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Design Opinion: Ben McCarthy Knows Design

indesignlive.com’s Hong Kong editor, Ben McCarthy, takes us to see underground-graffiti-artist-turned-global-artist Bansky’s first solo show in Hong Kong

Design Opinion: Ben McCarthy Knows Design


May 13th, 2008

Ben McCarthy is indesignlive’s Hong Kong editor. He is an Aussie expat industrial designer currently working with British expat Michael Young.

As a long time follower of Banksy’s work, it was with anticipation that I visited his first solo show in Hong Kong.

The exhibition consisted of over 30 pieces, which range from about $30,000 AUD, for one of 350 signed prints, up to $680 000 AUD for a door, removed from a warehouse which Banksy sprayed for a party in 2002.

It’s difficult not to admire Banksy’s brand of anti-establishment stencil art. It is visually strong, efficiently produced and generally conveys a poetic, socially relevant if not controversial message.

Mostly by spraying walls, under the cover of darkness, he forged an anonymous profile evidently flying the “message is more important than the medium” flag.

What I find intriguing is the commercial rise in Banksy’s profile. His image is becoming more and more part of popular culture, and no longer that of an underground vandal. Indeed many councils have discovered Banksy’s work on public property and opted to keep it – even preserve it.

In the past few years his work has appeared less on street walls and more in galleries. Sometimes it’s the same image. Which has sparked accusations of “sell out”
And perhaps there is some justification in the irony of left wing activist, turned commercial artist.

Yet his work remains original and credible, and he doesn’t change his style according to trends or to aid cooperate sales, perhaps he’s not “selling out” – perhaps we’re “buying in”.

The effect of Banksy’s career will only be evident in the years to come. Surely he has opened doors for other similar artists to capitalise on the newly established lucrative market for graffiti-style social commentary.

Perhaps he’ll be seen in a ‘Warhol’ light in years to come for bringing his style of communication to a wider audience, pioneering a stencil-pop aesthetic and offering an entry point to the art world for a younger crowd who may not otherwise care.

This may be the very reason for the show in Hong Kong. Banksy’s work is not very well known in Hong Kong outside the creative circle. Surely a city teeming with young expat professionals with high disposable incomes is an attractive place to expand his profile. To his credit, he, possibly more than any other artist, has access to this generation.

I’ve always enjoyed Banksy’s work, because I get the impression he just wants his message heard. Regardless of the medium and regardless of the legalities; and generally, he’s given it away. But the thought of forking out 50k for something that was displayed on my local bus stop pains me.

Ben’s pieces will be updated monthly, keep an eye out for them on indesignlive.com



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