Banksy's debt to Warhol revealed in London show

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Banksy’s artistic debt to Andy Warhol is vividly illustrated at a London exhibition that displays Banksy’s Kate Moss next to Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe.

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The Briton’s work features a washed-out image of a fashion model, repeated in lurid colors -- pure Warhol. The bouffant hair is Marilyn’s but the mouth, slightly agape, and the far-away look in her eyes belong to Kate.

This is the Banksy twist, inviting questions about how the game of fame has changed since the American pop artist produced his Monroe series in the 1960s.

“Warhol created some iconic works about the culture of his generation and Banksy is in the process of doing exactly the same thing,” said Duncan Cargill, creative director at The Hospital, the London gallery showing “Warhol vs Banksy”.

Banksy, whose work sold for 20 times its estimated value at an auction this year, produces another homage to Warhol in a print series of soup cans from the food retailing giant Tesco, as ubiquitous in Britain as Campbell’s soup cans were in Warhol’s United States.

To be sure, differences between the two can be striking. Most obviously, Warhol cultivated his own celebrity status whereas Banksy has preserved a cloak of anonymity.

People still guess at the identity of the British artist whose reputation was built on his graffiti work in the late 1990s when he spray-painted street walls and curbs.

“Both are achieving exactly the same thing,” Cargill said. “The fact that Banksy is quite determined to remain anonymous as his career grows has become a much more important part of his fame than if he was promoting his own personality.

“Warhol did just that and that became the thing that made him famous.” Warhol died in 1987 aged 58.

Banksy’s reputation as an art figure is now close to rivaling that of the more established Damien Hirst.

Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera are reported to be Banksy collectors but the artist has attracted his share of controversy.

The introduction to the “Warhol vs Banksy” exhibition says the Briton “has been accused of being no more than a purveyor of safe middle class rebellion whose message only attracts the chattering classes”.

“Both artists are dedicated to talking to their audiences in the most straightforward language they can,” Cargill said. “They are not complicated pieces of work, they cut to the chase.”

The “Banksy vs Warhol” exhibition runs from August 10 to September 1 at The Hospital gallery in central London.