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Colossal Media and The Commercial Artist: Are Big Advertising Firms Helping or Hurting Street Art?

The difference between art and advertising is often a lot blurrier than people think. Especially as the world gets more transparent, we have better glimpses into the background lives of artists, the influence of producers on movies, songwriting collectives on music, and much more. We sometimes favour the people who haven’t “sold out,” the ones who can now live off their own artistic pursuits without relying on a day job, but this is no longer the type of world we live in. The fact is many artists come out of school eager for work but find very few opportunities, clutching to the romantic ideal of the starving artist is not only silly, it gives you stomach pains.

When we turn this romantic gaze to street art, worrying about the relationship between public art and private business, things get very complicated. Graffiti has an underground feel to it, like the rebellious cousin of art gallery paintings, and graffiti is in turn persecuted for its existence. Governments wash graf off buildings, set increased limits on where and when artists can write, and sponsor professional street artists for beautification pieces around town. This all contributes to an underdog feel of street artists, a persecuted underground community just waiting for their chance in the spotlight. What people forget is modern street art started as advertisements, not tagging, and that street art is literally everywhere, and that is something to celebrate.

You’ve seen evidence of the old street art all around town, on old brick buildings pointing to the local pharmacy and old glass windows with Coca-Cola ads. Street art was a prominent way to advertise. Before massive printed billboards, hand-painted ads on buildings were the easiest way to use some wall space to drum up business. And while many artists are wary of the commercialization of street art, eager to “legitimize” their trade with tags, gallery showings, and by bringing their graf sensibilities to other art forms, the relationship between ads and graffiti has always been around.

So it’s hardly a surprise that companies like Colossal Media exist, advertising companies that specialize in hand-painted ads, and they’re a great place for young artists to get practical experience while getting paid, something difficult for anyone with an Arts degree, especially a Fine Arts degree. As North America’s largest hand-painted advertising company, Colossal is at once a sign of the times and a harkening back to graffiti’s beginnings, skipping the romantic idealism in between to help painters get some practical experience and explore their art in a new way. Sure, they’re told what to paint, but the in-between space between expectation and result is a fun playground for any artist willing to learn and explore.

In a way, Colossal Media is a paragon of the debate on whether constraints encourage art or discourage it. On the one side, we have genre artists, people who find inspiration in re-packaging familiar tropes rather than starting fresh. On the other side, there’s the ideal artist: someone with a unique vision who is recognized for their obvious talent and free to create when and how they want. They push the world forward, exposing new ways of looking at our surroundings for a change. And while it’s easy to put artistic people on opposite ends of a spectrum, rarely are they mutually exclusive.

stephane jaspert painting on rocks

Stephane Jaspert

About 5 years ago, I briefly stayed in Montreal for a program to learn French. The entire course was filled with people from across Canada. By and large, it was unsuccessful as we were much more interested in Montreal and the various intoxicating substances we could ingest in the city, but I do remember one instance where we went to Old Montreal. My group were excited, I wasn’t as much, and they tried to convince me one of the great things I could see was cobblestone streets. As someone who lived in Scotland for a year, I can tell you this: cobblestone streets are annoying. They’re uneven, almost always poorly maintained, and they’re just a pain to walk on. Old Montreal was filled with cobblestone streets, but thankfully there was a lot more interesting things to do than wait to roll my ankle.

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But I think if Stephane Jaspert had been in Montreal before I arrived, I would’ve been psyched to see cobblestone streets for the first and only time in my life. You see, Jaspert makes these uneven ancient streets interesting by doing something most cities refuse to do: replacing the stones.

Stephane Jaspert takes old pieces of cobblestone and repaints them with pictures of anything from iPad screens to blocks of Swiss cheese. These replacement stones turn old, dilapidated streets into something interesting again, less an obstacle and more a hunt for something new to experience. And while history buffs and my friends heading to Old Montreal may see this as some kind of desecration, I see it as making the most of a bad situation. Jaspert’s cobblestones encourage you to walk the streets, to take in the town as you hunt for small, almost throwaway art hidden in the cobblestone streets.

