Friday, February 17, 2012

Hanksy Outtake: Conversation with Krause Gallery Owner, Benjamin Krause

While I was interviewing the person known as Hanksy, (which you can read here) I also interviewed Krause Gallery owner, Benjamin Krause who helped put together Hanksy's first real show. I wanted the majority of the piece at The Awl to be focused on Hanksy, but Mr. Krause's answers are pretty interesting. Please to enjoy these outtakes? 

EA: How did you first hear about Hanksy? When did you think that a proper show was in order?

BK: I saw his work around the city and on the internet -- it's hilarious and fun.  I told my associate director to find him thinking, "Yeah, right..." but he's young and out there, you never know)  By pure chance he was at a bar and saw a guy passing out Hanksy stickers.  He asked him "Where did you get those?" and gave him his card showing he was with my gallery.  The guy hesitantly directed him to someone else where he asked the same question and gave him his card.  The guy (who ended up being Hanksy) said  "Sure I know him, here's his email."  We emailed this Tom Hanksy and set up a meeting.

At first it was going to be a one night show, between my scheduled gallery shows, with a few pieces on the wall and some fun.  Once we posted the show and word of mouth got out, it exploded.  Hanksy stepped up his game and we did a full scale show at the gallery.

EA: Hanksy and I talked a lot of about the genuine humor in the whole project. It might be an obvious gag, but it's a pretty great obvious gag. The show was a big success (Everything sold, yes?) do you think the purity, for lack of a better word, of Hanksy is what makes it so popular? Or do people just really like Tom Hanks' face on a Banksy rat?

BK: Good question.  I think what made it such a success is the genuine honesty in it.  Hanksy really is a huge Tom Hanks fan and a huge Banksy fan, hence our tag line, "Add the overwhelming popularity of Tom Hanks to the cool factor of the most famous street artist of all time, BANKSY, and you get HANKSY."  

I think what also made it such a hit was the wit and clever execution of the whole show. The little touches and ideas Hanksy had not just for the art but for the show, i.e.: Tom Hanks masks, ' chocolate boxes, Tom Hanks movie soundtrack playing, a Hanksy imposter at the show, Dr. Pepper drinks, etc. made it an experience, a fun experience. So naturally people wanted a piece of it and bought the art for themselves and for others. We sold about 90% of the show.

EA: There's a lot of strident opinions about the role of galleries in the street art world. "How is it street art if it's not out in the street?" and so on. Can you talk a little bit about how you see the relationship between between galleries and street artists  --what that relationship is like, how it could be, is should be? 

BK: I personally am not an artist, but I have good ideas.  I try and work with any of my artists to help them further their art career -- we talk, we brainstorm, we work as a team.  I take the same approach for any artist, street or not.  The one thing that is different is the exposure street artists get -- the world is their canvas, so the marketing approach is different and helping them achieve this goal without getting busted helps too. 

As far as street artists in galleries goes, Banksy broke all the rules and then made them.  He created street art as a "fine art" genre.  So therefore you will see more and more street artists in galleries.  I get at least a few [street artists] a week soliciting me to be in the gallery.  I enjoy it though. If they are serious and are truly good artists its all the same to me.

EA: How does it work for you and the gallery in terms of the legality of street art? Does the city have a party line when it comes to you backing a grafitti artist? Do you think the very nature of having a show for a street artist is, in itself, political? Obviously it's not like Hanksy is Ai Wei Wei, but there's no way around it: what he does is illegal, and you're promoting him. 

BK: You are right. But I have a "theory"[...] If the art is good and not gang tags or scribble, a lot of the time it's more accepted, at least by the public.  Bottom line though is: yes, it's illegal, but that is also what adds to the allure.  When people ask me who he is or whatever I just say, "I don't know," or "You'll have to talk to my attorney."  I personally don't believe what he does is vandalism, i think its exactly what it is: art on the street.

EA: And lastly, Tom Hanks has given Hanksy his blessing -- Any word from Banksy? 

BK:  [...]One of Hanksy's friends works with one of Banksy's dealers and we were told Banksy said "Its great, none of my images are copy written so have at it."  So I would take that as a blessing.  
As a funny side note to the Banksy thing:  As we all know Banksy is [anonymous], but there have been images posted on the net and people who say they know him as Robin this or that.  From the pictures I've seen and stories I've heard, there was a English guy, very cool looking in glasses and a hat that came in that looked just like Banksy, he asked a few questions and left.  By the time I put two and two together he was gone. 

If it was Banksy, it was typical Banksy: here, then gone and you're left with ideas.