This past fall, moderately anonymous street artist and pun extraordinaire Hanksy did something pretty surprising by launching a sort of online travel show on YouTube, sponsored for some reason by The Hundreds and Squarespace. The show’s original name was Trivial Pursuits, but even its final title of Surplus Candy (a nod to his last surprising project) is a nod to the equal parts awesome and patronizing theme of the show: Exploring the “trivial” cities of North America (read: Everything except New York City or Los Angeles) in search of what makes their art scenes amazing and unique.
With every episode, Hanksy gets to know a new city by meeting with local artists and art-supporters. By the end of each episode, Hanksy is so pumped on each city that it almost sounds like he’s going to move there. But alas, Hanksy remains a transplant in New York City, chasing his dreams in the Big Apple. And that’s my main frustration with Surplus Candy, an otherwise great series. It’s just a bit difficult to believe that any of the cities in Surplus Candy are quite as great as Hanksy says they are, or that it’s true that great art can thrive in a “surplus city,” when the show is hosted by a man who moved from Chicago to New York City. But okay, the host isn’t perfect, but damn he’s a lot better than you might expect…
I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a Hanksy fan, and Hanksy’s not ashamed to say that his art isn’t the most serious or sublime thing in the world. As the theme song to Surplus Candy goes, “From east to west he’s got the smarts, when jokes are dicks and laughs are farts.” So how can Hanksy host a travel show? Actually, quite well. Yes, there are silly puns and probably a few fart jokes, but Surplus Candy is no Borat. In each city, Hanksy talks to all the right people and gives them a real chance to celebrate their city, plus he slips in some serious commentary about issues like gentrification and the commodification of street art along the way. As someone who used a host a web series about street art (yes, really) and considered hosting a street art-centric travel show, I’m confident that Hanksy has done a better job than I did.
There’s one point that comes up again and again in Surplus Candy that I particularly loved. As you watch each episode, you’ll begin to notice how Hanksy embraces the notion that every city has a unique kind of street art because of its unique architecture and design or regulations governing art outdoors. As much as people complain that graffiti and street art styles have become globalized, and they have to a large extent, Hanksy shows how every city has a unique environment, lending itself to different kinds of interventions. That’s something that a lot of people don’t realize, and it comes across beautifully in Surplus Candy as Hanksy celebrates the unique opportunities and pitfalls of each city he visits.
Plus, in a few episodes, Hanksy touches on points that relate to my recent post about “open walls.” Yes, Montreal has a street art festival, Chicago has Pawn Works organizing murals, and in Portland there is an official process permitting murals, but Montreal criminalizes the work of the same artists being celebrated at its festival, it’s illegal to purchase spraypaint in Chicago, and the mural permitting process in Portland seems ineffective and slow. So I enjoyed that.
I’ll say it again: Surplus Candy is not Borat. It’s a genuine guy trying to highlight other genuine people in North American cities that don’t always get enough shine, and he happens to be doing it through a character known for dick jokes.
The final episode of Surplus Candy‘s first season was posted in early December, so I’m a bit late at getting around to these, but tonight I rewatched each episode, and now I want to take a road trip… Check them out for yourself below…
Episode 1 – Montreal – Hanksy gives a surprisingly honest assessment of the good, the bad, and the complicated of street art festivals
Episode 2 – Detroit – You’d think that Hanksy would be all happy-go-lucky about Detroit, and there’s definitely some daylight bombing and ruin porn, but he doesn’t keep it quite so simple and light-hearted.
Episode 3 – Philadelphia – I have to hand it to Hanksy for interviewing my boss and celebrating Philly’s history of muralism as well as sitting down with Robert of Tattooed Mom, one of my favorite Philly bars.
Episode 4 – Portland – Great example of the irrationally strict regulations that artists trying to do murals face in some cities, and the ways that street artists adapt their techniques to suit the architecture and laws of a given city.
Episode 5 – Chicago – Once again, Hanksy highlights how a city’s unique street art scene has found a way to thrive despite being molded by a strict regulatory environment.
Episode 6- Austin – Personally, I don’t love places that are quite so laid back, but I think we can all appreciate Hanksy’s find of a scene full of nice people ready to support one another.
I’m looking forward to season 2…
Screenshot from Surplus Candy