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The Vandalism Vandal

My next stop was Williamsburg, the site of one of the Splasher’s first and most notorious desecrations. The street artist Banksy—the famously anonymous British “art terrorist” who’s been bombing the world’s major cities with anti- Establishment stunts for almost twenty years—had graced the Williamsburg waterfront last summer with a big, colorful mural: a little girl jumping rope with a line of green paint, which ran out of her hand, down the sidewalk, and up to an electrical box, which a little painted boy was about to switch on. Banksy’s auction prices have been so high lately that, from a real-estate agent’s perspective, the painting might have been worth $1 million. In Bristol, the working-class city in which he grew up vandalizing train cars, one lucky couple whose house he had hit decided to sell the property through an art dealer rather than a broker—it went on the market as a $400,000 painting with a house incidentally attached. Banksy’s Williamsburg mural might have shifted the waterfront’s already racing gentrification into overdrive.

But in December, the Splasher hit it with yellow paint.

This splash earned the Splasher his most determined adversaries: the world-famous art collective Faile, which has a studio in the neighborhood. Faile has two members, both of whom are named Patrick. (They also have an assistant named Patrick, whom they call Rockwell.) They’ve been friends since high school and tend to talk over one another like a married couple. When I visited them at their studio, five months after the splash, they were still pissed.

“That piece was a gift,” one of them said. “People loved it. We’d sit out there, and people would stop and take photos of that shit all day long. They loved it. There’s 8 trillion other fucking things you could throw paint at in the city. How many people walk down the street and take pictures of AT&T ads?”

When the Banksy was splashed, the Patricks told me, they immediately covered the entire wall with gray paint—the splash, the Banksy, and the manifesto—and put their own stencil over it. (Few people had really seen a splash before; they weren’t sure what it meant and more than anything just wanted to get rid of it.) The Splasher came back and hit that too. They stenciled over it. He hit them again. They wheatpasted a poster over it. He hit that too. They responded with some themed art, just for the Splasher: a pair of boxers in mid-blow, surrounded by a cluster of red ribbons reading WITH LOVE AND KISSES: NOTHING LASTS FOREVER and a portrait of the Hindu god Ganesh. (“Ganesh is the bearer of all good things,” one of them told me. “The one that breaks down all obstacles.”)

On one level, they told me, they appreciated the Splasher. They liked that he was challenging the preciousness of street art, that he was ruining explicitly commercial work (he’d recently hit a Shepard Fairey ad for Dewar’s in the neighborhood), and that he’d given them a supervillain to battle.

“It’s kind of lit the fire again,” they said.

And they seemed to be onboard, to some extent, with his anti-commercial message. They told me, for instance, that they stopped doing corporate design work the moment they could make a living strictly from art.

“I don’t want to see our stuff on T-shirts, I don’t want to see it on skateboards, I don’t want to see it selling any products,” said one Patrick.

“We’ve gotten used enough by companies,” said the other Patrick.

“Faile is just art, that’s it. That’s all we sell is art.”

But they weren’t totally onboard.

“The manifesto ruined it,” said Patrick. “I think if he just went out and splashed, and was ‘the Splasher’—that shit would’ve been great.”

“The manifesto seems like something you’d write in high school,” the other added.

“Our first impression of it was like, ‘This is such bullshit.’ These artists didn’t start with success, they spent years building it. Are people supposed to stay poor and be like homeless bums that do street art and be like this idealistic punk kind of outside the thing? Sooner or later, people grow up and you’ve got rent and bills to pay and you graduate college or whatever and you got things you need to take care of.”

“For us, it’s kind of silly to be so idealistic,” said the Patrick who is not the other Patrick.

“I kind of compare it to the Taliban in the beginning,” said the one who is the other Patrick. “When they went and blew up the Buddhas, you know what I mean? It was just kind of like some idealistic, Fascist, crazy shit.”