Famed street artist Banksy’s last installation in New York is now in police custody.
In the evidence room float six balloon letters and an exclamation point, spelling, you guessed it: Banksy. The English artist was in the Big Apple for a month-long run, painting his realist works in public places, exciting some ... infuriating others.
Banksy’s been in the spotlight a lot. But there’s another street artist making quite a name for himself — in northern Spain. He’s known around the city of Gijon as simply “Señor X.”
Like Banksy, who’d tell his New York fans online where to find his new works, Señor X guides me — in real time — by dropping virtual pins onto a map. I can see them on my phone. And he’s gotten me nice and lost, in a wasteland of half-collapsed warehouses on Gijon’s perimeter.
I’m looking for what may be Señor X’s best known — and least viewed — work: an elaborate stenciling called “Life.” To get inside, I had to lift up and slide under a metal fence, then negotiate about 200 yards of rubble. Finally, I’m inside what may be one of X’s urban canvases.
After more than half an hour of searching, I find it. My first Señor X. “Life.”
“Life” consists of a disheveled man’s face cold-cocked by the word "Life" itself. Causing him to vomit. Or cough up his insides. It’s hard to tell.
But the point’s clear. In Señor X’s view, something’s terribly wrong in Spain these days.
There’s his life-size image out on the edge of Gijon’s pier — another stencil — of a businessman with a rock tied around his neck. It’s a clear commentary on how Spain’s economy was sunk by real estate speculators. Or the public garbage cans labeled “bankers” and “politicians.” No explanation needed there. Other works are just plain funny. He’s painted columns to look like Cuban cigars, and done a series of Picassos. As in Pablo Picasso, hunched over and spray-painting a wall.
In general, folks here are pretty excited about their mystery neighbor’s growing notoriety.
“Señor X’s work is stupendous,” said Charo Cimas, a ceramics artist working at an outdoor market. “It’s a way to transmit art to everyone. And it’s free.”
And done on public property. Which is why the city, alarmed by the sheer number of Señor X’s paintings, has, for the last year or so, been painting over most of what he does.
But if the city thought disappearing his art would make X go away, they were wrong. One Spanish paper recently dubbed him Spain’s Banksy. David Ergullez, the owner of a local sports store in Gijon, said he hoped that moniker sticks. He has an X original on his façade. He actually commissioned it, through an intermediary at a local art gallery.
It shows a smiling 1950s-style, American-looking couple behind an open umbrella. Above, two kids dressed in nickers are spitting down on them.
“A couple of clients have said to me, the day you redo your façade please call me,” Erugullez said. “They want Señor X’s work. It’s an amazing piece of realism.”
People are really starting to follow the artist and his work, Ergullez said. And as to Señor X’s identity?
“I barely even saw the guy,” Ergullez shrugged. He came to do the work, and the very next day, he’d finished. He was wearing a gas mask to paint.”
The actualy identity of the artist remains a mystery, he said.
And it’s going to stay that way. I know. Because X told me so.
“I want to save on fines,” Señor X said on a Skype call he agreed to after my visit to Gijon. He also said he thinks a work of art should speak for itself.
“I don’t like to explain it,” he said. “When you are walking in the street, you don’t have the luxury of someone interpreting the meaning of the street art you might see on some wall.”
X said he left Gijon, tired of small town life and the cat and mouse game with local officials. Which is when he revealed that he’s in London. The advantages: Bigger town, more stuff to stencil on. He’s aware he’s now on Banksy’s turf. But he shrugged off comparisons. Lots of people are doing this style of art, he said.
“Banksy is the reference point, everyone knows him,” he said. “So they always compare others to him. It’s normal. But I’m not even close to his level.”
That’s hard to say. But Señor X is definitely not banking what Banksy banks. For now, X works as a graphic designer to pay his rent.