Hanksy, the Banksy-Meets-Tom Hanks Street Artist, Tells Us the Secrets to Spoofing Celebrities
Banksy is so 2010. Hanksy, the similarly secretive street artist and love child of Banksy and Tom Hanks, is reaching his own level of notoriety thanks to his celeb-inspired murals, the subject of Gallery 1988's upcoming exhibit, "How the West Was Pun," which opens May 24.
A couple of years ago, the Brooklyn-via-Midwest, 20-something law school dropout started spray painting Hanks' mug on stenciled images of Banksy in New York, which led to a couple of gallery shows. He's put up similar work in Chicago. (Dude even made it to the White House).
Earlier this year, Hanksy began lurking in our midst, creating street art inspired by Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres, James Franco, Bradley Cooper and Christopher Walken, and accompanied by funny tag lines, in Hollywood along Melrose, Downtown and Culver City. You may have come across "Cage Against the Machine," "The Walken Dead" and our personal favorite, "Weird Gal Yankovic."
Cage Against the Machine
He's back in town, and he's been marking more territories -- perhaps our new favorite Hanksy piece is Turd on a Wire, which features Kim Kardashian's face on a bird sitting on a tree branch. He also just posted a faux documentary about his life, sketchy as it, called It's a Punderful Life, on Pharrell Williams' YouTube channel I Am Other.
In anticipation of his first West Coast show, we recently caught up Hanksy to find out what we're gonna get from his box of chocolates.
How did you get your start doing street art and how did you come up with the name?
I'm obviously a huge Tom Hanks fan. I watched a lot of movies growing up. My babysitter was VHS tapes. I've been tagging for years now, doing a lot of stencil work. But I never got any notoriety until I moved to New York and decided I wanted to get back into street art. I put Hanks and Banksy together and thought it would be funny imagery. I came up with the image, put it on the street and it just took off from there.
How do you decide which celebrities to spoof?
I'm not completely obsessed with pop culture. It's not like I'm watching TMZ every day. I'm not poking fun of them by any means. It's just a light send up. Every piece of doodle or art I've put up is a celebrity that I'd like to watch in a movie or TV show. My brain just goes like a train and comes up with a stupid play on words. It's a constant flow. Sometimes I have to make a concerted effort to block it out. So the art work is definitely inspired by the captions. The caption and the imagery have to match up and be equally as funny.
You were arrested in L.A. in March while working on the Weirld Al Yankovic mural.
The cops rolled up and I was put in handcuffs. And I had film crew with me and they were put in handcuffs, as well. I didn't get to finish it. But I was able to talk the officers into letting the film crew go. They just told me to keep my nose clean for the rest of the night. I came back the next morning and finished putting it up.
How were you able to sneak into the White House Easter Egg Roll last month?
I had a friend who works in the White House and has a nice position. He was able to score me some tickets for the Easter Egg Roll, which apparently is like a lottery and people have been on the waiting list for years. I had couple of bags with me with roughly two dozen eggs painted with Michelle Obama's face. I went through security, they looked at my bags and didn't say anything. I didn't even go through a metal detector. I was very surprised how easily I snuck these in considering how high security was at the event. So I placed 8 to 15 eggs around the lawn, and a couple more painted with Walter White of Breaking Bad. The only downside was it happened on April Fool's. So a lot of press and websites thought it was a prank. It didn't matter how many pictures I took, people thought I Photoshopped everything.
Does Tom Hanks know you're out there? Have you gotten feedback from any other celebrities?
About a year and a half ago after my first show, [his daughter] Elizabeth Hanks contacted me and we did a nice little interview [for New York website The Awl]. She provided the quote from her dad ["I don't know who Hanksy is, but I enjoy his comments via the semi-chaos of artistic expression"]. That was very surreal. A lot of the famous peoples' press machines will re-Tweet or post something on their Facebook fan page. Will Ferrell's press people posted something. Jim Gaffigan has been super supportive. He's tweeted about me multiple times.
Turd on A Wire
Does your art have a message?
You could say that it's a response to street art being accepted by the general public or me subversing the subversive. But that's bullshit. I just want people to have a chuckle and laugh about it. It's not terribly thought provoking or somber or serious like a lot of street art is. It's supposed to brighten someone's day. My general message is don't take yourself too seriously.
After Exit Through the Gift Shop got an Oscar nomination and like Mr. Brainwash designed album art for Madonna, do you think street art has become mainstream?
You do run the risk of that -- how much further can it go before it jumps the shark? But there will always be people putting up work. There will always be fresh paint on walls. There will always be another name popping up on every brick surface. A backlash might happen. But there will always be that new crop of taggers and spray painters that will keep the tradition going. It's like with any movement, there's highs and lows, ebbs and flows.
What do you have planned for your one-man show?
It's the biggest space I've ever shown in. I have 25 to 30 pieces, roughly half of that is pieces I've put on the street, but there's also a lot of sculptures. I had a 15-foot, inflatable rat made with Tom Hanks' face on. I'm gonna incorporate that somehow, whether it's on top of the building or on the sidewalk. I'm big fan of the whole spectacle of openings, and not just the fine art circle jerk that most people are used to. "Let's have wine and speak in soft voices as we contemplate the art on the walls."
Will you be attending the opening reception or are you sending a decoy?
For my first show I had someone come in as a decoy. I had him wear sunglasses and a leather jacket. People would ask him questions and he would respond with quotes from Tom Hanks movies. I'll probably pop in and pop out. But that might change.
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