There’s been a lot of talk lately about street art v.s graffiti, what is art? what should be celebrated and what is pure vandalism worthy of nothing but the buff. The arguments on both sides can be hypocritical and at some times confusing. But what is clear is that BTP are using over inflated removal costs to persecute individuals unlucky enough to get caught.
Whatever side of the fence you’re on, the hypocrisy of covering Banksy pieces with protective perspex whilst cleaning off pieces, judged to be of lesser artistic merit, can escape nobody’s attention. It appears that what really sets Banksy apart is that his work is worth money, lots of money. What this does is effectively create a class system within graffiti. What we’re saying as a society is that if you get away with it long enough, and produce work that has a broad enough appeal outside of the aerosol art community, you may get to a point where people buy your work and effectively you become above-the-law. When this happens your works become national treasures, are protected, and your newest illegal actions become lauded like the opening of a major new exhibition and promoted through the national newspapers. If however you are caught, you are hauled in front of a judge and can be treated worse than violent criminals.
Banksy is the obvious example but someone like Eine, whose painting David Cameron gave to Obama on his first state visit, could equally be held up as an example of this. At the other end of the spectrum we have people like Amuk – who recently finished a jail term and a period on electronic tag, 3 weeks before finishing university, for 12 instances of ‘vandalism’. His work is amazing and nobody can deny that it has artistic merit. Yet he was sentenced to a longer time behind bars than drunk drivers, perpetrators of GBH and ABH, and even pedophiles who had recently come before the same judge. Something is surely amiss when we as a society send out the message that assault, drink driving, and downloading obscene imagery of children are all more acceptable forms of crime than expressing oneself creatively. Clearly on a scale of social harm, paintings in the wrong place aren’t even in the same league as these other crimes. Also equally clear is that if you treat the youth as criminals they’ll behave as such. The recent riots are as much a reflection of the way in which we’ve denigrated the next generation as it was a reaction to the hopeless situation so many in this country face in the wake of the financial crisis and resulting cuts to services.
Amuk took some time to talk to us ahead of his Meeting Of Styles appearance about his recent experiences at the rough end of the justice system.
In 2010 I received an 18 month sentence for criminal damage. It covered 12 cases, about 8 of them being trains. The BTP decided that the total for these was 52k, a ridiculous figure when I saw paper work that detailed the actual cleaning costs, which is around £500-600 for a panel piece. My solicitor was pretty useless and had no clue about graff and didn’t seem to care about what I was like as a person.