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The project started in 1999 when Jaspert, already with a decade of professional artistry behind him, decided to start painting cobblestones. He made contacts at the local public works department and soon after set about painting the stones and replacing old ones. In general, he starts working on the pieces without a clear idea of what he’ll do, taking in the shape and size of each stone to see what he can make. He then uses gouache or tempera that is sealed with an oil varnish spray, giving the pieces an extended life. After all, they’ll probably have cars and people walking all over them. Depending on the piece, Jaspert will use just one side, as is the case in his iPad screen or recreation of Picasso’s “Guernica,” or more sides, like his piece that resembles a very thick encyclopedia.

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To date, photos of nearly 200 of Jaspert’s cobblestones exist, which may or may not represent his output in the 15 years he’s dedicated to the project. According to him, he’s found his life’s work and plans on painting cobblestones “until my death.” The potential does seem nearly limitless, and it certainly makes for an interesting and mobile experience for the audience. Hopefully, he’ll keep leaving little treasures for people for years to come.

walldogs website homepage

The Walldogs: Bringing Towns to Life with Mural Art

Imagine you live in a small town with limited resources but lots of character. You have old buildings that need a bit of sprucing up or entire streets that are wearing their age on their sleeves. The town looks like it’s on the cusp of being beautiful and it just needs an extra push to get that look it once had. With some extra life added to the town, you could attract new visitors, maybe even some new residents, and get some fresh blood into your home so more people can share in what makes your town so special.

Walldogs is a business and art collective that’s dedicated to that exact problem. Coming from all over the world, the Walldogs descend on a town for a short time and blitz a whole bunch of new murals for a town. They take old buildings and give them new life and, in turn, can help towns revitalize and start on a new path with a new look. Think of it as a new haircut but for an entire town, and it’s been a very popular service all over North America.

Here’s how it works: A town that wants to liven up their look contacts Walldogs. Walldogs sets them up with a project coordinator and event host who work with the city to decide on the murals, where the murals will be, and how many the town wants. The Walldogs then supply all the paints while the town itself supplies the other necessary materials. Then, over the course of a few days, the Walldogs come into the town, enlist local volunteers to help, and paint all the murals. Some towns turn the event into a festival of sorts, bringing in music and entertainment to help drum up support and excitement for the event. Then when it’s all said and done, the Walldogs leave and the town has a new set of murals for everyone to enjoy.

The Walldogs is a for-profit service but one that helps bring towns together and, compared to other revitalization methods, is incredibly inexpensive. Unlike some plans, which involve long construction, delays, and often times imported labour that divides a town rather than unites it, the Walldogs is about the community itself. The murals are designed with the town’s history at heart and people are encouraged to join in on the fun. The Walldogs themselves seem to welcome anyone that’s willing to “show up to an event with a brush in hand and jump in.” By uniting the population through art, and by using experienced painters as project leads, Walldogs can bring an entire town together and give it a new lease on life.

The Walldogs themselves are an art collective that are all passionate about murals and street art. Most of them own their own sign shops and do Walldogs as a special side project. The movement is now over 20 years old, with dozens of towns reaping the benefits. So if you live in a small town that may need some sprucing up, consider street art and consider the Walldogs.

hass hahn favela painting

Favela Painting

Despite being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Brazil still struggles with poverty. Many of the biggest cities in the country are surrounded and embedded with favelas, another word for slums, that are home to millions of people. These favelas suffer from problems all too familiar for poor neighbourhoods: violence, lack of access to services, forced migration, and more, but they are also home to blossoming cultural movements, distinct artistic qualities, and hope. People now travel to Brazil to explore everything the country has to offer, including the favelas, and Dutch artists were just two of these people. The difference is these artists stuck around to help the community through involvement.

Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, collectively known as Haas&Hahn, visited Brazil in 2005 to shoot a movie about favela hip-hop culture. Haas&Hahn were fascinated by the culture, art, and especially the people themselves, so they decided to give back to the communities that hosted their filming in a unique way: mural art. A great project for a section of Brazilian culture people seem intent on covering up.

The favelas have come under increased skepticism and persecution over the past decade, especially as Brazil geared up to host the FIFA World Cup this year. Programs to cover up, quite literally, the slums for a good face on the international stage have been in place since 2009. Originally designed to curb the growth, especially since favelas have been growing at a rate larger than the cities to which they are attached, many detractors of the walls also noted they did a pretty good job of blocking them from view. Many pointed to the upcoming soccer tournament, but others speculate that favelas also lower housing prices. In a country with severe economic disparity, the solution for some of the elite is to simply not address the problem. Unfortunately, the problem accounts for over 6% of Brazil’s population, is growing steadily, and getting international attention. For a part of Brazilian culture that is literally being covered up, mural art gives some colour and attention to these famously eclectic districts and the people that live there.

Before travelling to Brazil, Haas&Hahn had a history of big projects, painting entire buildings with murals that fit with the local culture and brought some flavour to neighbourhoods. But this was mostly in their native Netherlands and Europe. Brazil was a little bit different.

As much as favelas have a blossoming culture, they also have very real problems. Drug lords can run entire favelas, where they use the youth as armed muscle they affectionately call “soldados.” Getting into a favela can be dangerous and difficult. Doing something other than looking can cost you your life without the right permissions. So Haas&Hahn had to win over the people and the resident drug lords in their fight, which may be in part why only 3 such projects happened.

But permission was and is the name of the game with Haas&Hahn. Each project required permission from the residents of the favela and the people whose homes they would be painting. Designs were kept loose so residents could have an input in the colours and anyone who didn’t want to participate had their wishes respected.

Since 2007, Haas&Hahn have done a total of three favela painting projects in Rio de Janeiro, each with their own flavour and direction.

boy kite mural in favela

The first, “Boy with Kite,” is a smaller and more conventional mural. The mural is essentially its namesake, but the kite itself is nonexistent. Instead, a boy with a string looks out past the blue sky of the mural and towards the rest of the city, drawing the eye way from the mural and towards the favela itself. Rather than cover it up or try and distract from the slum, “Boy with Kite” encourages the viewer to see the surroundings.

mural on hill of a favela Vila Cruzeiro

The second project is substantially more ambitious, tackling a series of stairs that lead up the hill of a favela Vila Cruzeiro, one of Brazil’s most dangerous and most populated slums, with an estimated population of between 40 000 and 70 000 inhabitants. Rio is a particularly hilly area of the world and the Vila Cruzeiro has a network of steps that lead all over its maze of streets, alleys, and walkways. For their second project, Haas&Hahn recruited local youth to turn one of these sets of stairs, and accompanying drainage pipes, into a cascading river of koi fish. Called “Rio Cruzeiro,” the project is substantially larger than “Boy with Kite” and incorporates the often fluid feel of a favela, which is often built without proper zoning or building codes, giving them a haphazard feel.

praca cantao mural project

The most Haas&Hahn favela painting project Haas&Hahn was “Praca Cantao,” a full-scale mural project that painted the houses of an entire square. Painted with vibrant colours often associated with the favelas, the Praca Cantao square boats a vibrancy seen in the city’s energy and citizens, but not often in their actual homes.

But the key part of the favela paintings is possible not even the art itself, but the community involvement. The artists worked with local youth to give them hands-on painting skills and experience, something many have put on their resume to find employment away from their drug-controlled neighbourhoods. Rather than simply do something they perceive as nice for a group of people, Haas&Hahn got involved, worked together with the people, and left them with something to look at but also some skills to move forward.

