A call to action hit my inbox last week, from that most damn’d elusive of characters, the pseudonymous documentarian DocoBanksy. “I need cutaways,” he declared. “I need fresh pics and footage of new graf from my namesake.” Like Sancho Panza to his Quixote, I could only respond affirmatively. I packed my go-bag with cameras and memory cards. On a fresh, bright Tuesday morning, DocoBanksy and I set out for an adventure.
A progress report on the documentary that Doco has modestly named after himself. It’s complete. It has likely festival dates, and indeed has already enjoyed a screening in an art gallery. Our shoot was to gather stills and a bit of video of the more recent work that Banksy has put up in the capital, to keep the work relevant and up-to-date. It’s a matter of a half-hour to drop new cutaways into a timeline, and it seemed silly not to take a day to gather them.
We met in Soho. Doco kept me waiting, as he always does. I have learned to be patient. He pitched up an hour after our agreed rendezvous. “I was being followed,” he told me. “Took a while to shake the tail.” I downed the dregs of my cooling coffee, and followed him as he marched out of the door of the coffee shop. Time was ticking on, and we had graf to shoot.
The most recent piece is tucked away on a quiet side street in Mayfair. As a quiet snoot-cock to the chancers that have taken some of his work off walls, render and all, this is on the side of a shuttered ten-story office block, easily twenty feet in the air. It’s a big piece, and yet you could easily walk past it if you didn’t know where to look. With the sun dappling the flanks of the building, it was somehow beautiful.
With two digital SLRs and a couple of phonecams in operation, we could grab the stills and video we needed with a minimum of fuss. I’m a huge advocate of film, but this approach is fast and immediate. I could even tweet pics from site. Ten minutes after we found the first site, we were on our way again. Many-eyed ghosts, invisible on the street. We’re there, we’re gone. Dust in the wind.
Next objective: the BT Tower, stabbing at the sky like a lance. In its shadow, by a tiny precinct of shops, I had my first up-close-and-personal with an iconic Banksy rat. The little guy is full of personality and charm, and it says a lot to Banksy’s skill as a draughtsman that a paint-daubing rodent is in no way repulsive. The piece had been protected from the element and other taggers with a sheet of perspex. Almost as if it had been framed. A clear signifier that this is “street art” rather than “common graffitti”. Applying permanence to a form which by its very nature is impermanent.
You can see why the graffers get peeved with him.
A quick jaunt on the Northern Line brought us to Camden. Doco was keen to see the piece that Banksy had put up in support of imprisoned graffer Tox, especially as a hater had apparently thrown paint over it. The truth was slightly less dramatic. Some joker had drilled into the perspex protecting the work and dribbled some paint into the hole. The net effect was to make it look like the small child at the heart of the piece had been shot. It somehow added something to the work, a strange kind of melancholy. If the hater with the drill had planned to ruin the piece, well, he failed.
A quick trip down to the river to check out the latest instalment of the King Robbo/Banksy feud (you can still see the legs from the original work that Robbo and his crew have overpainted) and then Doco relented and bought lunch. He borrowed my phone and prowled the web for his next target. His concentration was laser-like, intense enough to scorch holes in the tabletop.
Finally, he looked up, his eyes blazing. “East”, he said. “We go east.”
Bermondsey, and around the corner from the locations Dom and I had used for our last Straight 8, we found the Keith Haring dog-walker. A little over-whelmed by the giant billboard with the comedy Russian meerkat, but striking nevertheless. And in a lovely bit of synchronicity I managed to capture another dogwalker as he passed.
The day was closing in as we tracked down our last Banksy of the day. In a loading bay around the back of a supermarket off the East India Dock Road, a tiny piece that, to my mind, looked more dashed off and perfunctory than anything else I’d seen that day. It’s a bit rare, though, and unusually not covered with perspex–I guess because of the location and small size. The light was going, so I didn’t bother with a photo. Just a quick blast of video. To be honest, I was tired by now, and the temperature was dropping by the minute. As the sky burnt down to black, Doco called it a day, pausing only to get a shot of a shuttered pie and mash shop. We had all the footage he needed. Mission accomplished.
As I packed my bag, I suddenly realised that I was alone. Doco had things to do, and he would call me when he needed me again. He had vanished into the city and the night, mysterious and fleeting as the art that he documented with such care. The quest continued ever onwards.