The other day I was out in Chicago with B and I noticed this large piece of graffiti was less like graffiti and more like art.
I told B it reminded me of a Banksy piece.
B just started blankly. “Banksy?” he asked me.
I tried to explain that Banksy was a famous anonymous street artist who had a few pieces in Chicago that I wanted to track down and see for myself. I’m certainly no art expert (please forgive any errors in this post…) but I knew enough to know that when his pieces went up they capitvated people. My interest in him began when he painted a dozen or so pieces around New Orleans on the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
Banksy’s art work highlights the struggle to define the difference between graffiti that is harmful – promoting violence or adding to blight- with graffiti that is art that inspires the mind and stirs the soul. Of course, there are many who believe there is no difference and all graffiti is vandalism of anther’s property and there is no inherent value in any of it. Others see a different side, that this street art should be celebrated, enjoyed and even protected. (I plan on watching his documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop in the near future).
I snapped a quick iPhone photo of the rabbit holding the head of St. John the Baptist and started Googling. Deep down I think I was hoping that somewhere within my preppy, rule-abiding, uptight self I had found something a little more…out of the normal…to learn about. I ruled out the idea of it being a Banksy, with only 2 confirmed pieces in Chicago.
And yet I couldn’t shake that this wasn’t your typical street art. The more I googled the more I found about an entire subculture, with artists, admirers and critics all over the world. There are cities that cover up well known artist’s pieces with glass and others that send out the Grey Ghosts to cover them up, no matter their symbolism. Which, interestingly, isn’t an idea that was lost on Banksy when he showed up in New Orleans:
But what, if anything had I found? I was starting to think I’d gotten caught up in my Banksy-fever and was itching to turn nothing into something. After some more searching I gleefully discovered I was right- the image I’d seen was more than your typical graffiti. I’d stumbled across a Gaia who according to my reading is ranked as one of the top street artists, right after Banksy and Swoon. Gaia is from Baltimore, (although I found one article saying Gaia is a she from New York, others remain ambiguous to gender) but has a few pieces in Chicago that have popped up recently. The Maxwell Colette gallery is currently hosting a Gaia exhibit in Chicago….I have a feeling I’ll be begging B to go in the near future.
It is funny, the things you notice when you open your eyes just a little bit wider and shake your pre-concieved notions of art. My five-year-old-Monet-loving-self might be a little surprised, but my more grown up palette is happy I’ve expanded my horizons.
Even if it does involve spray paint and illegal trespassing. Luckily for me, I snapped my photo from a city street. Law abiding lawyer and all.