Plenty of art travels around the globe each year to be displayed in museums and galleries. Only a small percentage of this art gets stripped from a building’s wall and shown without the artist’s consent. A piece by legendary British street artist Banksy, nicknamed “The Haight Street Rat,” is gracing the halls of downtown Waco art gallery Cultivate 7twelve for the month of September.
To honor this major sign of growth in the Waco area, Cultivate 7twelve hosted an official exhibition opening at 6 p.m. Thursday. Attendees were treated to a screening of the documentary “Saving Banksy,” which was written and produced by conservator Brian Greif. The film was followed by a big reveal of the Banksy centerpiece, along with a cocktail hour served and provided by Luna Juice, a local Waco juicing and catering company.
The exhibition was about more than just the Banksy piece, however. Twenty-nine local Waco artists also have their art hanging on the Cultivate 7twelve walls this month, in coordination with the Banksy piece. Ty Nathan Clark, John Storm and other canvas and street artists were featured with work intended to mirror Banksy’s provocative and political work. Banksy is an anonymous street artist believed to be based out of Great Britain. Known for his secrecy and for his artistically advanced take on graffiti as a device for social and political commentary, Banksy has traveled the world and designed some of the most recognizable street art pieces ever.
“The whole street art and graffiti movement came about because artists went, ‘Why do I have to wait to show myself in a gallery? There are walls all over the place. Why don’t I just put my stuff up and leave it for everyone to see?’” Greif said.
Banksy visited San Francisco in early 2010 and tagged six buildings across the city. According to Greif’s “Saving Banksy” documentary, only days after Banksy painted the town, building owners were required by city ordinance to paint over his art or face financial repercussion. In an effort to prevent the permanent destruction of Banksy’s art, Greif decided to take matters into his own hands. After months of battles between Greif and the building owners on how to handle the removal of the Haight Street Rat, Greif was able to remove the piece wooden slat by wooden slat, and preserved the painting in his closet for two years before he found a place to show it. As of now, all but one of Banksy’s San Francisco art installations have been destroyed.
The Haight Street Rat has been travelling the country for two years now, and this is the first time it has graced the city of Waco with its presence. Thanks to Summer Shine, founder of Luna Juice and supportive of local art initiatives, Waco was put on Greif’s radar last October when Shine reached out to Greif through email, and after receiving a grant from Creative Waco to support the costs of bringing the Banksy to Waco, the official exhibition was organized for September. Rebekah Hagman, cofounder of Cultivate 7twelve, along with exhibition manager Victoria Howle and the Cultivate 7twelve team, organized the opening night.
“To have the opportunity to have such an incredible piece of art here … that’s really geared toward facilitating conversation, it just seemed like a really great fit for us at this time,” Hagman said. “We’re eager to show that Waco has this kind of weight or authority, that in the future, when someone with a major piece or work looks at showing it in our city, they say yes.”
The event on Thursday started in the main theater at the Hippodrome, where Hagman introduced the documentary. A captivated audience was treated to an in-depth look at the ins and outs of street art, and street art conservation. After an hour and a half of humorous anecdotes and commentary about the importance of street art, Greif took the stage with local artist Ty Nathan Clark and San Antonio-based street artist Taylor Riggs. In a Q&A portion, they answered questions about street art, art in general and Banksy himself.
Although Greif said he has never met Banksy, and has never communicated with him personally, he knows several people who have.
“I really want to respect artists,” Greif said. “Banksy is a very interested character and wants to do his own thing, if he wants to be left alone, I’ll leave him alone. The fact that he has not condemned what we’ve done with the rat and condemned the movie … that’s all I need.”
Street artist Ben Eine, who is featured in “Saving Banksy” is one of the few who personally knows and has worked with Banksy.
Greif believes street art is incredibly important in shaping the way the public consumes art. According to the documentary, the majority of street art is intended to be destroyed at some point, but it’s also one of the only free and completely uncensored ways for people to view art.
“Every other art movement is regional,” Greif said. “Graffiti and street art are world wide. It’s the most open art movement ever, where the public is invited to participate and watch, and it’s not just relegated to the galleries.”
More than that, Greif believes that street art brings economic prosperity to economically struggling areas, and cites Miami neighborhood Wynwood as one that has benefited greatly from the presence of street art.
For Greif to bring the Banksy to a gallery, his only two requirements are that the exhibition is free and open to the public. “Any time I come to a city like this [Waco], and its a beautiful city and you have plenty going on, but you have too many blank walls,” Greif said. “The power of putting art in public spaces is incredible, it’s transformative.”
The Banksy piece will sit in Cultivate 7twelve’s gallery until Sept. 29 and will be free and open to the public.