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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Street art's new design for life
Tiannamen Square is the inspiration for this image
Banksy's work adorns the streets of London and Bristol
By BBC News Online's Ian Youngs

There is aesthetic excellence, sharp social comment and humour by the paint bucket-load.

Yes, but is it art?

Well, it is graffiti - and one man is forcing us to rethink the artistic and cultural potential of our humble street walls.

Banksy is a Bristolian graffiti artist, and the first British graffiti artist to gain a reputation for anything other than doing an impressive amount of community service.

Those familiar with Bristol and London streets are likely to be familiar with his work - even if they do not realise it.

Deride and conquer
Banksy raises questions about democracy
And his first book, which combines pictures with his non-conformist ideas, is likely to enhance that reputation even more.

The title of the book, Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall, sums up the message that lies inside.

It is a satirical reference to Banksy's frustrations with modern society - both the stifling influence of capitalism and the establishment and the public's unwillingness to try to change it.

The book also makes the argument that art should belong to the streets rather than those with more money than sense.

Thought-provoking

Banksy may use spray cans on walls - but graffiti's ugly reputation should not cloud the view of his work.

Many of the images included in the book provoke an immediate smile before the brain thinks about the messages behind them, or reads the accompanying words.

There is the well-known image of a Chinese protestor standing in front of three tanks during the Tiannamen Square uprising. He has a sign in his hands: "Golf Sale."

"We can't do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles," the caption reads.

"In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves."

A Romanian revolutionary chooses flowers instead of a missile
Weapon of choice is a bouquet of flowers
There is a rioter from the Romanian revolution with his face masked and in the act of hurling a missile.

But instead of a molotov cocktail, he is throwing a bouquet of flowers.

Then, there is the leopard that has escaped from its barcode cage, a cash machine with octopus-like tentacles that are grabbing passers-by and the old ladies playing crown green bowls with bombs.

His most resonant images raise questions about democracy, capitalism and society's acceptance of everything that is handed to it.

Contempt

Many are funny, but they are not just intended to be jokes.

And the accompanying words reinforce the message.

"Win the rat race and you're still a rat," is one caption, and rats and apes seem to be a favourite theme.

"Doing what you're told is generally overrated," is the introduction to another section.

"In fact, it's been said that more crimes are committed in the name of obedience than disobedience. It's those who follow any authority blindly who are the real danger."

The next two pages go on to show walls where Banksy has stencilled a very official-looking notice marking a "designated graffiti area".

Within several weeks, photos show us, the walls are covered by other graffiti artists just doing what they are told.

With his basic DIY methods, he has nothing but contempt for the art scene.

But that is unlikely to stop them wanting to add him to their ranks once they get wind of this book.

Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall by Banksy is available from selected book shops and record stores

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