Graffiti Wars

August 19th, 2011 | By | 10 Comments »

So the other night I finally got around to watching Channel 4′s Graffiti Wars, otherwise known as “The documentary about ROBBO.” I have some mixed feelings about it, and obviously want to tread lightly talking about it with ROBBO’s condition (He is currently in a coma), but feel that RJ and I should at least attempt to address the pseudo-documentary.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, and you can over here on 4od online in the UK, the hour long special focuses on UK graffiti writer ROBBO and his ongoing turf war with Banksy. Vandalog has covered the “graffiti war” since the beginning, but pretty much Banksy covered a ROBBO piece along the Camden canal that had been there since the 1980′s and in retaliation ROBBO began writing graff again and he and his team would vandalize Banksy works.

My main issue with the documentary is not the extreme sympathy and bias that Channel 4 shows towards ROBBO throughout or the lack of interviews from street artists (not just all the graff writers that spoke on camera), but actually this alleged success story for ROBBO of him on the brink of becoming a fine artist.

I went back to Pure Evil yesterday (who is featured in the film for hosting ROBBO’s first solo show) to look at some of the unsold works. He has put them on display in the basement, so if you have a chance do go check them out. In all honesty, however, the work is not that great. Now we all know there is a lot of shit out there that people praise, but from a strictly artistic perspective, in my opinion the work is sub-par that was shown in the gallery. He is a graff writer and does amazing graff works, but his gallery work doesn’t reflect that wild style. The film focuses on ROBBO’s dreams of becoming a fine artist in his own right and that is is the crux of my issues. He is not a fine artist and he just used the feud between him and Banksy to make some money. He hadn’t been working for years, but all of a sudden, he used the notoriety of Banksy to get noticed and maneuver his way into the gallery system. Plenty of artists take advantage of publicity to sell art (Eine…), but eventually the work has to stand on its own. ROBBO’s does not. ROBBO might be a “king”, but he is not a great artist.

I am sure people have other views on this, but the documentary could have been more well-rounded and unbiased. It is a tragedy what happened to ROBBO, and my thoughts are prayers go out to his family and friends. If you want to help support ROBBO, there is a fundraiser/art auction taking place next month at Cargo.

Photos courtesy of Channel 4


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  • GreenT

    Bit immature of you to feel the need to criticise Robbo at this time. He may not be a great ‘artist’ in your narrow minded definition of the term (graffiti writing on trains is art too you know) but this was his first excursion into a new style for him. Who knows what he might have produced given time. As for the programme being one sided, that’s hardly surprising seeing as Banksy refused to give an interview or respond to the questions put to him, which is a bit strange, because he doesn’t seem to be so reticent when he’s got something to promote. 

    Ultimately your analysis is very basic, uninformed and superficial in the extreme. I suggest you try to look a bit deeper next time and don’t let your obvious prejudices dictate your knee-jerk response.     

  • http://blog.vandalog.com/ RJ Rushmore

    So when would be an okay time to criticize him? Whenever Robbo is criticized on Vandalog, we get a bunch of narrow-minded graff writers calling us names and claiming we are idiots. I honestly do wish him the best. And after his accident, we did not mention his show at Signal Gallery, out of respect. At this point though, Channel4 sort of forced us to respond.

    It wouldn’t have been difficult for the filmmakers to speak to people (artists, art fans, critics, whatever) who don’t like Robbo’s work. Banksy isn’t the only person who could have made the documentary more balanced. And I’m not saying that the documentary should have said “banksy is the best artist ever and robbo is a dick for going over him.” I don’t think that would be fair and it’s not what I believe. It’s just ridiculous to think that Robbo is the next great gallery artist.

    As for graffiti as art, of course graffiti on trains is art. Nobody is denying that. Steph even mentions her respect for Robbo’s graffiti in this post. But when you go indoors, you are judged on a different set of criteria, and Robbo’s art even changed. What he does indoors and what he did outdoors is pretty different. The work that Steph and I particularly don’t like is his gallery work. Being a good graffiti writer or a good street artist does not automatically make you a good “gallery artist.”

