Banksy, or at least his pro­lific body of orig­i­nal art­work, comes to town.

Village Post - - Contents - by Ben Ka­plan

When sen­sa­tion­al­ism causes a sen­sa­tion, an art star is born. No liv­ing artist ad­heres to that dic­tum bet­ter than Banksy, per­haps the most no­to­ri­ous — most fa­mous, least known — street artist of all-time.

Now, with the upcoming ex­hi­bi­tion The Art of Banksy cu­rated by Steve Lazarides, Banksy’s Bri­tish for­mer agent, not only is the recluse be­com­ing the rage of the Cana­dian sum­mer, but his im­pact on Toronto’s bloom­ing street art scene is be­ing rec­og­nized both by posh galleries and on the sides of build­ings from Bay Street to Rich­mond Hill. Like in­ter­est in Banksy, street art in T.O. has reached a fever pitch.

“When Toronto sees Banksy’s work in the flesh, they’ll be in awe,” says Lazarides, who worked with the artist for 11 years and, de­spite our plead­ing, would not re­veal his iden­tity. (The reclu­sive artist is not part of the trav­el­ling show).

“There’s a rea­son peo­ple still queue to see The Mona Lisa. The work of Banksy was meant to be seen in the flesh,” he says.

Fea­tur­ing more than 80 orig­i­nal works — and val­ued at more than $35 mil­lion — the Banksy ex­hibit rep­re­sents the largest sin­gle show­ing of the se­cre­tive artist’s work ever to be as­sem­bled at once. Ar­riv­ing June 12, the show is per­haps the apex of graf­fiti art and po­lit­i­cal mes­sag­ing that has al­ways had a home in Toronto, and has been per­co­lat­ing in the city since the 1980s. Karin Ea­ton, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Mu­ral Routes, an arts ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion that has been help­ing artists, es­pe­cially street artists, since 1990, says that Banksy’s pop­u­lar­ity has cre­ated a global trend. He’s the Basquiat for the In­sta­gram age. Part P. T. Bar­num, part Bernie Sanders, with a shot of Damien Hirst.

“I think we’re go­ing to be lin­ing up around the block to get into the ex­hibit,” says Ea­ton, who be­lieves Banksy may very well be the most pop­u­lar artist (if not the best) of his time.

“The world of street art is grow­ing and there’s been an ac­cep­tance — it used to be the po­lice would go af­ter any­one with a spray can. Now those same artists are be­ing paid to make big, beau­ti­ful pieces.”

The Banksy pieces in the show run the gamut from sten­cils to graf­fiti to paint­ings, and in­clude fa­mous Banksy call­ing cards such as “Turf Wars,” “Barely Le­gal,” and “Laugh Now,” fea­tur­ing a mon­key with the anti-estab­lish­ment mes­sage — “Laugh now, one day we’ll be in charge” — hang­ing from his neck. The art­works, on loan from pri­vate collectors as part of a trav­el­ling tour that’s been to Is­rael and New Zealand, are big, bold and un­for­get­table.

Daniel Maz­zone is a 38-year-old painter and street artist from Toronto who ex­hibits here and in New York. He works across ev­ery medium and feels an in­creas­ing de­mand for his Banksy-in­spired street art.

“It was the doc on Banksy that in­spired me to pick up my art tools again,” says Maz­zone, of the doc­u­men­tary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was nom­i­nated for a 2010 Os­car. The launch of that film brought the reclu­sive Banksy to Toronto, and his work be­gan pop­ping up on build­ings around town in May of 2010.

“He’s in­spir­ing to me be­cause he doesn’t care what peo­ple think, and I love the mes­sages — it’s a lit­tle bit of a wake-up call for what’s hap­pen­ing now in the world,” says Maz­zone.

For Lazarides, who called the 11 years he spent by the artist’s side among the most ex­cit­ing of his long ca­reer, the ex­hi­bi­tion is es­sen­tial doc­u­men­ta­tion of the work, love it or hate it, of the loud­est artist of our time.

“You don’t need a de­gree in art his­tory to un­der­stand Banksy — the work be­longs to the peo­ple. That’s what makes it en­dur­ing,” Lazarides says. “There’s not many artists in the world who the pub­lic has an affin­ity to — they have an affin­ity for him, he’s one of their own.”

The Art of Banksy opens on June 13 at 213 Ster­ling Rd.

Clock­wise from left: The Art of Banksy ex­hibit co-or­di­na­tors (L–R) Corey Ross, Michel Bo­ersma and cu­ra­tor Steve Lazarides at the ex­hibit lo­ca­tion; mu­rals at Un­der­pass Park; a work by artist Daniel Maz­zone at Yonge Street and St. Clair Av­enue

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