Freedom Through Football

16 09 2012

A new book has been published telling the first 20 years of the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls, known as not just Bristol’s but Britain’s most intrepid sports club, who have played football in Palestine and against the Zapatista Freedom Fighters in Mexico, and sent a cricket team to Compton.

The team, based out of the Plough pub, had Banksy play in goal for them soon after being formed, and he joined the Cowboys on their trip to play against the Zapatistas.

Freedom Through Football, by Will Simpson and Malcolm McMahon, contains never before published pictures of Banksy at work in Mexico.

“He went on tour with us to Mexico in 2001 and painted a number of murals in the community,” Simpson told the BBC Bristol website.

“He did one tour and shortly after, he might have moved to London. We see him every so often when he comes back to Bristol.”

A Bansky painting was raffled off to raise money for water projects in Chiapas in Mexico, with sales of a t-shirt featuring the artwork raising £8,000.

The club established a cricket team in 1994, while the Cowgirls women’s football team began in 2002 and the netball team in 2004. There is also a mixed basketball team.

“The Cowboys is unique in that we don’t define ourselves as a socialist team or anarchist team,” Simpson added. “We are a sports team that has a political dimension.”

Freedom Through Football is published by Tangent Books. Click here for more information.

Banksy’s Olympics art

23 07 2012

Banksy has today unveiled two new stencils with an Olympics theme, location for the moment unknown. The first shows an athlete throwing a missile rather than a javelin, while the second sees a pole vaulter jump over a barbed-wire fence onto an old mattress below.

Banksy: The Bristol Legacy

6 04 2012

Banksy: The Bristol Legacy is a new book published by Redcliffe Press which asks how and why the elusive street artist (trademark all media outlets) managed to host the biggest show ever to take place in a provincial British gallery, and one which most gallery staff only knew was taking place the morning they came to work.

The show’s curator, critics, the public and others look at what Banksy vs Bristol Museum meant to the gallery, the city and the art world.

At a launch event this week in the gallery where in 2009 some 300,000 people saw the show during its 12-week run, Eugene Byrne, one of the contributors to the book, spoke about how Banksy and other street artists have become a key part of the “Bristol brand”.

Here is what he had to say:

In the last 25 years or so, official Bristol has performed one of the most remarkable U-turns in the city’s entire history. Back in the 1980s, young graffiti artists were arrested, hauled before the beaks, given criminal records and generally treated as vandals.

The local media generally gave them a hard time, though not nearly as much as the correspondents in the letters pages, some of whom really did say they hadn’t fought a world war just so’s these young punks could make a mess of our city.

Naturally, we at Venue magazine were all liberal about it. Every year or so for about 20 years we’d do a big article about street art, usually with the headline or strapline is it art or is it vandalism?

Hindsight suggests we were slightly missing the point. You can parachute in a crack elite squad of highly trained art critics and never get any real agreement. In any event the question is irrelevant.

Instead, the question we should all have been asking all along is, “do we want this stuff on the walls of our city, or what?”

The answer that the Bristolian public came up with, long before most councillors, was a resounding yes, and much of that is down to Banksy.

Nowadays, graffiti is a key part of the Bristol brand. It’s up there with Brunel and Wallace & Gromit when we’re trying to bring in tourists, students or attract business.

Last year’s See No Evil street art festival was a huge success, as of course was the Banksy museum show before that. We’ve now taken graffiti so much to heart that in the case of Stokes Croft, official Bristol is prepared to believe that it might even be instrumental in turning around an area with all manner of social and economic problems.

In less than a generation, graffiti has gone from being the problem to the solution. And if there’s any individual who’s responsible for that remarkable turnaround, it’s been Banksy.

Many, maybe most, of us think that the Banksy museum show was the key turning point in that transformation. But in my contribution to this book I suggest that the moment civic Bristol performed its historic U-turn was actually a few years before that. Buy the book and feel free to disagree.

Now we face probably several decades of new debate in the media and on the internet about whether our graffiti artists have sold out to The Man, or whether they’re keeping it real, or what?

If we do that, we’ll be missing the point again. Who cares if they’ve sold out or not? The question will always be whether or not we want this stuff on our walls.

There’s another question, too. And that’s whether or not we’ll be smart enough to recognise it when – if – a new generation of youngsters comes along, maybe pursuing some new, different creative avenue.

Will we be smart enough to realise it when we’re confronted with a new group of enterprising, gutsy kids who are inspiring and entertaining us. Or will we persecute them, and post moans on the message-boards about how we didn’t fight World War Three just so’s these young punks could take the mickey.

I hope not. I like to think that actually, Bristol nowadays is a far more intelligent place. And one of the things that’s made us more intelligent is all that thought-provoking, weird, decorative, funny or sometimes just plain enigmatic stuff on walls all over the city. In the 1980s all we had were billboards advertising booze, fags and cars. We have come a very long way, so well done Banksy and well done us.

