might be having me/us on, I thank the putative Banksy for his information. I also want to add something which inclines me still to feel warmly towards him (or her?) despite accusations of profiteering. Banksy wanted no merchandise for the Bristol show, but the Oxfam shop opposite the museum suddenly found themselves with mystery boxes of stickers and postcards to sell. A few of which I was happy to snap up.

It's true, I do a lot of work for charity. I drive around Portishead and Nailsea in my Range Rover throwing shiney coins to the local school children! I also gave Oxfam all my David Starkey books (which I now regret) and the RSPCA shop got my collection of Cure 7"s!

Most amusing graffiti I ever saw, scrawled in blood red on a white wall: "Keep Ulster Prodisdent". Most amusing graffiti I want to see, a scrawled engraving keyed into Jimmy Carr's Aston Martin, it just says: "Funny C**t". Actually, stencil or free-hand, I'm not really fussed, whatever gets the message home. I don't know a thing, just what I like. I mean I like Tate Modern - the turbine hall - nice building, shame about the contents. I like bikes, bikes are great. Popular in Shoreditch too I believe. I liked this docu. An entertaining prog. I thought it could've been that other genius, Simon Day, behind the mask. I learned quite a bit. That Blek fella must be raging. Sorry I can't contribute anything more of substance to this lively enthralling debate. Rgds. GXB

Wow, I cant believe what a stuck up narrow minded view you have of it all. Up until the point where the documentary said robbo was in a coma i found the whole thing quite thought provocing. The point of the show i think was to point out the hypocracy of people like you, who 20 years ago would of turned their nose up at even banksys work but nowadays worship the ground he walks on, to the point where your almost glad a man is in a coma fighting for his life. Banksy started painting on walls for the same reasons robbo did, notoriety and the love of the art and all that. The show pointed out that narrow minded people like you decide what is and what isnt art (not the general public), the feud between banksy and robbo was good for debate and alot more intresting than banksys pretentious 'statements'. I think im a bit more open minded n although some of robbos efforts arnt as appealing to the eyes of the champagne sipping 'art critics' as banksys, they make the everyday man on the street stop n think, if you had an open mind you'd realise that, its deliberatly not as pretentious as banksy to prove his point..... funny example of the hypocracy, the guy TOX was jailed for 2 years, banksy writes tox on a piece and its framed and covered in perspex to protect it!... in other words you write your tag on a wall and you get jail, i can write your tag on a wall and people frame it! haha Banksy pointing out the hypocricy and the owner of the wall seemingly oblivious to the message, just another champagne sipping hypemonger.

Didn't Bansky copy Blek the rat? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blek_le_Rat) Blek himself is not at all amused with Banksy. I myself only came across all these names with the TV documentary Graffitti wars and another relating to an odd 'film maker - turned artist' who used to pursue Banksy. Great TV, really gripping and hugely thought provoking. I personally like all their art.

Ok. To clear this up once and for all. From 1997 - 2004 Blak Le Rat sat on my consultency team here at Banksy Industries PLC. Due to a restructuring programme in June 2004 forced upon us by a disappointing internal audit we unfortunately had to lose Mr Le Rat. Many of Mr Le Rat's ideas still remain on file here at Banksy Industries PLC as he did sign over intellectual property rights to us. It saddens me greatly that Mr Le Rat harbours any Ill feeling towards me, my team or our shareholders. Banksy Industries PLC customers can be reassured that our new Street Think Tank is now fully operational, and new ideas for future works will be flowing shortly. I would like to use this opportunity to welcome the award winning author Toby Young to our happy family. Anyone who have read his work will tell you what an extraordinary gift for humour Toby has. Indeed, the Simon Pegg motion picture 'How to Lose Friends and Alienate People' is a personal favourite of mine and Mrs Banksy. The bit where he sneezes in the lift had me spewing half chewed popcorn from my laughter filled gob! Now the fun bit. Would you like to get involved? Banksy Industries PLC in conjunction with Sanex are looking for the next big street artist. If you think you have what it takes why not send all your ideas to us. The winner will see their idea used on a wall in one of four major European cities. They will also receive a commerative badge, 6 cans of Montana Black, a trendy bum-bag and an hour in EINE's studio.* Banksy Banksy Industries PLC - changing the world since 1997 *Mr Ben Eine has requested that the winner does not talk to him, nor make eye contact, nor touch his shit.

First off.. It's Blek Le Rat. Not Blak Le Rat. Second off.. So you're saying that Bensky has access to more of Blek Le Rat unseen original work.. Now we know where's he's getting his new ideas from ;)

I would like to say that my cousin Robbo is a true artist in his own right, and i think that was proven on this documentary. Robbo has been all over the world doing his stuff and as a family we are so proud of him and gutted at the same time just as Robbo was out there and getting notice for his work. such tragedy struck but we are hopeful and we will continue to get his work out there, it has been mentioned that a night displaying Robbo's work and an auction will take place at Cargo's in Shoreditch on the 4th of September. hope you can make it. i would like to take this opportunity to Thank all of Robbo's fans for there continued support through this really difficult time. and we all hope that a great artist and father will make a speedy recovery and pull through!!!! we are hopeful!!!!

I don't get Robbo. I don't want to get him. I don't like what he does/did and see little merit in it or, on the basis of the programme, him. Keep it real may be one thing, but you can't polish a turd. So to all you graffitistas, with your massive egos and faux social comment/angst, I say your elitist view of what is right or wrong, good or bad, real or fake, is as twisted as that of the art world that you attack with all the grace of a pack of diseased, stray mongrels. Now, be good and scuttle off to the next forum to peddle your bile.

Re: engageBrain Great choice of user name. You are obviously highly intelligent.

Don't believe anything you read here.

This show was a mockumentary.

Banksy and King Robbo have never been seen as two beings in the same place at the same time, nor for that matter have they been seen in different places at the same time.

You can't compare an artist (who is supposed to be creative) with a company's CEO, like S. Jobs (who is supposed to be an innovator, which is a completely different concept). Art and Industry have different roles in society... if you can make a distinction between these 2 basic concepts you definitely can't be writing a serious article about art.

Who are you to say if a sub culture that has existed for decades warrants artistic merit? Get a grip and do some research before you post such ill informed rubbish.

Yes he did, and lot of his other pieces for that matter were obviously stolen/ informed from Blek's work. Stencilling is a skill but free hand, an art. Both have amazing talent, but for someone to attack Robbo, thats crazy and the main point that should be addressed here.No one deserves that. If you think Robbo fell then you are either the one who did 'it' (in which case, aren't you big a clever, No!) or you really are a waste of space and a drain on society. I hope people have more respect for you if you were attacked. Unlikely! And as for shamelessly plugging your own gains on a debate that is quite raw for people. Well, oh dear, I guess that says a lot about the kind of guy you are. I used to rate your work but I feel somewhat sick at the thought of your arrogance.

This is an attempt to divert attention away from the truth. I would like to say that I have never been and never will be a member of Banksy's "consultancy team".

@Otiiam - I originally wrote that he was attacked, but then I was contacted by the programme-makers who said that he fell. Take it up with them.

As a lover of various artist I can see both sides of this debate. Surely aerosol art is an artform that has varied styles and designs and whether you like Banksy's or Robbo's work or both they are all forms of art using a spraycan at the source and have creative flair in their own rights. Long live aerosol art and long live all the writers out there that keep being creative. Get well soon Robbo

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