In March 2004, a ten-foot statue was erected in central London. It was called ‘The Drinker’ and based on Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, except with a traffic cone placed on its head. The only giveaway to its creator – a stencil on the plinth that said ‘Banksy’.
And then it disappeared. Not under cover of darkness, nor by council workers claiming health and safety, but by a gang of masked thieves with a flatbed truck. Later, a reporter from a national newspaper received a ransom note from ‘art terrorist AK47’. Who was that man and what was his mission?
Turns out he’s an ex porn star and acid house rave promoter, who uses the name Philip Ignatius Salacious Stein (or just the initials thereof) when he’s busy being an art dealer, and his only aim, he tells HuffPostUK was “to poke two fingers up at the art world, where everyone’s busy blowing smoke up each other’s arses, and terrorise people with humour“.
From the viewpoint of AK47, he was committing no theft because Banksy had not claimed ownership of the statue.
“I didn’t steal it, I took it. Banksy just left it out on the street,” he explains. “If Tracey Emin had put her mattress out on the street, it would have been called fly tipping. I removed that statue from the street and did Camden Council a favour.”
But AK47 was furious when the statue went missing in turn from his own back garden, and made an official police report of theft. Except… they might have got the statue, AK47 got to keep the cone.
A longtime maverick mischief-maker of the art world, AK47 says of himself “I’ve been an outsider, thinking outside the box and getting other people to look at things in a different way.”
Now his story will be brought to screen in ‘The Banksy Job’, if his filmmakers can raise enough funds through their Indiegogo campaign.
Debut directors Dylan Harvey and Ian Gray will be taking the helm. They say of their project, “This is one of those stories you can’t quite believe is true which is what makes it so interesting. The theft and destruction of the statue, the artists, gangsters, and AK47’s private anarchist army, and then there are the struggling artists, still waiting to get paid for building the statue.
“We see this as the opportunity to push the boundaries of documentary filmmaking, by looking at street art from this unique perspective, and this very
specific new phenomenon of going up against the Banksy Machine.”
AK47 explains he doesn’t know Banksy personally, although he remembers meeting someone claiming to be the world-famous street artist – “but he could have been lying”.
However, he is cross. “Banksy disrespected me, called me a tight-arsed Yorkshireman. I bought a couple of prints from his early shows, and then I asked him to sign them later, he said I should have spent more money on a signed one.”
Thus is conflict in the art world created. Producers Christine Alderson and Alex Hurle add, “The great thing about this project is that we don’t know where it’s going to go next. With AK47’s plans to rebuild the statue and sell it as a Banksy original, our third act is yet to be written, and that is an exciting prospect.”
As for AK47, he’s sticking to his story. “I want the world to know there is a lot to Banksy that people don’t realise. He’s got a machine behind him. It’s to do with provenance as well, I know he won’t give me provenance for that cone.”
The traffic cone remains at the centre of this strange tale. As AK47 explains it, “This story’s all about provenance. If you put a traffic cone on a statue, does it become another person’s work of art? All Banksy did was put spray paint on the traffic cone. That’s the concept, but is it art, or is it a drunken act? The traffic cone is the art, not the Drinker and I still have the cone. So that’s the art.”
As with so many of the works now crossing hands for millions of pounds, it’s all down to interpretation.
Click here for information on the Indiegogo fundraising campaign for 'The Banksy Job'. Watch the trailer below...