Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art is a huge, beautiful, provocative book that upholds the tradition of excellence espoused by the Taschen publishing house. Hundreds of images that call into question all you know about reality fill its pages, yet it only takes flipping to the first page to understand why uncommissioned urban art is so important.
The first image is a full-spread photo of Bansky’s black and white painting of a woman hanging laundry to dry next to a zebra on the side of a dilapidated mud brick building in Mali. I had heard Bansky’s name thrown around in bookstores, but I had no idea his work would be so poignant: beautiful, sweet, calm, reminding us that the constant quest for shiny, new things is not the primary purpose of life; that sometimes frozen moments of simplicity can have as much meaning as the frenzied pace of modernity.
In fact, Bansky is brilliant. His words are the first in the book, and they jumpstart the process of looking at graffiti in a whole new way. He writes, “To some people breaking into property and painting it might seem a little inconsiderate, but in reality the 30 square centimeters of your brain are trespassed upon every day by teams of marketing experts. Graffiti is a perfectly proportionate response to being sold unattainable goals by a society obsessed with status and infamy. Graffiti is the sight of an unregulated free market getting the kind of art is deserves.”
The primary goal of Trespass is to prove definitively that street art is not an act of vandalism defacing otherwise pristine, glimmering buildings, a destructive blotch on our society’s gleaming pillars of optimism. Rather, graffiti is itself the symbol of hope, bringing beauty and creativity, the best of what America can offer, to the run-down areas and vapid billboards that represent the ugly underbelly of American capitalism.
It is evident that the works in Trespass have been meticulously thought out; the image of a graffiti artist as vandal, running around with a spray paint can tagging any surface in sight does not hold true. This is a book about art, and I use that term with no equivocation. I was surprised, when looking through the book with my father, to hear him say that the work these graffiti artists are doing is more significant and has more to say than the books and articles of social critic writers. He may well be right, and I do believe that the intelligence, courage, and often wit shown by the uncommissioned artists in Trespass is a call to all artists and social critics of every vein to step up their work and to not be afraid to seek out the most difficult truths of our society and to speak that truth to power in an assertive voice.