“Art terrorist” AK47, the so-called leader of an “underground global network of arto-politkal activists” calling themselves Art Kieda, is the interviewee equivalent of being slapped in the face repeatedly with a wet fish.
The gruff Yorkshireman in his Fifties marches into The Independent’s office requests an oversized coffee, helps himself to a sandwich and proceeds to talk at rapid speed (through mouthfuls of egg roll) about art and his ongoing feud with Banksy.
He is a charismatic, if slightly relentless, figure of a man who is busy promoting himself in order to crowdfund a documentary movie about his biggest claim to fame: the “kidnapping” of Banksy’s statue The Drinker which won both artists their first tabloid frontpages back in 2004.
AK47 claims you “can’t put his work your hands”. He is a conceptual artist but admits his work doesn’t sell for much – his technique consists of “borrowing” work by others and then giving it back later, not making a lot by way of saleable merchandise.
But more than a decade after he “kidnapped” the Banksy, AK47 (real name Andy Link) is still talking about it as his biggest trophy. And quite what he’s doing to continue the so-called Art Kieda message is unclear. The organisation “exists to highlight the onslaught of corporate sponsored faeces that we are subjected to” from the art world, he claims.
A former porn star (he both starred and produced in cable TV pornos, “I was literally a one-man industry, but it wasn’t masturbation”), AK47 has always “lived life on the edge” earning himself a string of drugs convictions and spells in jail for football hooliganism and for organising the biggest acid house rave in the north of England in the Eighties.
Having left school at 15 and with no formal art training to his name AK47 says he only realised he was an artist years after he began working.
“Looking back I started to realise that the things I’ve done were art: I’ve always pissed people off. At school I was a cack-handed clown, I went to prison for being a football hooligan. I was angry. All these things were signs I was different, I was expressing myself…I’ve no training to say that just because I’m thinking differently I’m creative. I just thought I was a wrong-un,” he says.
He claims his very public row with Banksy “created the monster I am today” because it showed him: “If you do things in the name of art you can get away with murder”.
The details of the AK47/Banksy spat are as follows: the former bought a £75 Banksy print and asked a mutual friend to request that he sign it. The message, allegedly, came back from Banksy that AK47 shouldn’t be such a “cheap Northern bastard” and should have paid more for a signed copy. Feeling “disrespected” by the derogatory remark AK47 decided Banksy owed him something and set out to get him back.
So, in 2004 when The Drinker was installed in a small square off Shaftsbury Avenue in central London AK47 and his pals carted it off in broad daylight. They reported their “find” to local police and AK47 mutters about “fly-tipping” etc when he explains the story. Because Banksy never claimed the work as his (technically by doing so he would have been admitting to a criminal offence) after 3 months in his possession the statue belonged to AK47.
But, two years later the statue was taken from Art Keida’s lock up – AK47 is certain this was masterminded by Banksy and his team – and the artist now has nothing but the traffic cone which sat atop the statue.
But why did AK47 do it? “I kidnapped it on principle,” he explains. “Don’t tell me that I’m a tight Northern bastard…It wasn’t done as revenge, it was done as one-upmanship…All I wanted was to swap the statue for a canvas. I didn’t damage the statue, I didn’t damage Banksy’s reputation. I did him a big favour in my opinion.”
“I’m a man of honour and respect and he disrespected me in a way I won’t allow.”
AK47 explains that his first piece of street art was executed at the tender age of nine when he scrawled “F*** off!” on a local wall and was brought home by the police. “I said I didn’t do it but while I was waiting at the police station I found a piece of glass and scratched my name all over the wall with it, so I couldn’t really plead not guilty after that.”
Another of the artist’s major claims to fame is having stolen a Tracy Emin work off Hackney Empire in east London. He returned the work, a pink neon sign called Just Love Me, within two weeks and placed it with two bunches of roses (“an apology") in a nearby skip – a jokey reference to a Kate Moss-owned Emin work which had been accidentally thrown in a skip by builders in the intervening days.
AK47 is nothing if not a refreshing challenge to the oft-noted Emperor’s New Clothes nature of the conceptual art world. But while he’s admirably clear about not taking himself, or any other artists, remotely seriously, that doesn’t stop his backdated claims of artistry from smacking of opportunism.
The film currently being crowdfunded, titled The Banksy Job (to cash in no doubt on the fame of AK47’s rival) is being made as a documentary but in the style of a heist movie, with animations and stylistic reconstruction. It will doubtless appeal to those who followed Exit Through The Gift Shop and Channel 4’s Graffiti Wars series, and its producers hope to showcase it at Sundance Film Festival in Utah next year - although whether AK47 will be allowed into America to promote the film given his criminal record is something of a worry for them.
“Art is not f***ing serious. It looks up its own arsehole and blows smoke. Those smoke rings eat each other and to that’s just bollocks,” AK47 concludes blithely. “I know for a fact there is art in taking the piss and I’m a fine artist at it.”Reuse content