Since Brazil, Haas&Hahn moved to slums a little closer to home, Philadelphia, where the poverty level is 167% above the national average. There, the murals have gotten even bigger stretching over 50 storefronts on two blocks. Organized with MuralArts, a program we’ve talked about before, Haas&Hahn’s murals continue to give a city once famous for smokestacks and steel production a new look. Other projects have also popped up in New York, Miami, and the Shenzhen Biennale in China. As for what’s next, Haas&Hahn raised over $100,000 to realize their dream project, painting an entire favela, on Kickstarter last year. They are currently scouting locations, deciding to start after the World Cup ended.

zevs standing

High Art, Angry Vandalism, and Murals: The Life and Times of Zevs

By the time French street artist was featured in Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010, he had already done his first solo art show in Hong Kong, defined the French street art scene, and almost been run over by a train. That last incident was how he got his name. After all, it was the Zeus train that nearly hit him while he was painting inside a train tunnel and decided that such a close brush with death should be remembered, and no moment should be wasted. And no one would accuse Zevs of squandering his life. He’s probably one of France’s most important art figures, one that never shies away from the deeply political.

Many of the artists we’ve featured here at MuralForm have gone from tagging trains or walls to art galleries and Zevs is no exception. Bridging the gap between the “high” art world and the “low,” street-level art, some would argue, has been accomplished. Banksy sells pieces in galleries for small fortunes. Shepard Fairey has turned his most iconic pieces into gallery art, and subsequently turned them into recognizable and profitable pieces seen everywhere for backpacks to campaign posters. Some even crossed over to advertising for some of the biggest companies in the world. But Zevs, he’s happier discrediting the corporate world while still pushing the boundaries of street art.

Zevs started out in Paris in the 1990s tagging anywhere he could, but two ongoing projects in particular caught the attention of the public. One, called Shadows, painted fixed shadows of various objects on the ground. Everything from park benches to wastebaskets were given permanent(ish) imprints on the ground or nearby walls. The work showed that street art wasn’t limited to walls, but could traverse other surfaces as well, a point Banksy would pick up in a few short years. His other major project, Visual Attacks, targets billboards in France, to this day spraking a debate on whether he’s a vandal or artist. Zevs would write alternate slogans on the advertisements and paint bloodied eyes on the models, disrupting the marketing with disturbing images and words. Visual attacks attacks commercialism exactly where it’s most prominently seen: advertising billboards.

zevs liquidating cc logo

Zevs continued to target commercialism and major corporations in the mid-2000s with Liquidated Logos. The project takes corporate logos and drips paint from them, giving the illusion that these logos are dissolving. The project speaks to the ever-presence of logos but their non-tangible existence, undermining their constant appearance in the street, on the screen, and at home.

Zevs art continually challenges the distinction between vandalism, street, and high art, incorporating postmodern styles and aesthetics into his artwork to push these boundaries even further. While most would condemn much of his street-level artwork for its intrusion, the very openness of Zevs’ art speaks to the constant intrusion of marketing as being unnecessarily encouraged and sanctioned by the government. His politics and prominence in Europe has let him move to art galleries, but Zevs seems continually uncomfortable with the art we’re forced to consume everyday.

coby kennedy post-apocalyptic weaponry

Coby Kennedy’s Post-Apocalyptic Weaponry

If the latest zombie craze has taught me anything, it’s that you have to be ready. I myself have a pretty great zombie attack plan, one that uses the local geography to keep me and my friends alive mostly by hiding. But Coby Kennedy isn’t content with hiding, he wants to take the fight to the streets, using part of the street.

The Brooklyn-based artist has taken to fashioning street signs into weapons for any post-apocalyptic world. Part Mad-Max, part found object art, and part political commentary, Kennedy’s work is dangerous in more ways than one. Like the greatest of apocalyptic art, Kennedy’s pieces speak to the present more than they do to any specific future. “It’s based on a narrative which reflects contemporary situations,” Kennedy said recently in an interview with Complex, “A lot of the street signs are from places in Brooklyn that have history and weight, places that are losing that particular culture.” The threat, a common concern all over the Five Boroughs, is homogenization and gentrification, the swapping of low-income housing for trend and coffee shops. While his art looks part of a desperate future, Kennedy insists it’s part of a desperate present. After all, how many times have we seen Brooklyn and New York destroyed in TV, movies, and books? And in how many ways? Preparing for the future is perhaps impossible. Kennedy’s project shows the present is perhaps more frightening than anything Hollywood can concoct.