  • GreenT

    She said that he’s not an artist, which is a blatant lie. You may not like his art, but that’s another matter. 

    Nobody on the programme was trying to make out that Robbo was going to be ‘the next great gallery artist’. Robbo himself wasn’t saying that either. It was just about documenting his personal journey as he tried something new. 

    There were a few graffiti writers interviewed yeah, but that was just to give a context of who Robbo is, and his standing in the graffiti world. It wasn’t necessary to do the same kind of background info on Banksy, because most people are already aware of him and his work.

    Eine and Blek were both interviewed though, but maybe you didn’t like what they had to say, so you chose to see the whole thing as one sided and biased. I think that’s got a lot more to do with the starting point of where you approached it from rather than a willingness to look at what was being said without preconception. Basically the programme didn’t fit neatly into your already set-in-stone opinions of the situation, so you’ve chosen to attack it on spurious grounds, like children having a tantrum because they didn’t get their own way.

    As for when an okay time to criticise Robbo would be…umm…maybe when he’s not hovering precariously between life and death? Just a thought.  

  • http://blog.vandalog.com/ RJ Rushmore

    Unfortunately I can’t rewatch any of the film because I’m in the states right now (and it actually looks like it was taken off of 4oD anyway), so please correct me if I am mistaken on any of these points…

    Yes, you’re right. I was mistaken. Steph does say that “He is not a fine artist.” Doesn’t mean he’s not an artist, but I see where you’re coming from. I don’t want to speak for Steph, but if I had written that sentence, I probably would have said “He is not a good fine artist” or “He is not a good indoor artist.” The point being that his indoor work is not good. I agree, it’s not my place to say “this is not art” or “this person is not an artist.” I’m more of the “it’s art if they say it is” school. But art and good art are not the same thing.

    The impression that I got from the last few minutes of the program (particularly the scenes in Pure Evil’s gallery and in Berlin) were that the film director wanted to position Robbo as the next great gallery artist and/or the next great street artist. I wish I could point to more specific moments, but as I said, I can’t really rewatch the film.

    As for my willingness to watch it without going in hating on Robbo, I actually really enjoyed a lot of the early parts of the film. The scene where Robbo wears a helmet cam was a great move. Like Steph, I probably would have had pretty minor complaints with the film if it had stopped before Robbo tried to become a gallery artist or a street artist. The feud itself is pretty interesting, and indicative of a larger disconnect between graffiti and street art. That disconnect is worth looking at, and Robbo is a good example of it.

  • GreenT

    She actually said that “he is not a great artist”…. not “he is not a great

    fine artist”. That I wouldn’t have had so much of a problem with, as I doubt

    Robbo would call himself a “fine artist”. He definitely is a great graffiti

    artist though. She also went on to take issue with the “alleged success

    story for ROBBO of him on the brink of becoming a fine artist” There was

    nothing ‘alleged’ about it…2 gallery shows in quick succession, his first

    sales of canvases and that film commission prove that he had begun to have

    some success, regardless of whether you may like the work or not. Also you

    have no way of knowing if Robbo would have gone on to become a ‘fine artist’

    in the future.

    The sad thing is that he didn’t get the opportunity to
    even give it a try.
    That did give a note of dramatism and pathos to the film
    I agree, but it’s
    hardly Robbo’s fault how the final narrative of the film
    was constructed,
    as he wasn’t really in a position to have much input into
    it by that stage.

    You say that Robbo’s gallery stuff wasn’t good, and
    that’s just your
    opinion. Most of it wasn’t to my personal taste either, but
    I’m sure his
    work would have evolved in time. A lot of Banksy’s early stuff
    after he made
    the change from graffiti to street art wasn’t exactly great
    either was it.

    To harp on about how bad you think Robbo’s gallery work
    is, especially at
    this time, feels a bit churlish, and reeks of a barely
    suppressed agenda of lingering resentment toward Robbo. 

  • Georgedee

    as usual, steph creates a stink and has not the nous to defend her self. Ha ha!

