I Was There: Banksy

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I Was There: Banksy

2001 saw a huge and very welcome change to The Arches, Glasgow’s clubbing and arts mecca. It was the year the building was given a major refurbishment, which saw the addition of the café bar and restaurant on Argyle Street – until then, a brick and dust-strewn derelict space. A few events took place to celebrate this re-opening. One of note was an exhibition by two of Britain’s ‘underground’ artists – one an iconic situationist of the 70s, the other an emerging graffiti artist whose satiric stencils were beginning to cause upset to establishments in major cities around the world. The former was Jamie Reid, the man behind the Sex Pistols’ cover artwork. The latter was Banksy. At the time, Jamie Reid was the better-known artist, and the main draw of the exhibition, a scenario which would doubtless be reversed were it to happen now. Reid was also the type of guy that stands out in a crowd – tall and thin with a flowing mane of white dreadlocks. Banksy, however … well it seems the stories are true. Somehow, he managed to set up a large exhibition which included huge, unique paintings on an arch wall, and yet nobody knew who he was. Nobody in the Arches remembers meeting him or speaking to him. He was like a spray-can-wielding ninja. All Banksy-related correspondence was executed through his manager, and most of that amounted to stories of graffiti antics in Amsterdam’s red light district. I later wondered if this ‘manager’ was in fact Banksy himself, using a character to throw people off his trail, like a Bristolian Keyser Soze.

It was a memorable and unique exhibition. The stencils on the wall of Arch 2, including an enormous rendering of a Mona Lisa (which Banksy later controversially replicated in The Louvre), are still there, albeit hidden under paintwork like a giant lost masterpiece. Excitingly, The Arches are currently trying to retrieve them. Watch this graffiti-tinged space …

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