Over the last 22 years, British street artist Banksy has been called a genius, innovator, and criminal.
Now the elusive artist is being called a plagiarist—which is ironic, considering that he’s turned ripping off other people’s work into a recognized art form.
Over the last few weeks a passage from Banksy’s book Cut it Out has circulated around Tumblr, with thousands of people praising his brave call to reclaim advertisements as raw material for art.
It resonated so well on Tumblr because that blogging community avidly uses the site’s tools to reblog and comment on all kinds of images, including ads, and turn them into new creative works, or remixes. Banksy is a much-cited example of this remix culture.
The now-famous quote reads:
“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. … Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”
One of the people who saw the quote was writer Sean Tejaratchi, who claims that the anonymous artist created the passage using portions of an essay he wrote in 1999 called “Death, Phone, Scissors.” According to a blog post from Tejaratchi, parts of his essay were summarized or recast, while others were completely lifted. (See his highlighted markup below.)
Tejaratchi does not plan on pursing any legal action against the British artist, considering the man is nearly impossible to find. He just wanted to set the record straight.
“As problems go, it’s a pretty nice one to have. I like Banksy’s art and ideas. I’m flattered he liked my writing and my sentiments, and I’m happy others liked the quote enough to post and forward. … Banksy, if you’re reading this, I accept your apology for the mix-up!”
In the meantime, Tejaratchi is helping to promote a Kickstarter project to raise money for a reprint of Crap Hound #6: Death, Scissors & Telephones, the magazine that featured his essay.
Photo by Klara Kim