'We were lawless!' Banksy's photographer reveals their scams and scrapes
Steve Lazarides was the art renegade’s strategist, photographer and minder. As his shots are published [in a self-published book], he recalls the politics, parties and soaring price tags of ‘Matey Boy’
Stuart Jeffries (The Guardian)
Mon 16 Dec 2019 12.54 GMTLast modified on Mon 16 Dec 2019 16.50 GMT
One Christmas, Steve Lazarides and Banksy [his Stencil Archive] decided to kill Santa. “Reject false icons,” read the slogan hastily spray painted across their shopfront, behind a highly festive effigy they had created of Father Christmas dangling from a noose. Dotted around were signs intended to lure passersby into their shop, in the hope that they would join in the party and buy some artworks. The signs, however, may have had the opposite effect. “Santa’s Ghetto,” read one. “Stinking art piss,” read another.
“There were a few complaints about what we did to Santa,” says Lazarides, once Banksy’s right-hand man. “And about the noise. We didn’t care. It was a group show we did every year, so artists could make a little dough and punters could pick up some affordable art for Christmas stockings.”
Lazarides worked with Banksy for 11 rollercoaster years, initially documenting the artist at work back in 1997, then becoming his agent, strategist and even minder. The Christmas art shop had been rented from one of Soho’s last porn barons – but disaster struck. Liquid leaked through from the floor above, soaking an impromptu chandelier made of traffic cones. “I went to investigate,” says Lazarides. “It was a toilet overflowing. The crowd at the party thought it was part of the show. It wasn’t. It was literally stinking art piss.”
The art he and Banksy sold at Santa’s Ghetto was certainly affordable back in the noughties – but it could not be classified as such today. Lazarides recalls carrying armfuls of original Banksy prints to the shop, where they’d shift for £25. “At today’s rates,” he says, “I reckon each armful would be worth about half a million quid.”
One work, called Bomb Middle England, depicted three elderly women playing bowls with balls that had lit fuses coming out of them. In 2007, Sotheby’s sold a version of this image for £102,000, at the time the most ever fetched for a Banksy. It has since been eclipsed, with the title now held by the 2009 painting Devolved Parliament, which went for £8.5m earlier this year.
While Lazarides is happily reminiscing about the Santas of Christmases past, Banksy is on the streets of Birmingham making art about the scandals of Christmas present – in the form of his mural and video of two reindeer pulling, not Santa in his sleigh, but a homeless man called Ryan lying on a bench in the city’s jewellery quarter.