Eugene Byrne is contributing editor to Venue magazine (  who blogs over at He even has his own Wikipedia entry.


13 11 2011

Everyone has their favourite Italian restaurant, that old staple that makes pasta just like mamma used to make. When my Italian friend Francesco lived in Bristol, his favourite was Mamma Mia on Park Row. As he is a Roman, and lived in Bristol before me, that by default then became my favourite.

A few hundred yards away from Mamma Mia at the foot of Park Street is another family-owned establishment that can also lay claim to being my favourite Italian, Sergio’s.

Find it on on Frogmore Street just along from the Hatchett, down the steps from Park Street next to Banky’s famous hanging man mural, past the new Weapon of Choice art gallery which has brightened up those once particularly dingy steps.

Plenty of directions there because this is one eatery definitely worth finding, with a very warm welcome, a homely feel and a few nice quirky touches. Also don’t forget that it’s a BYO, one of the few occasions when I’m grateful for the proliferation of Tescos.

I visited Sergio’s last month with my quite lovely friend Ali before a gig at the Colston Hall. She is one of several friends who name Sergio’s their top Italian but the only one who can see the restaurant from her office window.

Ali had what she always has here, the spaghetti carbonara, while I pushed the boat out from my usual seafood pizza and enjoyed a seafood risotto. Both of our plates came piled high with and both of our plates were wolfed down.

Since its arrival in 1989, making it a serious old-timer in Bristol’s restaurant scene, Sergio’s has been a favourite Italian of many people and it is easy to see why.

Sergio’s, 1-3 Frogmore Street, Bristol. 0117 929 1413.

The Banksy Q exhibition and book

12 11 2010

This evening is the opening night of a new exhibition in Stokes Croft documenting artwork produced by some of the 300,000 people who queued up on Queen’s Road in the summer of 2009 for Banksy vs Bristol Museum. Many were given pens and paper while they waited. The Banksy Q exhibition and accompanying book is the result.

The exhibition and book have been put together by the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft and Katy Bauer , who conceived and ran the project, and also filmed and took photographs.

Here’s what they have to say for themselves: “The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft saw the queue as possibly Banksy’s greatest work of art and concrete evidence of a tamped down public – their civil liberties having been systematically eroded for over a decade – desperate for voice.

“The PRSC went down there and handed out cards and pens, and asked the queuers to ‘express themselves’ if they wanted to. They lost a lot of pens and a lot of cards, but in the end managed to collect about 3,500 artworks. THE Banksy Q is a show of those who queued and all of their drawings.

“Tangent Books and PRSC have also published a book to accompany the show. This unique publication is no catalogue, it is a funny, moving document of a vast and immaculate queue, which formed to see the work of an outlaw in a time of cultural and economic crisis.”

The Banksy Q exhibition is at the New PRSC Gallery, Ground Floor, 37 Jamaica Street, Stokes Croft until December 24. The opening night takes place this evening between 7pm and 10pm.

For more information and to buy the book, visit

Banksy vs Bristol Museum in world top 30

1 04 2010

Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery has made it into a “top 30” league table of global exhibition and museum attendance figures. The Banksy vs Bristol Museum event at the museum last summer graffiti artist pulled in almost 4,000 visitors a day.

The Art Newspaper, which carried out the poll, said it was the first time Bristol Museum had been ranked in its annual survey.

It was second out of the UK venues and 30th worldwide. The event, which was shrouded in secrecy, beat blockbuster exhibitions like that of Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy last autumn.

Charles Saatchi’s new London gallery sat in first place out of the UK attractions in the global survey and came 28th overall.

Japan’s museums dominated The Art Newspaper’s 15th annual survey of daily attendance figures, with three Tokyo venues and one in Nara taking the top four places.

The Tokyo National Museum topped the list, with almost 16,000 people a day attending one of its exhibitions last year. Paris’s Louvre topped the overall attendance list for 2009, with a total of 8.5 million visitors.

The British Museum in London came second with more than 5.5 million people flocking in. The National Gallery and Tate Modern also featured in the top 10, both drawing more than 4.7 million visitors.

Bristol Museum is a lot quieter these days without the draw of Banksy, but its current exhibition is well worth a look. The Gifts, by artist Alinah Azadeh, features a large selection of seemingly random objects. The idea was to ask the public to give objects they once valued, but were ready to let go of. They then wrote a little piece about what that object meant to them. More details here.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

24 03 2010

As citizens of Bristol, we have all heard of Banksy and we all have an opinion on him. Not very long ago, his graffiti was scrubbed off walls by the city council. Today, pieces such as the hanging man on Park Street or the Mild Mild West on Stokes Croft are promoted by the council as some of our city’s most famous attractions.