  • Stephanie

    Actually, I just don’t like petty replies. That is why I don’t come on here and answer. It’s not that I do not want to defend myself. I just don’t see the reason to when people cannot read in the first place and take words out of context. I never said “he is not an artist” so please stop saying. I said his work is not “fine art” which it is not, and his indoor work is sub-par, in my opinion and plenty of others. When you say his work would “evolve through time,” again, this is my issue. He was a writer for decades, but never tried to sell works on canvas. He only did so once he became famous again because the turf war. If that work was by a new artist, people would tear it apart. But by the fact that it is by Robbo, it is looked at in a different context. But I don’t see the work as Robbo’s, I critique on the basis of the works themselves.

    And yes, alleged success is when someone piggybacks on fame, but doesn’t actually see success. Most of the works were unsold, and the second show the works not just by him because of the circumstances.

    My review is not meant to purely bash Robbo, but to make the point that the documentary creates a sympathetic perspective of an artist who was destined to be a successful gallery artist. In my opinion, I think it was a bit smoke and mirrors and wished it was more unbiased by talking to artists that come from graff and street art backgrounds to talk about the separation of artistic processes, subcultures and how the turf war has affected the communities. The doc made some grand allusions which keep it one sided.

  • GreenT

    You said that Robbo “is not a great artist” are you now denying that you said that? Would you also deny that Robbo is a great graffiti artist? If not, then why did you say that he’s not a great artist?

    Spare us the petulant and childish accusations about “not being able to read”. You seem very confused in your thinking, and your critique is ill-informed and poorly constructed. Your personal attacks on Robbo are becoming very tiresome. I would have thought you would have the human decency to give it a rest at this difficult time for his family, but no such luck I see.

    As for Robbo ‘piggybacking’ on fame…that’s just laughable, and shows your narrow-minded ignorance. Banksy was the one who piggybacked on Robbo’s piece from 1985 if you remember. Which is what started the whole thing. 

    Robbo doesn’t need to ‘piggyback’ on anything. He had all-city fame when Banksy was still just a little child. Robbo’s fame is built on his own genuine achievements, not paying other people to put up stuff for him like Banksy does. Robbo has the complete respect of his peers and is regarded with warmth and affection by those that know him. Unlike Banksy, whose fame is mostly built on hollow PR to fool the gullible. 

    Basically, Banksy has got a crew of people around him because he pays them. Robbo has got a crew of people purely out of love. That tells you a lot about the difference between the two men.   

    The whole ‘war’ thing was just a bit of fun for Robbo. It’s a shame that some of you sanctimonious Banksy fans had to take it so seriously that it made you all bitter and twisted, and seemingly still feel that you have to wage a resentful vendetta against Robbo just because he made your ‘witty genius’ hero look like an absolute fool.   

  • http://blog.vandalog.com/ RJ Rushmore

    I’m just going to butt back in quickly on a couple of points. Most importantly… D’oh. When rereading the post, I missed that second part where Steph DID say “he is not a great artist.” Sorry about that. Dunno how I missed that. I’m completely embarrassed.

    Until this post and then in responding to your comments, Vandalog had not dissed Robbo since hearing about his accident. Why do you think we didn’t cover his show at Signal Gallery after it opened? That was out of respect for Robbo.

    As for your last point, since when are we at Vandalog view Banksy as a hero? Sure, I like the guy’s work sometimes and I respect him, but we are also critical or indifferent to him and we don’t just post everything he does. You picked the wrong blog to diss for kissing Banksy’s ass.

  • GreenT

    You wouldn’t have been justified in criticising Robbo’s work at the Signal Gallery even if you had tried, because due to his accident he wasn’t able to show the works that he’d intended to.

    Considering Banksy’s profile in the street art world. I don’t see much criticism of him on here at all. In fact I don’t see much criticism of anything at all on here, except Robbo. 

    When Banksy does a weak piece you don’t mention it, (you’re indifferent, as you say)… but strangely it seems you’re always straining at the leash to pick holes in Robbo. This is probably why people think you’ve got an agenda.