George Shaw, a self-described ageing punk, says buying a loud shirt back in 2005 at his wife’s urging led to an obsession that changed their lives forever.
He picked up the well-cut shirt – with green felt running down the sleeves and a plasticised stencil on the back – in a UK boutique to wear to a friend’s 40th birthday bash. When some lads from Bristol mentioned that the stencilling on the shirt was reminiscent of the rogue street artist Banksy, who cut his teeth on the rough Bristol streets, Shaw’s curiosity piqued.
“I thought Banksy sounded like my kind of guy,” said Shaw.
“Through a hangover the next day, I Googled Banksy and I felt a rush. I was so excited – it was the first artwork that I really related to. It was a bit like the punk movement, it really had something to say.”
That loud, well-cut shirt and the street art obsession it inspired will bring Shaw, his wife and creative partner Shannon Webster, and more than 70 pieces from their urban art collection, including 22 Banksys, to Adelaide this month for the Oi You! Urban Art Festival.
The duo has run the festival in Sydney and in Nelson, on New Zealand’s South Island, where they live. Shaw says they approached Adelaide City Council (ACC) with the idea to host one in Adelaide, and the council saw its value. ACC, through Splash Adelaide, is backing the event with the State Government and theAdelaide Festival Centre, which will be the hub for festival events, including an exhibition, an art hunt, a scrawl wall and outdoor installations.
“There’s a fabulous local street art scene in Adelaide already,” said Shaw. “Hopefully this festival will allow for it to win an even broader audience and be a bit more cherished.”
To be sure, Adelaide has a healthy obsession of its own with random artworks popping up on buildings and in alleyways. The South Australia Illustrated: From the Street exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australialast year helped legitimise an artform that has long been maligned.
As part of the exhibition, Adelaide-raised street artist Peter Drew invited fellow street artists to ‘respond’ to an unfinished portrait of Adelaide’s founder, Colonel William Light. These were hung briefly on the Gallery walls, alongside traditional, historically important paintings. They were then plucked one by one and hidden around the city, sending anyone from students to office workers running through the CBD in a game of finders keepers.
Elusive and anonymous
Elusive and still anonymous, Banksy is one of the world’s best-known street artists for his iconic and satirical stencil art in public places. His last major show saw some 300,000 people queue for hours to get in and his art fetches hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction houses in Britain and the US.
The Oi You! Festival will host 22 Banksy pieces, along with work from other leading graffiti artists around the globe, including Faile, Swoon and David Choe from the US, the UK’s Antony Micallef and Paul Insect, and the artist known as Milton Springsteen from NZ.
“I like a lot of art but street art really speaks to me, probably because it’s not exclusive. It’s inclusive, it’s populist.
“The way I look at street art: it’s almost like you think of traditional art as the theatre – street art is the cinema. It’s for the people.”
Since 2005 Shaw and Webster have collected about 100 urban artworks, among them Banksy limited edition prints such as the Kate Moss image channelling Warhol’s iconic Marilyn Monroe and the original Flower Thrower canvas, the cover image for the Banksy bestseller War and Piece. Both works will be part of the exhibition in Adelaide.
Shaw says they have spent the best part of seven years following Banksy’s shows around the world, including war-ravaged Palestine and the more high-end Los Angeles for Banksy’s Barely Legal show in 2006, where Shaw found himself shoulder to shoulder with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
“It’s been surreal. We found ourselves at the epicentre of this phenomenon that just exploded across the world.”
Obsessed stamp collectors
Unlike the collectors who buy art on a hunch that an artist will make it big and their works will command big price tags, Shaw says he and Webster just bought what they liked, and they liked a lot.
“We’re like obsessed stamp collectors.
“It began with an interest in what Banksy had done and we kind of went overboard. If there was a new piece out, we had to have it.
“Most people start collecting art when they are rich but we weren’t rich – we were comfortable I guess – but we still sold both our cars and went to the bank to support our obsession.”
Their next goal is to find a permanent home for the Banksy collection, ideally in earthquake-wracked Christchurch, New Zealand, which is in the midst of a massive rebuild.
“We’d really like to see Christchurch become home to an annual Oi You! festival and to our collection.
“They’re going through a very significant rebuild there and we like the idea of being a part of that.”
Adelaide is sister city to Christchurch so it’s fitting perhaps that Adelaide will get a taste of Oi You!
The festival kicks off with an Opening Night party on 19 April before opening to the public from 20 April to 2 June. The Opening Night party will give fans a sneak peek at the exhibition and feature talks from some of the artists as well as a DJ set from local electronic artist, Oisima.
A large annex built outside the Artspace Gallery will provide plenty of space for budding local artists to express themselves. One side will be a ‘scrawl wall’ covered in chalkboard paint and the other, made from corrugated iron, is dubbed ‘corrugated irony’.
And while you won’t be able to take a Banksy original home, local duo Ankles and Smile, known as Rawhide, will give everyone the chance to own some art in The Great $5000 Art Giveaway. On Saturday 27 April and Sunday 28 April, 38 tokens will be hidden across the Adelaide Festival Centre Plaza, corresponding to 38 works of art. Find a token and take home a piece of art – it’s that simple.
Australian street art gurus Anthony Lister, Rhone and Beastman will be in town too, to create large works on big walls. Matt Stuckey will create a number of installations on the plaza outside the Festival Centre too.
Among other festival events are street artist guided tours of some of Adelaide’s best urban art sites, and a Street Art Film Night in the Space Theatre Foyer on Friday 10 May, featuring screenings of locally-produced documentary Who Owns The Street, and the Academy Award-nominated Banksy film Exit Through The Gift Shop.
As for the shirt that started it all, Shaw reckons he might wear it on opening night.
“It’s all come from that shirt. Our whole life changed in that moment.”
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