Published: 28 January 2010
by JOSIE HINTON
IT’S a bitter battle that has played out on the walls of the Regent’s Canal towpath, and the latest score is Team Robbo 4, Banksy 1.
Four of world-renowned guerilla artist Banksy’s murals have been sprayed over by King Robbo, one of the pioneers of London’s graffiti scene, in a heated tit-for-tat spat between the tagging titans.
The feud began shortly before Christmas, when Banksy painted over a 24-year-old mural apparently by the elusive Robbo, which had remained untouched since it appeared on the path beneath Camden Street in 1985.
Robbo’s quick retaliation saw Banksy’s image of a painter and decorator customised so that it appeared to pay homage to his rival.
But now, following three further attacks on Banksy’s work by spray paint artists with the calling card “Team Robbo”, including two this week, insiders on the graffiti scene have told the New Journal they have begun to doubt the ferocity of the feud.
One renowned Camden graffiti artist, who preferred to protect his identity, dismissed the row as a “big publicity stunt”.
“For Banksy to cover Robbo’s mural was interpreted by graffiti artists as a complete lack of respect,” he said. “When graffiti artists spend night after night sitting in bushes or getting arrested for no other cause than representing the culture, only to see street artists do the odd stencil and then whip the whole country into a spin, there’s a lot of bitterness.
“But in my opinion it’s all about publicity. Banksy is a household name whereas Robbo is very well respected but only in underground circles. By bringing attention to Robbo’s work, Banksy has drawn attention to himself at the same time as boosting Robbo’s profile. I’d put money on the fact that they have liaised on this.”
Highgate photographer Alex MacNaughton, who has produced two anthologies of photographs entitled Street Art and Street Art 2, said the high-profile nature of the clash illustrated the changing nature of street art.
“With artists like Banksy it seems to have turned into something that people do to get famous and make money,” he said.
In the latest episode of the spat, a Banksy mural showing a rat wearing a top hat and suit has been labelled “Banksy la Rat” – alluding to Banksy’s reproduction of the rat theme pioneered by legendary stencil-artist Blek Le Rat. Banksy has previously acknowledged Blek’s influence, saying: “Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well.”
And in a final attack, a message that previously read: “I don’t believe in global warming”, now reads “I don’t believe in war” – with the added tag: “it’s too late for that sonny, Team Robbo.”
According to insiders, the feud goes back to a dispute the pair had when a pre-fame Banksy slighted Robbo. But Banksy has long inspired venom in graffiti circles where the street artist is seen to be “leeching” off their culture, leading to doubts over whether the attacks are indeed the work of Robbo or just his loyal supporters.