Unlike those swords you find in stores, be they katanas or replicas of movie props, Kennedy’s street sign weapons are legitimately dangerous. The machetes will actually saw through another human. The shields will hurt if you get smacked in the head. These pieces, however, are part of a larger narrative Kennedy is creating though various media, not relying on a single method or means to tell his story to anyone willing to look, hear, or participate. All of them are instead part of a weird narrative that spreads into many different places. Many artists have a similar theme, look, or feel, but Kennedy is building the same story with each of his projects, be it his hyper-realistic post-apocalyptic paintings, gun vending machines, and now his dangerous weapons made from scrap are all part of that same vision, that same universe of Apocalypse.

Many of Kennedy’s fellow New York artists have taken their trades from the street to the gallery. In fact, many of New York’s successful artists rely on the fine art world now to make their living, but Kennedy’s post-apocalypse narrative project is the first I’ve seen to actually look at and interrogate that movement from street to gallery. After all, his story is told in disconnected parts: a machete in someone’s living room here, a gun vending machine there, a painting hanging in a gallery elsewhere. They are all part of the story and it requires the “readers” to traverse different spaces and times.

But while Kennedy’s art does look at the present through a vision of the future. He’s quick to remind us that the Apocalypse is fluid and may mean different things for different people: “When is the Apocalypse? Ask a Native American, he’ll say, ‘It already happened. All my friends are dead,’” He said in a recent interview with Animal New York, “Ask a black man 150 years ago, he’ll say, ‘That was Tuesday. The end of the world is my life right now.’ And what about the Bubonic Plague?”

picture of the artist saber while spray painting street art

Artist Bio: Saber

Graffiti is part of a city, it’s culture and visual aesthetic, no matter how its citizens feel about it. Public art like murals and graffiti document the times, celebrate communities, and demarcate neighbourhoods. For artists like Saber, it’s something to be treasured and respected, an art style that is important because it moves in and out of public space. Saber in particular knows the importance of preserving mural art, having creating some of L.A.’s most famous and widely seen murals, but he also knows that it can’t simply stay on the street. It needs to be in galleries, in homes, in places where people want to go and look at art. Saber also knows that graffiti can challenge convention, and that’s exactly where his art likes to be.

Saber first rose to prominence in 1997, when his massive mural on the banks of the L.A. river began getting international attention. The mural measured 55’ high and over 250’ in length and reportedly took over 95 gallons of paint and 35 days to complete. Highly visible from the East L.A. Interchange, Saber’s piece was seen by millions and stayed up for an astounding 12 years before it was buffed by the US military. In his signature eloquence, Saber said it was quite the “way to go out” before noting that the government could probably be spending their money better. “The Army uses millions of federal funds to help fuel the LA war on graffiti, painting out layers of raw history in the armpit of the city,” Saber said in an interview, “While schools have no books and hospitals are closing.” This commentary on America and its priorities has been a focal point of Saber’s work his entire career.

Take, for instance, the time he was accused of desecrating the American flag. By this time, Saber was travelling the world to show off his fine art, popping up in galleries in from his hometown in L.A. to Europe. He had become a renowned fine artist, someone who bridged the gap between street art and fine art while still making amazing contributions in both worlds. But in 2010, Saber once again came into the media spotlight for his work using the American flag, a mixed media piece he was experimenting with that discussed his lifelong struggle with epilepsy. Being accused of flag desecration seemed to be another instance of backwards priorities, this time by America’s citizens instead of it’s government. In response to the controversy, Saber said his intention was to “show it [the flag] as a living, breathing, changing organism, that represents me as an American trying to manage this lifelong disease without health care.”

