Saturday, 6 October 2012

Left Banksy

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival kicked off yesterday – I know because I spent 15 minutes trying to find somewhere to park in town. 
Running until the 14th, this annual fortnight of stand ups and debates from some of the biggest names in publishing, politics, art and television lights up the Regency town. Check out the site for a full list of who and what's on; whether you're still interested in the hype surrounding JK Rowling and her latest book or would prefer to hear the bitchy witticisms of Caitlin Moran and Rupert Everett, there's something for all.

Totally unexpectedly last night, whilst having a catch up over the obligatory end-of-the-working-week wine at the bustling bar at The Queen's Hotel, my friend and I were offered tickets to hear a discussion about notorious street artist Banksy. "Oh great, when's that on?" "Now." Scuttling into the rain, leaping puddles and heading to the literature marquee village, we managed to quickly squeeze into two seats before the lights lowered.
The talk featured Banksy's unofficial biographer Will Ellsworth-Jones, a softly spoken, slightly lisping art critic (favourite quote of the evening: "I can put it up anywhere") and gallerist and artist, Charles Uzzell Edwards AKA Pure Evil who's opening line was to encourage us to "get some banter going to make the talk a little less dry." 
There was a discussion about favourite Banksy pieces, his political messages and the graffiti versus street art wars between artists and taggers – it gave an insight into the movement behind an artist who has gained notoriety for being essentially unknown. His work may be full of promise, sometimes humour, sometimes anger and there on the street for all, but it's because that no-one really knows who he is that his fame is stratospheric. 
The saddest thing was hearing how some of his pieces are dismantled from their natural habitat to be flat packed into a gallery; confined and hidden away when they're essentially meant to be in the public domain not behind a door bounced by some pretentious art curator. 
Personal highlight was when the stereotypical Cheltenham chin (i.e. pink shirt and tweed uniform of the 40 plus man from Gloucestershire) in the audience threw a bit of a curve ball essentially questioning the importance and passion in an artist who uses stencils and spray cans. "Where's the passion in this artist?" he asked. Compere of the evening, Cedar Lewisohn retorted: "Banksy faced serious jail time yet still continued to proclaim his message. You can't get more passionate than that." Good reply.

Follow the Festival on Twitter @cheltfestivals #cheltlitfest

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