Every few weeks there is another news story about a Banksy graffiti painting being put up and then ripped off the walls by owners of the property and flogged for high prices in auction.
Last month it was the fantastic mobile lovers artwork painted on the side of a Bristol boy’s youth club building. Banksy unusually spoke up for the Boy’s club and said they should keep the artwork.
This month the saga involves the Spy Booth in Cheltenham.
The mural depicts three 50s style spymen, wearing brown trench coats and trilby hats, listening in with old fashioned listening devices painted next to a public phone booth. It is a brilliant piece of artwork poking fun at the GCHQ headquarters nearby and it was promptly erected in April this year, following the storm over privacy issues and surveillance by GCHQ and NSA revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The owner, Mr David Possee has reportedly described the artwork as a “poisoned chalice,” as it is such a popular piece of street art with numerous Banksy fans coming to pose next to it. The usual line is given of the risk to the owner’s property of vandalism or the responsibility of the owner of protecting the artwork against such vandalism. It may well be a nuisance too; but according to news reports it has also led to a staggering increase in the value of Mr Possee’s property, from £300,000 to £1 million.
The saga began with scaffolding going up sparking discussion in the community that it was going to be removed. Such was the strong feeling that the owner has allegedly received death threats concerning its removal.
According to John Joyce from the building company, Q Scaffolding, the owners of the property had contacted street art collector Sky Grimes ( Joyce’s Boss) to sell the artwork and it was due to go on show at a London gallery on 4th July.
The next development, according to Robin Barton of Bankrobber gallery that specialises in Banksy, there was pressure on the owners to sell the artwork for a seven figure sum to an American collector.
This has led to some swift community action with a local Business woman seeking to raise funds in the community and at this point in time has managed to raise a 6 figure sum, but it may not be enough. Robin Barton has now been asked to act as an intermediary and negotiate to save the artwork for the community.
Also a local councillor, Colin Hay, has raised awareness that the wall that the painting is on is a listed building and any removal will breach planning regulations.
Then a retired chartered surveyor spoke up and called into question Possee’s ownership of the mural as it is on the fabric of two walls, the corner of Fairview Road and Hewlett Road and he claims the mural is on a party wall, part of the house that was bought by the County Council in the 1960s.
Whilst at this point the Council has not laid a claim to the mural, a temporary stop notice has now been issued by the Council because the building is a Grade II listed building and therefore now no further work to remove the Banksy can be undertaken for 28 days.
The Council have stepped in to protect the architectural integrity of the building; although it seems they may not be unsympathetic to the Community’s desires to retain the mural.
English Heritage state that it is a criminal offence to interfere with a listed building without listed building consent and the perpetrator could face a maximum of 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine for such an offence.
Like Banksy, like the Spy Booth, what is really going on is shrouded in mystery.
Whether the community can really save their Banksy when the value of this artwork is so high is unlikely. What is surprising is given the value and reputation of Banksy that street art of this repute is not afforded some protection.
Whilst the general public perhaps cannot expect graffiti paintings to remain on the walls of unwilling property owners, can they not at least expect it to be saved as a piece of heritage for future generations to enjoy?
Equally the high value of Banksy paintings should surely benefit the communities in which they are painted? Such as the Bristol Boy’s club example?
A further question this poses is why Councils have such different attitudes towards public art. Why for example should Councils be allowed to flog public art that is properly gifted by donors, such as Old Flo, given by the Henry Moore Foundation and Sekhemka, given by the Marquis of Northampton yet not use their powers to claim street art as their own or at least call on the government funded bodies to help save the artwork?
Different Councils adopt different stances towards public art; at least in Cheltenham the Stop notice provides a chance for the Community to raise the sums. One can only draw the conclusion that some Councils place no value on art at all. Whether they should of course or whether there should be a more uniform approach within different local authorities is a subject for another blog piece.
The art world is rife with these riddles and Banksy continues to be shrouded in controversy.
At least one riddle has been solved; for once Banksy has publicly declared that he is the author of Spy Booth. What this means in terms of artists resale rights and moral rights, if and when a sale takes place is another mystery.