On Wednesday I am delighted to report that I had certain preconceptions completely overturned.
Mr de Worde is very keen on the works of Banksy who most people would describe as a ‘graffiti artist’. I have seen several of his pieces and, whilst appreciating them for their execution, wit and political content, they didn’t excite me to any significant degree.
My own taste in art is somewhat conservative, and my knowledge of contemporary art is regrettably limited, although I have often been moved by the most unexpected works, simply because they touch something at the most visceral level and, most importantly, because they’re good.
Mr de Worde and I set off at 6am (ie the middle of the night) and headed to Bristol to see The Banksy Exhibition at Bristol City Museum.
The exhibition has received a huge amount of publicity for many reasons (not least of which is that Bristol City Council would very much like to have some very sharp words with Mr Banksy if only they could catch him) and we had been told to expect very long queues indeed.
We arrived in Bristol (which, incidentally is an absolutely delightful city and worthy of much further investigation) at just after 8am and joined the already massive queue, bought some large cups of tea and a local paper and sat down to wait.
The atmosphere was very jolly and the time seemed to pass remarkably quickly. At 10am the gates opened and we moved forward, but didn’t actually gain entry until 10.30am, as they were very sensibly restricting numbers.
We filed into the first hall which contained the well known Ice Cream Van, but along the sides were the most exquisite white marble sculptures in a Classical style but depicting most un-Classical poses.
My favourite was an obviously drunk angel with a beer can in one hand, her stiletto heels in the other and a cigarette in her mouth. Another showed an angel with a paint can dropped firmly and dripping on her head, which I am sorely tempted to plagiarise shamelessly in my own garden.
We then went through into a low lit room which contained many of the more well-known pictures and installations, as well as a studio space which included scribbled notes, sketches and stencils of astonishing complexity.
There were paintings as big as rooms, and images that made you laugh out loud. Pretty landscapes subtly altered, unsettling chimps in the House of Commons. A manly portrait with goggly eyes and mostly set in traditional, ornate gilt frames .
And then there was the animatronics hall which made you giggle one moment and weep the next. An elderly Tweety Pie was heartbreaking, a chimpanzee painting a landscape was subtly disturbing, a bank of terrariums (terraria?) containing pork products that wiggled about on rocks and stones had me clapping my hands like a child.
But the most breathtaking thing about it was the attention to detail; when the Painting Chimp blinked, his third eyelid came up, when he breathed, his chest expanded gently in several places. Tweety Pie’s eyes moved so slowly that in order to see the whole sequence, you had to stand and look at it for a long time which proved to be unexpectedly uncomfortable.
What struck me like a shaft of sunshine, was that this man is a consummate artist, his drawing and painting skills rival anyone you can think of and, when combined with the humour, intelligence and political awareness that he demonstrates in all his work, it would be churlish indeed to write him off as simply a graffiti artist.
It would take many pages to describe adequately all that we saw that day. Suffice to say, that as I write, my heart is beating slightly faster.