But thousands walk by these early examples of the art that would make him known all over the world every day without even batting an eyelid. Postcards of his work are on sale in newsagents. And coffee table books with lavish photographs of the same work line the local interest shelves at bookshops.

Banksy was once a renegade who blazed a trail through the street art world and went from hosting exhibitions in Severnshed featuring a few screenprints to taking over a disused warehouse in Los Angeles that attracted Brangelina to watch a brightly-coloured elephant wander around.

We remained mildly interested in Bristol of this local boy made good, and as his fame grew he remained as secretive as ever to maintain his mystique and sense of mystery.

Meanwhile, with Banksy gone, the rest of Bristol’s urban artists quietly got on with their work, creating a colourful canvas across the city and hosting exhibitions of their own, but always with the shadow of you-know-who hanging over their work.

Whenever a new stencil appeared in the city, the local media would invariably ask the question, ‘is this a new Banksy?’

He had left Bristol, but then he returned in style, taking over the City Museum & Art Gallery with a solo show that people were happy to queue hours in the rain to see.

Since then, he has donated a couple of pieces from this exhibition to the new museum, and released a film.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, named after a painting at the Banksy vs Bristol Museum exhibition, is currently in the midst of a two-month run at the Watershed. It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and had its first showing in London in a tunnel near Waterloo station.

The film is ostensibly a documentary about a French graffiti artist called Mr Brainwash (left), who befriended Banksy when he was a clothes shop owner called Thierry Guetta and then proceeded to emulate his hero fanboy style. Guetta was first commissioned to make a documentary about street art, but then the cameras were turned on him and he ended up becoming the star.

Banksy appears in the film, face blacked-out and voice modulated (although a distinct Bristol twang can still be heard), and some of the most interesting scenes are taken by Guetta of some of his most audacious stunts, such as putting a blow-up Guantanemo Bay inmate doll in Disneyland and painting the wall that divides Israel and Palestine.

Yet, Exit Through the Gift Shop is not a film about Banksy, but an enjoyable albeit puzzling profile of a crazy Frenchman who by sheer force of will, and with a lot of help from his friends, transforms himself into a street artist who can name his price to socialite mugs wanting to appear hip and hang the newest ‘wow’ artist on the walls of their Beverley Hills home.

Banksy’s star has reached its apex. There is nothing he can do to appear fresh and exciting anymore.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is an entertaining look at Banksy and other skilled street artists, in particular the American illustrator Shepard Fairey who is now famous as the artist behind the iconic Barack Obama image.

But if the film is the latest attempt from the publicity-shy but hype-hungry Banksy to retain his profile as the undisputed king of urban artists, it is a disappointment.

And if, as has been suggested in some quarters, it is a hoax, it is a waste of time and talent.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is showing at the Watershed until April 22. More details here.

Preview: Exit Through the Gift Shop

9 02 2010

I saw the trailer for the Banksy film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, at the Watershed last night. It contains a few of Banksy’s usual visual one-liners, and looks like a cross between Jackass and the Blair Witch Project, with lots of shaky camera work and prat falls.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, narrated by Rhys Ifans with music provided by Geoff Barrow from Portishead, is the story of how an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur filmmaker attempt to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on them. The film contains footage of Banksy and other graffiti artists at work but does not feature any scenes shot in Bristol, although if you watch the trailer closely you can see the skull and big teeth motif which has long been a feature of Westmoreland House, the huge derelict office building that towers over Stokes Croft.

Here’s the trailer:

Exit Through the Gift Shop is due to be shown at the Watershed next month, at a date yet to be announced, and they are already getting very excited about it on their Twitter feed.

Highlights of 2009 II: Bristol Museum vs Banksy

30 12 2009

So how long did you queue for?

And was it worth the wait?

Bristol Museum vs Banksy was certainly the most celebrated cultural event to take place in Bristol in 2009.

More than 300,000 people went to see the exhibition between June and August, bringing an estimated £15 million into the local economy.

I am very pleased that I took the time to queue, and to see what the artist had placed around the museum, but I came away quite underwhelmed with the majority of the exhibition.

His jokes are simple visual one-liners and the humour started to grate after a while. The smaller places dotted around also turned into a bit of a wild goose chase, which going to an exhibition shouldn’t be about, although it did encourage people to visit the more obscure areas of the museum and discover, for example, a Banksy dildo hidden among the stalactites and stalegmites.

But fair play to the elusive graffiti artist (as all newspapers are obliged to call him).

He somehow managed to keep the whole thing a secret, and once it opened the exhibition certainly put Bristol on the map. He has also allowed a statue of an angel with a bucket of pink paint on its head (the photograph on the left) and a modified model of Jerusalem to remain as permanent exhibits at the museum.