Stencil artist John Koleszar asked me polemically at the Melbourne Stencil Festival, “Why are there so few stencil artist in the big galleries?” and then mentioned some exhibition in a US public gallery where the artist had displayed no skill, technique or imagination.
Stencil artists reject of the mainstream contemporary art institutions (galleries and art schools). Banksy even played pranks on them. The typical stencil artist has a commercial art background. There is a lot of pride in the street art world for skill and technical ability. Koleszar’s own experience as a commercial printer provided many of the technical concepts, like registration marks, necessary for stencil art.
Banksy is not an art school drop out. Ha Ha was a security guard before he was a street artist. Street art, unlike punks, have few art school connections and was, therefore alienated from the art institutions both personally and geographically. Unlike punk, street artists were not trained in the current art theories and so did not provide a reflection of them in their work.
Punks were inspired by Gustav Metzger’s destructive art and other modern art. Early The Clash performed in Pollock inspired paint splattered overalls. Punk’s do-it-yourself no skills required attitude was the culmination of generations of modern artists seeking inspiration in the primitive, the child-like and the street. And punk created another generation of artists, like Judy Watson, who aspired to bad painting and art that looked crude and unskilled.
Street art and stencil art is, in part, a reaction against punk; even if Malcolm McLaren had a hand in marketing both the Sex Pistols and Buffalo Gals. There are so many contrasts between punk and hip-hop: aesthetic, social and commercial.
Although some street artists have successfully bridged the gap between the street and art galleries most do not attempt this. About half of street artists are anonymous even to their peers; Russell Howze said that he was only able to credit about half of the artists whose work appears in his book Stencil Nation. Even successful street artists will use alternative methods of selling their art (e.g. internet sales) and, alternative products and multi-level marketing (e.g. t-shirts, limited editions vinyl toys and original art). And the major art galleries are institutionally unused to dealing with alternate marketing and prefer to look at art school graduates exhibiting at established commercial galleries.