In 2003 when the world famous street artist, Banksy was 27 years old he visited Melbourne. In keeping with his secretive nature it was an unofficial visit and different from Keith Haring’s visit. (See my post about Keith Haring in Melbourne for more about early visiting international street artists in Melbourne.) Details of the visit are still sketchy.
Banksy came to Australia in April 2003; he had been invited to participate in the Semi-Permanent design event in Sydney. Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Dmote, Burn Crew and Perks & Mini created work at a warehouse exhibition in Alexandria, Sydney. Approximately 1,500 people attended but only Chris of Rotten Fresh has published any photos.On Banksys Forum bigwilly commented about Banksy’s attendance at Semi-Permanent (Feb 2, 2010, 11:31pm) “We flew Banksy out here for an exhibition that I ran in 2003. Rather surprisingly (even for back then) the man turned up. He then proceeded to create a massive collage piece on some panels that we had put together for the exhibition. All up it measured about 2.5m high x 9m long. Suffice it to say that this was quite possibly the biggest Banksy piece ever made (probably even bigger than the billboards he has done). The exhibition happened and was huge. We then took the panels down.”
Puzle of Burn Crew (a T-Shirt label) showed Banksy around Melbourne. Banksy had met Puzle and the rest of the Burn Crew at Semi-Permanent. “Puzle” now works as freelance art director and designer in Melbourne. Banksy and members of Burn Crew did a couple of missions spraying rats in various suburbs doing a couple of Little Divers, one in Brunswick and one in the CBD and lots of rats. Spraying policemen kissing in St.Kilda and various pieces around Revolver in Parhan.
Banksy came to Melbourne at the height of Melbourne’s own stencil street art phase but his secret visit had little impact at the time. Banksy has voiced his support for Melbourne street art; in 2006 Banksy wrote an article The Guardian (24/3/06) concerned about the buffing of Melbourne stencil graffiti for the Commonwealth Games. Banksy called Melbourne’s street art “… arguably Australia’s most significant contribution to the arts since they stole all the Aborigines’ pencils”. (See also Richard Jinman “Street art moves to a posh new hang-out” Sydney Morning Herald 9/4/07)
Melbourne local artists have defaced Banksy’s work in territorial disputes.
Sophie D. wrote a blog post about Alex defacing Banksy’s work back in May, 2009 (Alex was actually restoring a defaced Banksy, as Nerdbanite reported. Thanks CDH for pointing this out. See the Comments.) The owners of the Nicholas Building tried to protect the ‘Little Diver’ in Cocker Alley under a sheet of acrylic glass in 2007 but it was vandalized and destroyed in 2008. In 2012 a parachuting rat in Parhran was destroyed by plumbing. (For more on the disappearance of Banksy stencils from Melbourne’s streets see my post Another Banksy Gone.)
The greatest impact of Banksy’s visit to Melbourne has been to expose the hypocrisy of Melbourne City Council towards street art. The City of Melbourne has used Banky’s parachuting rat (yes the one that council workers destroyed in Hosier Lane) to promote the city in their publication Hot Spots Winter 20011 (City of Melbourne, June 2011).
P.S. 29 October 2013, another Banksy bought the buff this year (see the report in The Age). I’m not very interested in the continuing story of Banksy in Melbourne. His influence, if he ever had much, has run out in Melbourne. Street art was not intended to last forever and it is almost surprising how many Banksy’s have survived this long.