It’s not often that the worlds of art and investigative journalism collide, but then again, artists such as Banksy, and his local would-be doppelganger Questionmarc, don’t exactly do things by the book art-wise, demonstrating their renegade spirits and desires to provoke and prod through now iconic visual imagery. And to think that last month’s Impact thought that those little signs popping up across town commanding the public to urinate in designated outdoor areas were merely high-jinks – this has proved to be a common misconception.
By sheer fluke, prior to reading last issue’s story, I had set about writing a piece on everyone’s favourite enigmatic artist, and sought to discover any local counterpart he might have. And boy does he have one. Unfortunately, the logistics of interviewing this anonymous local artist proved too difficult to overcome – calling herself Questionmarc (well, many unofficial internet sources suggest that the artist in question is indeed female, and after all, I do have 50% chance of being right), this local firebrand had coincidentally claimed responsibility for ‘urinegate’, as well as the spate of other provocative street art pieces recently seen throughout Nottingham. The notices she placed around the city centre, informing the onlooker “Public Urination permitted after 9pm” were not in fact a prank, but a serious protest at an overlooked local problem. Commenting in her letter to Nottingham City Council, questionmarc stated:
“Hello, I am responsible for the public urination signs that have been put up throughout the city. Why did I do it? To remind Nottingham that there are so many pubs but nowhere to piss at shutting out time. Twenty-four-hour licensing laws – my arse! I go by the name of Questionmarc, spelt with a C not a K. I will be back. Merry Christmas.”
Regardless of artistic merit, questionmarc’s pieces have certainly continued the age-old partnership of art and controversy. Eager to not be seen as a one-trick pony, or someone overly concerned with somewhat trivial issues, questionmarc has cast her net wider to encompass a wide range of local, and indeed broader issues in her work, from the lack of dues paid to local historical favourite Robin Hood, through to the exploitation of women in a stylized female silhouette seen on the Arnold Working Men’s Club. In addition, she was also responsible for the generally pretty darn anti-establishment engraving of the most offensive word in the English language on the untroubled snow of market square a couple of weeks ago. Controversial indeed.
Whether or not declaredly inspired by him, the comparisons of her works to those of Banksy are inevitable. The most celebrated semi-anonymous street artist of them all, Banksy is believed to be a native Bristolian who took the unconventional career leap from trainee butcher to urban artist. His pieces have developed a stylistic nature all their own, incorporating visual humour and pastiche as a means of succinctly demonstrating his broadly anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist rhetoric. He is deadpan about his pieces, stating, “people say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish…but that’s only if it’s done properly.” That said, he has established himself one of the art establishment’s favourite enfants terribles, his pieces frequently auctioning for high-art-worthy sums of money. Coupled with several books credited to him, his imprint in public consciousness is impressive for someone in the street art world, a world grounded in secrecy and fast-paced activity.
So street artists certainly do get people talking. As for our Questionmarc, be she a creative local activist-cum-social commentator or a public nuisance sent to annoy the stereotypical reader of the establishment press, she will have certainly made some people chuckle, and then perhaps think a little deeper upon encountering one of these droll little pieces of street art during their, on average, very short life spans.