Throughout his career, Saber has been first to defend the arts in all their forms, going as far as to hire planes to skywrite “Mitt Romney hates arts” in L.A. Since murals were outlawed in his hometown, Saber found another way to fight against America’s war on art. At the Huffington Post, he argued the state of art in America is under threat. “You have candidates like Mr. Mitt Romney saying that he would completely eliminate funding for The National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, and NPR if elected, claiming they’re a ‘budgetary nuisance,’ he said, “These things cost .003% of the budget, and Romney says it’s a fucking budgetary nuisance! And so art is nuisance now in America.”

Always on the fringe and never one to stand idly by, Saber is a voice for street artists and the arts in general, unafraid to get political and fight for what he believes in.

mural by os gemeos

Os Gêmeos Bio

Brazil today is internationally renowned for its grafitti and street art scene, intensified recently by the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The whole country embraces their street art scene more than many other countries, with some municipalities passing laws to encourage street art. The city of São Paulo, for example, has banned public advertising like billboards, freeing up more space for street artists to create and display their talents.

Perhaps one of the reasons São Paulo has laws to encourage street art is because they are the birthplace of one, or rightly two, of Brazil’s most important and influential street artists. Born Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, these identical twins are better known as Os Gêmeos, the Portuguese word for twins. But even those who don’t know their name would know their work in Brazil, it has come to dominate and guide the country’s street art aesthetics.

The twins were born in 1974 and grew up just as hip-hop began its swift movement through Central and South America. The familiar beats and youthful energy captured the attention of Brazil’s youth, including Otavio and Gustavo. They started out as breakdancers, but soon graffiti became their favourite activity.

At the time, the New York street art scene was the most prevalent and famous in the world and the twins began tagging and reproducing the style that could be seen all over NYC. They weren’t interested in their own style at the time and, much like the early adoption of any artistic practice, reproduction was vastly more interesting than creating something entirely new. Os Gêmeos, as we all know now, quickly became disinterested in mere reproduction, and a definitive style that incorporated Brazilian aesthetic, folklore, and culture began showing up in their work.

A chance encounter with Barry McGee, then known as Twist, gave the twins their first direct contact with an American graffiti artist. McGee was in Brazil for several months for school and provided local artists with examples of the New York scene as it was happening. McGee also put Os Gêmeos in contact with other artists and street art professionals, giving them a way to advertise themselves outside Brazil.

Os Gêmeos began experimenting with their style and giving their work a distinctive Brazilian flavour, including differing colour palettes, subjects, and approaches from their New York influences. A trademark for their work now, the yellow skin of many of their characters actually comes from dreams they have both had that feature people with yellow skin. They started making overt political statements as well, focused on local issues of poverty and infrastructure in their homeland.

Nowadays, Os Gêmeos’ work can be seen all over the world, from Europe to North America to all over their native land. Special commissions include art festivals around the world and, surprisingly, local transit systems in Brazil, who are famously against street art on their trains. Murals and graffiti have become part of Brazil’s cultural makeup, individual expressions that together help a local and national identity, and two artists working under one name are a large part of this continuing mode of expression and internationally renowned scene. Their name is Os Gêmeos.

Richard ‘Seen’ Mirando in Paris

Seen Bio

For Seen, the worst thing that happened to graffiti was going mainstream in the 80s. That’s when it lost it’s edge.

Right around that time, Seen had already made a name for himself in New York and around the world. The Bronx native had taken to ‘bombing’ entire train cars. At one point, people said there was more art by Seen in NYC than billboards.

But by then, when ‘graf,’ as he calls it, had started its decline, Seen had caught the attention of 20th Century Fox. Seen did a mural on one of their building, got paid “decently,” and caught the attention of another major company. “I asked them if they wanted raw graffiti or commercial graffiti,” Seen said in an interview with IGN, “And they tell me the want the real thing. I knew they wanted commercial graffiti but I give them the raw graffiti.” This distinction between “raw” and “commercial” graf is important for Seen, and one of the reasons he ended up leaving street art mostly behind.

