Do we need Banksy in Belfast? The celeb graffiti artist has recently been back in the headlines doing a bit of painting and decorating in and around the central New York area. He's made fans – the mayor of the city, unfortunately, not among them.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has described the great one's artwork as vandalism.
"Running up to someone's property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art," he says. "Graffiti is a sign of decay."
I suppose it depends on the graffiti ...
Banksy's stencilled work and "installations" are clever and witty and they make people smile which always has to be a good thing. Although whether they're great art, worth the mega bucks some examples have fetched, is debatable.
Banksy's clever gimmick is his man of mystery image. He has never revealed himself to the public. He is the Lone Ranger of contemporary art – the question mark over his identity as much a draw as his back catalogue of surreptitiously stencilled gables.
His message is more greetings card punchy than real out and out radical. Typically right-on establishment leftie stuff as befits the middle class, middle-aged bloke he's rumoured to be.
At the end of his stint in New York he's now taken a pop at the design of the new One World Trade Center which he describes as "vanilla" (there's original) adding: "It would be easy to view One World Trade Center as a betrayal of everyone who lost their lives on September 11 because it so clearly proclaims the terrorists won. Those 10 men (the terrorists) have condemned us to live in a world more mediocre than the one they attacked, rather than be the catalyst for a dazzling new one."
You can quite see how those who lost someone they loved on 9/11 might find offensive the concept of mass murder becoming a "catalyst" for a "dazzling" new anything. But presumably in the arty heart, design considerations will always trump sensitivity and compassion. Anyway, back to the main question ...
Could Belfast be doing with a Banksy? Or have we already a surfeit of wannabes?
Generally I'm with Mayor Bloomberg as regards his observation that graffiti is a sign of decay. But there's graffiti and then there's Belfast graffiti and in the grand scheme of things ours is on a whole lower level of urban blight. Banksy with his kissing cops and rioters hurling bouquets of flowers would be a breath of fresh emulsion.
Our problem here isn't just the balaclava-ed murals and the now bog standard end-terrace death treats to touts. It's the whole shabby, grubby, unsightly mess that is plastered over walls everywhere throughout this place. Declarations of love. Declarations of hate. Phallic symbols. Teenagers' tags. It's Trako tracking his name across shop door shutters (how much does that cost to remove?) and assorted plonkers spray painting their name on anything that doesn't move. Walls, pavements, litter bins, park benches, tourist information signs ... and it is, above all, not much effort being made to stop or remove any of this.
Money – good money – has been spent on so-called re-imaging in Belfast. (Painting over paramilitary murals with more wholesome images, to you and me). Except this being Belfast and the money having been pocketed, these re-images have subsequently been repainted back to gruesome square one.
If there is money available wouldn't it be better spent on attempting to remove all graffiti rather than "re-imaging" some of it?
And how about a clampdown on the spray painters similar to the anti litter pigs offensive? Surely they aren't all as elusive as Banksy. They have been given free rein to deface our cities and our towns and nobody seems to care too much about this.
Some (Mayor Bloomberg?) blame the Banksies of this world for inspiring this vandalism. But graffiti has been with us since Stone Age times.
And in Belfast, it's been downhill all the way ever since.