THE power of great art lies in its ability to help us see the world through different eyes.
So I somehow think Banksy might approve of this London graffiti being repurposed to permit a reflection on the start of Advent by art expert and seminarian Patrick van der Vorst.
The artwork in Leake Street Tunnel underneath Waterloo railway station, a designated graffiti area which celebrates urban art, was only visible for four months between May and August 2008 and depicts a council worker jet-cleaning a prehistoric cave painting.
As van der Vorst reflects: “In typical ironic fashion, Banksy is thus making a point that art is often destroyed by those who don’t understand it.”
The painting was soon covered with other graffiti works, given the ever-changing nature of art in the tunnel.
Says van der Vorst: “We as a viewer can see immediately that the cleaner shouldn’t be jet blasting the ancient cave paintings. We feel like shouting ‘stop’. It is almost as if the council worker is committing an act of vandalism by removing the cave painting. But then the graffiti work itself by Banksy can be seen as vandalism too. So we are torn as a viewer and share in the artist’s irony.”
The seminarian, whose website links daily Gospel readings with an array of thought-provoking works of art, accompanied by a short personal commentary, adds his own message to the graffiti too.
“Advent is a quiet, reflective, prayerful season,” he says. “Jesus recognises that we can become so absorbed by our daily activities that we lose sight of the daily need for prayer. During our daily chores of cleaning, working, talking, walking…we are asked to be alert to Our Good Lord’s presence everywhere.”
For van der Vorst, Advent is a time for looking back, in order to look forward. “Over the next weeks, the nights are getting longer, darkness sets in, but in our cities and streets, Christmas lights will be switched on. Candles will be lit,” he explains.
“Advent tells us that the world lay in darkness before the Light of the World was born. The Advent wreath will be lit, one candle a week. Light will gradually enter our churches and homes…”
A religious message, hidden in graffiti under a London railway station? Banksy is better known for political and social commentary than religious reflections, but maybe the irony would appeal.