Seen started in the mid 70s with a group collectively called United Artists (UA). Together, they started tagging trains, becoming increasingly ambitious in their graffiti pieces. Soon, entire trains were being bombed, from top to bottom, and UA became known throughout the city, especially anyone taking the 2, 5, or 6 lines. Seen and his crew were regularly bombing trains well into the 80s, but by then Seen had noticed changes in the industry.

When Seen started in the late 70s, graffiti was illegal. Bombing wasn’t allowed in any capacity and artists had think about how they were going to get their art up and not get caught. As graffiti became more mainstream, however, it simultaneously got harder and easier. Permissive spaces started popping up, places where you could paint without fear of fines or jail. But permissive spaces also meant tightening restrictions on other spaces. Graf, an artistic style created by people who couldn’t get into the fine art galleries—and so made their own—was both accepted and rejected, easier and more difficult.

So Seen headed out of graf, into tattoos and, ironically enough, art galleries. Starting in the early 80s, he held gallery openings of his art with the likes of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and fellow graffiti artists DONDI, and Lee Quiñones. He also opened Tattoo SEEN, which quickly became one of the most successful studios in the world. His most recent work uses the iconic images of superheroes that remind some of Lichtenstein, but with a decisive graffiti element. His other work incorporates complex and repetitive patterns for larger pieces.

For graf artists these days, thinking about an audience is arguably more integral than Seen’s trains in the late 70s. After all, commercial graf is an important part of our world, comes in many forms, and can be used to advertise and sell products while adding to an artistic space. The distinction between raw and commercial these days, like in so many other industries, is too blurry to be so decisive.

banksy eavesdropping mural

Banksy Admits to Eavesdropping Mural

He’s struck again. After a few months in New York, selling his wares anonymously (and for almost no money) in Central Park and painting anywhere he wanted, Banksy has left the Big Apple and headed home.

Known for his political graffiti, Banksy’s latest mural targets the British government’s increasingly invasive strategies for information. “Eavesdropping,” as the mural has been called, confronts this directly, with jacketed figures all standing around a phone booth with various devices for listening in. I guess some people will think twice before using that pay-phone for any illicit calls.

Banksy admitted to the painting in a Q&A on his website. The artist is notoriously guarded about his identity, despite a large number of people knowing who he is and refusing to tell, and will communicate with people only through email. This time, someone asked him directly: “Did you paint the spies in Cheltenham?” Banksy’s replay was a simple “Yes.”

In the same Q&A, Banksy mentioned the advantages of street art in general, that having to make all your mistakes in public is the best and worst part of his job. The last question was in a response to the controversial Banksy: The Unauthorized Retrospective, a curated art exhibit and auction by Banksy’s former agent, photographer, and assistant Steven Lazarides. The art was sold without Banksy’s consent and Lazarides mentioned to The Guardian that “I emailed his people, they know. Not pleased.”

“As a kid I always dreamed of growing up to be a character in Robin Hood,” Banksy said about the gallery and auction, “I never realised I’d end up playing one of the gold coins.”

“Eavesdropping” was discovered by Karen Smith, the owner of the house that Banksy painted, who awoke early in the morning to men packing up a white tarpaulin. “I thought it might be something to do with the police, like when a crime happens,” Smith told the Gloucestershire Echo, “I heard people talking all night and couldn’t sleep, but I didn’t look out, as you get used to people out there all the time.”

Smith’s personal opinion of the piece is that it “livens up the street a bit,” which is modest praise for art by one of the most famous artists in the world.

Since the revelation, the piece has been sold to private collector Sky Grimes for an undisclosed amount and his scaffolding company has been set to carefully remove “Eavesdropping” and make any necessary repairs to the home. Before it goes into Grimes’ private collection, it will be shown in a London gallery for a month while a special frame is made. All in all, the accidental owner of a Banksy piece just found themselves a great payday.

The street artist still is a bit like Robin Hood.