Art­work fea­tur­ing famed rat image part of ex­hibit

Texarkana Gazette - - METRO / STATE - By Carl Hoover

WACO, Texas—Those who be­lieve in the power of art, as well as its un­ex­pected con­se­quences, may want to con­sider the im­pact of a rat spray-painted on a San Fran­cisco build­ing, whose au­di­ence went from side­walk passersby to tens of thou­sands across the coun­try and now to Waco.

The Waco Tri­bune-Her­ald re­ports the beret-wear­ing, marker-wield­ing rat, prop­erly called "Haight Street Rat," a 2010 piece of street art by Bri­tish artist and arts provo­ca­teur Banksy, has be­gun a one-month ex­hi­bi­tion at down­town Waco's Cul­ti­vate 7twelve arts space.

The "Writ­ing On The Wall" show, through Sept. 29, not only will pro­vide the Waco pub­lic with a chance to see the now world-renowned Banksy work, but will feature re­lated lec­tures on street and pub­lic art and an ex­hi­bi­tion by Waco-area artists.

It's the first time "Haight Street Rat" has been shown in Texas af­ter a post-build­ing ca­reer that has seen ex­hi­bi­tions in Mi­ami, Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Nashville, Ten­nessee, and more.

"We re­ally be­lieve in Waco and that Waco is ready for this," said Cul­ti­vate 7twelve owner Re­bekah Hag­man, who agreed to host the paint­ing af­ter dis­cus­sions with Luna Juice owner Sum­mer Shine, who, with Cre­ative Waco di­rec­tor Fiona Bond, led com­mu­nity ef­forts to bring "Haight Street Rat" to Waco.

The se­cre­tive Bri­tish artist Banksy built an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion in the 2000s for his bold and of­ten po­lit­i­cally provoca­tive paint­ings spray-painted or sten­ciled on bare build­ing ex­te­ri­ors in pub­lic places.

"Haight Street Rat" was one of a half-dozen works he cre­ated dur­ing a 2010 visit to San Fran­cisco, paint­ing a rat with a beret hold­ing a red marker on the up­per side of a three-story San Fran­cisco bed-and-break­fast. The red line from the rat's pen was con­tin­ued on a fac­ing wall with the mes­sage "This is where I draw the line," al­legedly a crit­i­cism of the street-level cloth­ing store that sup­posed had sold items with images from lo­cal artists with­out re­im­burs­ing those artists.

The paint­ing was des­tined for white-wash­ing un­til street art ad­vo­cate, art col­lec­tor and doc­u­men­tary pro­ducer Brian Greif stepped in to lead ef­forts to save the Banksy piece. Those ef­forts, cap­tured in his film "Sav­ing Banksy," in­tro­duced "Haight Street Rat" to an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence and, Greif says, has seeded street art projects in cities across the United States.

"It wasn't easy," re­called Greif in a re­cent phone in­ter­view from his Nashville home. Af­ter per­suad­ing the build­ing owner to sell the piece to him, Greif had to as­sem­ble a crew to cut out the heart of the 12 foot by 16 foot wall paint­ing from its sec­ond-story lo­ca­tion, re­move the paint­ing board by board in six-foot lengths, then re­place the wall cutout.

For the first few years of the paint­ing's trav­el­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, it had to be re­assem­bled for each show, its 12 boards pieced to­gether like a jig­saw. Greif later de­cided to have it mounted on a sin­gle sheet of alu­minum and framed. "It's still very hard to move. It takes five peo­ple to move it," he said.

"Sav­ing Banksy" and trav­els with the Haight Street rat led Greif to leave his tele­vi­sion work in San Fran­cisco for street art ad­vo­cacy, a pas­sion. "I saw this was brand-new ter­ri­tory, to bring street art and graf­fiti to new places," he said.

He moved to Nashville in 2014 where he be­came in­volved in the Nashville Walls Project, a city-wide ef­fort that saw pro­fes­sional artists cre­ate mu­rals on prom­i­nent build­ings. Since then, he's been in­volved in street art ef­forts in other cities, which have seen as many as 60 pub­lic mu­rals cre­ated in that time, he said.

Pub­lic vis­i­bil­ity is a key el­e­ment of street art and that ac­ces­si­bil­ity is what makes street art much more im­por­tant than a splash of color in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, Greif said. "Street art and graf­fiti art are two of the most im­por­tant art move­ments ever," he said. "They made art so open and ap­proach­able to the gen­eral pub­lic."

Greif places street art on a con­tin­uum of pub­lic art­work that in­cludes graf­fiti and tag­ging. Tag­ging is largely the ad­di­tion of an artist's ini­tials or sym­bol to a build­ing or ex­ist­ing art­work while graf­fiti uses words, let­ters and numbers as start­ing points for art­work. Greif sees street art as the broad­est cat­e­gory, open to images with­out words or let­ters and styles in­clud­ing pho­to­re­al­ism, graphic de­sign and sten­cil­ing.

Works by artists like Banksy—and on­line cov­er­age and re­post­ing of those images—have in­tro­duced such art to mil­lions of peo­ple while cre­at­ing celebri­ties of the best-known street artists.

Greif takes ad­van­tage of his Banksy ex­hi­bi­tions to preach the word of street art, speak­ing to sec­ondary and col­lege stu­dents as well as gen­eral au­di­ences. He'll do the same in Waco this month, in­clud­ing An Evening With Brian Greif" on Sept. 28.

Bond also has cu­rated a show of lo­cal art fea­tur­ing works by 30 area artists. Sub­mis­sions ran the gamut of tra­di­tional street art themes, from the provoca­tive— ad­dress­ing top­ics such as species ex­tinc­tion and fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions at the border—to the hu­mor­ous.

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