Punning The Town Red with Hanksy
"I would really hate myself if i was trying too hard to come up with this shit. It’s all so ridiculous."
The world’s punniest graffiti artist, Hanksy, is sitting next to me at a dive bar in Silverlake. A surly man is calling bingo numbers from the back of the bar as the tabe next to us receives their plate of hot wings. Regularly, the elusive graffiti artist likes to remain shrouded in mystery, much like Banksy, the man who inspired his graffiti moniker. Tonight though, I have the larger-than-life street artist buying me beers as we discuss how he stumbled his way into the art scene and just how much he loves Tom Hanks.
"The movie Big is a classic. I mean, who hasn’t seen that movie? Oh, and The Burbs is great. I always say Big is my favorite of all the Tom Hanks movies, but I kinda think The Burbs is my true favorite of all the Tom Hanks movies. But I like everything he’s done. That’s kinda why it was perfect for me to use his name. I was just looking at a Banksy piece and the name Hanksy popped in my head, so I quickly made a little piece that was a mix of Banksy’s rat with Tom Hanks face and threw in up in New York. Someone snapped a picture of it and then sent it to Wooster Collective and it blew up over night. Seriously, it’s like in Big where he goes to sleep a kid and wakes up an adult and he’s freaking out – That was me."
And that really is a perfect description for Hanksy’s overnight introduction into the New York graffiti scene. That same day that the Wooster Collective posted the picture of his art, Tom Hanks saw the photo and tweeted about. After that, Hanksy decided to run with it. He let his mind go wild with puns, using pop culture and celebrities as the ammo for his antics. Bruce Willis in Die Hard was turned into a wheat pasted print of Bruce Willis holding a stack of pie boxes with the title "Pie Hard". Comedian Larry David was one of a few "bald" eagles.
Poking fun at celebrities with plays on words has no deeper meaning for the artist. Hanksy isn’t trying to feed the world some important message with his art. However, that in itself conveys a deeper message about the meaninglessness and triviality of pop culture and the celebrities we idolize, doesn’t it?
"I take the silliness more seriously these days. I get a lot of mail from a lot of people that are bummed about my work and asking me why I don’t try and do something meaningful or, like, ‘why don’t you use your power for good’ or whatever. I just leave that to other people who are good at that kind of stuff," Hanksy tells me after we throw back a shot of some terribly sugary alcohol the table next to us bought and left behind. "Honestly, and I am sure every artist says this, but I think 95% of artist working today are better than me and they can pull off the somber and the serious message way better than I could. If I tried to do what they’re doing or what Banksy’s doing – Banksy already did it, so I’d just be another in a long list of shitty Banksy rip-offs. I mean… I guess I am a shitty Banksy rip off as well [laughs], I just took it in a different direction."
It takes all kinds. The same way the young Beastie Boys fought for their right to party, Hanksy is reminding everybody that art can be a lot of fun. Hell, it’s not like every street artist who’s ever existed spent their entire day taking political science classes so they could ride like Paul Revere at night. Lots of us got into making art to entertain and make our friends laugh.
"In movies there are dramas and there are comedies, so I feel like there can be both in street art too," he says.
Hanksy’s real life "meems" (as he jokingly describes them) have gone viral across the internet and social media. This online notoriety has brought his work, like many other graffiti artists, off of the streets and into galleries looking to profit off the popularity of street art culture. Original pieces by Hanksy sell for upwards of $5,000 nowadays.
"Gallery stuff is fun. It gives me opportunities to meet a ton of artists and travel around the world and make a little money to make more art. I still have the most fun putting my stuff up on the streets though. It’s why I started doing it. It reminds me of why I like doing it. It’s exciting. Sometimes it’s scary. Plus, I’m way more into the idea of someone walking to work in the morning the same way they always do and then they see this new piece of funny art and it makes them smile or whatever. That’s cool to me."
This statement comes hours after Hanksy found out that he had sold four pieces of work for a substantial amount of money.
"Don’t get me wrong. If a dude in a suit that does finance wants to buy my stuff, I think that’s awesome. He’s obviously got amazing taste [laughs]. It helps to sell stuff so I can make more stuff and travel around to put up more graffiti in new places. The only thing that’s tough is that I know that this guy in finance buying my stuff probably isn’t the biggest fan of my work, he just sees the art as an investment – but there are really big fans of my stuff that follow everything I do that can’t afford to own any of my original pieces. Shit, I couldn’t even afford to buy any of my stuff. It’s just something that happens as your work gets noticed more and more. That’s why I started doing the scavenger hunts."
In true Banksy fashion, Hanksy side-stepped the galleries to get his art into the hands of his fans who don’t have bags of money lying around — by starting a scavenger hunt via Instagram. Hanksy places original pieces of art work all around New York and Los Angeles and snaps photos of their hiding places. He uploads those photos to his Instagram with clues about how to find the piece. The first person to get themselves to the spot gets to keep the art, while Hanksy gets to watch from a safe distance.
"It evens the playing field a bit. Some high school kid or some Daddy Warbucks both have the same fighting chance to be able to get the art. It makes me happy to watch too. I don’t get to interact with my fans a lot ’cause I want to be able to keep doing illegal street art without people knowing who I am. So watching people wander around looking for the art, or seeing the comments on Instagram about people getting excited that they know where the art is hidden, or frustrated that they can’t come cause they are stuck at work is really really cool to me. It pumps me up and makes me want to keep making art. I mean every once in a while I’ll actually be at the spot holding the piece so I can shake the kids hands and talk to them for a second. If I do that though, I usually tell them they have to sing the Ice Cream Rap from Big."
Hanksy has already done a giveaway with Milk Made for two original skateboards that he did in collaboration with Milk entitled Harrison Bord. As an added bonus to our interview (and probably because we were about 6 shots deep by the time Hanksy and I left the bar), the artist has asked Milk Made to help him giveaway another original piece of art work via our Instagram. Here’s a clue to help you find you New Yorker’s find Hanksy’s work of art:
And the prize has been claimed! Congrats and thanks for playing.