The anti-artist artist

A Kiwi is one of the world’s big­gest col­lec­tors of works by se­cre­tive street artist Banksy, Dani McDon­ald writes.

Sunday News - - FEATURE -

Eric Perl­man’s ob­ses­sion with Banksy started 12 years ago. He ac­tu­ally missed out on see­ing the anony­mous graf­fiti artist’s first ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion in his home­town of Los Angeles in 2006.

The free ex­hi­bi­tion was called Barely Le­gal and in­side was a 38-year-old fe­male In­dian ele­phant cov­ered in red non-toxic paint. She matched the wall­pa­per and made a po­lit­i­cal state­ment.

The story hit the head­lines and set Perl­man on the hunt for any Banksy prints he could lay his hands on.

It was dif­fi­cult, given Banksy’s prints were mostly only sold in the UK at the time. But his perserver­ance paid off and to­day, Perl­man, a Kiwi-based 49-year-old en­tre­pre­neur, is one of the big­gest col­lec­tors of Banksy works, with a col­lec­tion of 30 prints and orig­i­nals.

‘‘I just started buy­ing prints sec­ond hand from peo­ple who had al­ready bought them and ob­vi­ously pay­ing more than when they were re­leased,’’ he said.

‘‘I guess that’s how it started – I was kind of a lit­tle bit ob­sessed be­cause it was amaz­ing to be watch­ing what he was do­ing, ba­si­cally sell­ing prints for not re­ally that much, not in­creas­ing his prices and just out there do­ing all these amaz­ing works anony­mously. He just re­ally had a voice and a mes­sage be­hind ev­ery­thing that he was do­ing.’’

Four of Perl­man’s col­lec­tion (three orig­i­nals and one print) fea­ture in The Art of Banksy ex­hi­bi­tion at Auck­land’s Aotea Cen­tre this month.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, cu­rated by the artist’s for­mer man­ager Steve Lazarides, show­cases 80 orig­i­nal pieces and in­cludes the fa­mous paint­ing of the girl with the red bal­loon, known as Girl and Bal­loon, and the con­tro­ver­sial work Laugh Now, de­pict­ing a mon­key with a sign around its neck that reads, ‘‘Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge’’.

Perl­man’s favourite print, well, one of many favourites – Rude Cop­per – is also ex­pected at the show. The 2002 work was thought to be the first print that Banksy sold com­mer­cially.

It’s said that Banksy and Lazarides were sell­ing the prints out of the boot of their car and at shared ex­hi­bi­tions with other artists.

Banksy hand-sprayed a cou­ple of them and would usu­ally leave them un­signed.

At an ex­hi­bi­tion in Ger­many, some­one asked the gallery owner for theirs to be signed, and Banksy obliged. ‘‘It was signed in a big black fat marker and it’s re­ally the only one that’s hand sprayed and signed like that. It ended up get­ting the cer­tifi­cate of au­then­tic­ity from his gallery, so that’s just a re­ally epic piece,’’ Perl­man says en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

Perl­man has never met the con­tro­ver­sial street artist. Not that he’s aware of, any­way. He’s been to a few of Banksy’s events, such as the open­ing of the Walled Off Ho­tel, the Banksy-owned es­tab­lish­ment on Is­rael’s West Bank de­scribed by the Guardian as ‘‘ho­tel, mu­seum, protest and gallery all in one’’.

‘‘That was one of the most amaz­ing trips of my life and I’ve trav­elled a lot of places,’’ Perl­man said. ‘‘It is just a jux­ta­po­si­tion. I al­ways tell peo­ple, if you’re fa­mil­iar with Banksy’s work, he does these cor­rupted oils where there will be a land­scape and he’ll make some­thing that ob­vi­ously doesn’t fit there and I felt like the Walled Off Ho­tel was liv­ing in one of those cor­rupted oils.

‘‘He has what looks like an op­u­lent ho­tel, but 20 feet away is this omi­nous wall with barbed wire and a gun tower and you hear shots and tear gas be­ing fired in a re­pressed so­ci­ety. ‘‘Is­rael has al­ways been a place I’ve wanted to visit; Pales­tine I prob­a­bly would never in a mil­lion years have gone [to] just be­cause of the stigma of it – be­ing dan­ger­ous and not a friendly place, but in him hav­ing it there it just forced me to do it.’’

Perl­man went on to ex­plore the nearby refugee camp, Camp Aida.

‘‘It was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, it was very pow­er­ful, eye-open­ing. I saw both sides. I was in Is­rael for a week and Pales­tine for five days and found it un­be­liev­ably ed­u­ca­tional. I have no doubt why he put it there.’’

Perl­man also un­der­stands Banksy’s logic be­hind the at­trac­tion he built in the faded Bri­tish sea­side re­sort of We­ston­super-Mare.

‘‘With Dis­ma­land it was bring­ing peo­ple to one of his child­hood towns [where] they get no busi­ness, they get no visitors, there are some peo­ple who go for sum­mer there but [the ex­hi­bi­tion] just turned that place up­side down. All the busi­nesses were ec­static, they were do­ing re­ally well. All the bed and break­fasts were sold out, it was crazy,’’ he said.

Perl­man won’t re­veal the value of his works. But Banksy’s most ex­pen­sive work, Keep it Spot­less, re­port­edly sold for NZ$1.04 mil­lion in 2008 at Sotheby’s char­ity auc­tion in New York.

And the mar­ket for Banksy work is only grow­ing. De­mand has far out­stripped sup­ply since Banksy stopped sell­ing prints in 2010.

Perl­man be­lieves 90 per cent of

Eric Perl­man in Jerusalem, on his trip to the Walled Off Ho­tel ear­lier this year.

Banksy’s Girl and Bal­loon will fea­ture in The Art of Banksy at Auck­land’s Aotea Cen­tre this month.

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