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, beginning Thursday night, in Waco.
The beret-wearing, marker-wielding rat, properly called “Haight Street Rat,” a 2010 piece of street art by British artist and arts provocateur Banksy, begins a one-month exhibition at downtown Waco’s Cultivate 7twelve arts space.
The “Writing On The Wall” show 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, an exhibition by Waco-area artists and, at Thursday night’s Preview Party at the Waco Hippodrome, the documentary “Saving Banksy” that spread the wall painting’s fame. Documentary producer Brian Greif also will visit Waco in conjunction with the Banksy painting.
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 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.
Preaching street art
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, speaking at Thursday’s Preview Reception; “Cocktails With the Curator” with Hagman and Bond from 6 to 7 p.m. Sept. 17; and “An Evening With Brian Greif” from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28.
Art scholar, critic and journalist James Daichendt, dean of Point Loma Nazarene University’s College of Arts and Humanities, also will talk about street art in his free lecture “Writing On The Wall” from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16.
Other related events include a First Friday exhibition opening from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday; “Brunch With Banksy” at 11 a.m. Sept. 22; and “Coffee and Closing Thoughts,” 10 a.m. Sept. 29.
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.
“I’m proud that local artists showed up and are showing such strong conceptual work,” Hagman said. “That’s exciting — to be able to have representation of the spectrum.”
Cultivate 7twelve will open on Mondays in September to expand access to the Banksy exhibit. Hours are 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free.
Tickets to Thursday’s Preview Reception are $30 and available at the door. The reception, held at the Waco Hippodrome from 6 to 11 p.m., will feature a screening of “Saving Banksy,” a talk by Greif and champagne reception at the gallery.
Hagman hopes that Waco art supporters take advantage of the opportunity to see the Banksy work in person.
“In an age of digital media, it’s so important to see art like this,” she said.