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CT: Is art always elitist?


PK: I don’t believe it is but it is in the interest of the art market to make it elitist. Marshal McLuhan recounted in his book The Medium Is The Message how the Balinese say, “we don’t have art but we do everything as best we can”. I think art education propagates the idea that if you have strong beliefs then you should layer it and ironize it so that it can be theorized and kept within the art world.


CT: I suppose the activist images that you have made for political campaigns like CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) are the perfect example of doing work that is outside the market systems of art. But what happens when you put your work in a gallery?


PK: I’ve always believed that it’s really important to show work in as many contexts as possible, whether it’s on T-shirts or badges or in the Tate. I’m really interested in showing in public galleries. It’s the only non-commercial space where people have time to take tings in, where they’re not bombarded by advertising. And if you make political work, there are issues of censorship and of how much political work can be shown and the gallery is a place where this can be engaged with.


CT: Well certainly your mass- media campaign work initially exists outside the art economy but once you put it in the context of fine art, doesn’t it become part of the system of value creation that produces high value out of rare things?


PK: I’ve always been interested in the materiality of art. Its physicality is part of the work so inevitably it then becomes involved in the art market but, if it’s strong enough politically, I think the message still comes through. With my work, I feel that a more democratic and available form is the best way of putting my images into the world, like with the new book that has 200 pages and is available for the price of two pints (or three, depending where you’re drinking).


CT: Well, you’ve been hailed as the godfather of street art, which I suppose is the ultimate democratic art form in that it no longer needs to be restricted even to the street but can also be seen on coffee tables up and down the country. You’ve created a monster! How do you feel about the extraordinary rise of street art?


PK: Well, street art is a global movement and there’s very powerful work being done in Africa, Asia and South America. It has become commodified as all art in capitalist society does but it’s still a vibrant form in which people can communicate in public space. That to me is vital when our public spaces become more and more corporate and where we’re bombarded with adverts to buy shit that we don’t need. Also, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a street artist selling work in a gallery to make a living, which is something that artists in the world of fine art do anyway. I think it’s OK as long as they keep working in the street and don’t become bound by the gallery.


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