SUB­STANCE AND THE FAME THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ -

There’s this artist. His name is Banksy. Yeah, you’ve heard of him – he’s fa­mous, al­most to the point of tired cliché. His book is a best­seller. He has le­gions of fans talk­ing about his work on web­sites. His Warhol-inspired Kate Moss por­trait fetched $194,000. If some­one finds one of his works on an al­ley­way-wall of their crappy ware­house, the prop­erty value rock­ets by 10 per cent. But the truly re­mark­able thing about him is that no­body has any idea who he is. This is no mean feat. Among his artis­tic achieve­ments are a vi­sion of par­adise sten­cilled onto a se­cu­rity wall in Palestine and tag­ging the in­side of an ele­phant en­clo­sure in Barcelona Zoo. Bold public cre­ative ex­pres­sions, ex­e­cuted un­der cover of night, that leave an ad­mir­ing public scratch­ing their heads. He even made a doc­u­men­tary about him­self that got nom­i­nated for an Academy Award, and the world is still in the dark. Some can hardly bear the sus­pense. A friend of mine – an English co­me­dian liv­ing in Lon­don – was at a fairly dig­ni­fied art gallery open­ing once. A re­spected art ex­pert and critic ap­proached him with a ten­ta­tive step and cau­tious look in his eye. “Are you an artist?” he asked. “No,” replied my friend. “Oh,” said the critic, dis­ap­point­edly. “Why, is that a prob­lem?” asked my mate. “Well, it’s just I thought you might have been Banksy.” The idea of do­ing some­thing with­out tak­ing credit for it has be­come down­right un­fash­ion­able. On the sur­face (as it so of­ten is) celebrity seems to be a far more pop­u­lar no­tion. In fact, with the rise of re­al­ity en­ter­tain­ment and In­sta­gram ‘ca­reers’, where suc­cess at life is mea­sured in the baf­fling met­ric of views and clicks, be­ing fa­mous with­out ac­tu­ally do­ing any­thing is the ideal. Yet do­ing the in­verse – that is, do­ing a sig­nif­i­cant some­thing while es­chew­ing fame – now that is some­thing truly spe­cial. That’s why I like Banksy. De­spite us­ing the most mod­ern artis­tic tech­niques, he harkens back to the his­toric power of mys­tery. To this day, Jack the Rip­per tours are a top con­tender for the most pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion in Lon­don. Peo­ple walk through the back al­leys on guided tours hop­ing to be ter­ri­fied. Count­less books, movies, in­ves­ti­ga­tions and con­spir­acy the­o­ries have been born out of the scari­est de­tail of his hor­rific cam­paign of mur­der but no­body ever knew who he was. The Scar­let Pimpernel was such a com­mand­ing the­atri­cal char­ac­ter be­cause his mys­tery gave him power. Su­per­man, Spi­der-man and Bat­man are su­per­heroes not be­cause they can fly, shoot webs or live in a cave/bach­e­lor pad, but be­cause their world re­mains obliv­i­ous to their mild-man­nered al­ter egos. Con­trary to what the gos­sip colum­nists, pa­parazzi and re­al­ity TV main­stays would have us be­lieve, there is noth­ing we love more than a se­cret that re­mains un­told. Sub­stance can be found in deeds that do not beg for ap­plause. Sub­stance lives in ac­com­plish­ment with­out ac­co­lade. Though anonymity needn’t be spec­tac­u­lar. Some­times it’s at its best when it is un­re­mark­able. There was once an Aussie Rules foot­baller. His name was Peter Hud­son. He played full for­ward for Hawthorn be­tween 1967 and 1977 and was widely re­garded as a freak. So good was Hud­son that if it weren’t for the fact he was reg­is­tered in the same league as ev­ery­one else, he would have been in a league of his own. Around the time that he was rein­vig­o­rat­ing the Hawthorn Football Club’s match day at­ten­dances, a nearby church was hav­ing the op­po­site prob­lem. In a top­i­cal at­tempt to get bot­toms on pews, the lo­cal vicar put up a ban­ner out­side the church that posed the ques­tion, ‘What would you do if Je­sus came to Hawthorn to­day?’ Peo­ple pon­dered this rhetor­i­cal gam­bit for a cou­ple of days un­til an uniden­ti­fied ge­nius an­swered, ‘Move Peter Hud­son to cen­tre half for­ward.’ This is one of my favourite jokes of all time. Not be­cause it’s funny, cheeky, sim­ple yet slightly inspired. But be­cause I will prob­a­bly never know who made it. I hope I never do. For the same rea­son I hope I never know who Banksy is – there just aren’t enough su­per­heroes these days. n

SUB­STANCE CAN BE FOUND IN DEEDS THAT DO NOT BEG FOR AP­PLAUSE. THOUGH ANONYMITY NEEDN’T BE SPEC­TAC­U­LAR.

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