Has Banksy sold out?
The Bristol based artist is elusive, but his brand is as ubiquitous as the latest pop song by Taylor Swift. We never thought we’d mention Banksy and Swift in the same sentence, but we’re no longer living in the ‘70s or ‘80s, when street art was gritty and subversive. In January 2015, 30 Banksy works fetched double their estimates at a London auction, and his prints are bought by celebrity collectors like Alicia Keys and Jared Leto.
But we’re not gonna toot Banksy’s horn today. We’re gonna’ talk about the evolution of graffiti art.
Artists have been scribbling on walls since before the pyramids. And when there was no city street or 5-train to tag, Palaeolithic painters were drawing bulls, equine, and stags on the walls of caves. What’s the Lascaux cave system in southwestern France, if not a street art-style canvas?
“Kilroy Was Here”
While the '70s and '80s are synonymous with street art, its roots actually go back to World War II. American GI’s fighting in Europe and the Pacific were known to leave a calling card: “Kilroy Was Here.” What does it mean? That’s up for debate. Nobody really knows who Kilroy was, but there are countless legends.
Asking who Kilroy is a lot like asking “Who the hell is Banksy, really?” All we know is that the dude kinda looks like Wilson Wilson Jr. from the hit TV series “Home Improvement”. Remember that guy who loved saying “Hi.. de.. ho.. neighbour!”?
The Kilroy tag features a name and an image of a bald man with a prominent nose peeking over a wall. The mixture of imagery and a personal name is a similar combination to what exploded on the streets of New York 30 years later.
And it gets even more complicated…
In the United Kingdom, Kilroy was known as Mr. Chad. And in Australia, the equivalent to the phrase is “Foo Was Here.” Some people say Foo predates Kilroy and existed as far back as World War I.
Etymologist David Wilton puts it this way, “Sometime during the war, Chad and Kilroy met, and in the spirit of Allied unity merged, with the British drawing appearing over the American phrase.”
By the '50s, the mischievous “Kilroy Was Here” tag had faded, but not before showing up on schools, trains, and other public spaces. It’s even engraved on the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC.
Without Kilroy, there’d be no Banksy or the rest of the gang. And you can take that to the streets!