A good, old-fashioned pissing contest is brewing across the pond, as Banksy (arguably the most famous contemporary graffiti artist) and Robbo (a 1980s London graffito who disappeared off the scene 16 years ago) duke it out in the public arena. The feud started over a patch of wall on Regent’s Canal in the Camden district of London, where Banksy covered up a Robbo tag that had existed in peace for 25 years. Now Robbo — a 40-year-old shoe repairman — has come out of his self-imposed exile to defend his legacy. Related: graffiti is now so mainstream that its catfights get profiled in The Wall Street Journal.
Proof of the slight, in which Banksy covers up the oldest surviving graffiti in London, a piece done by Robbo in 1985.
The now 40-year-old cobbler painted this tag on Regent’s Canal twenty-five years ago. (Photo credit: Citrus Topnote.)
It looked about the same until Banksy painted over Robbo’s mural and Robbo got mad. (Photo credit: David Stuart.)
And then Robbo got even. (Photo: Gabriele Steinhauser/ Wall Street Journal.)
Asserting that “graffiti writers are Team Robbo, street artists are Team Banksy,” Robbo has made it a personal mission to modify all the other Banksy pieces around the canal. Though both fellows are, in fact, anonymous, Robbo makes a good point about the fundamental difference between the two. Graffiti artists bomb wherever their little hearts please, whereas artists like Banksy — accurately described by the Journal as “both renegade and establishment darling” — shoot for an underlying message.
In his own defense, Banksy stated through a spokesperson: “I didn’t paint over a ‘Robbo’ piece. I painted over a piece that said ‘mrphfgdfrhdgf’. I find it surreal when graffiti writers get possessive over certain locations. I thought that having a casual attitude towards property ownership was an essential part of being a vandal.”
Every spat has a subtext, of course. WSJ goes into the pair’s history:
A few years later, Robbo says he encountered Banksy, who was just surfacing, in an East London bar. After a fellow graffiti writer introduced them, Robbo says that Banksy replied, “I’ve never heard of you.” Robbo says he cuffed Banksy in the face, sending his glasses flying. “You may not have heard of me, but you will never forget me,” Robbo says he told Banksy. The two haven’t spoken since.
And there you have it: London is to sandbox as street artists are to schoolchildren.