Love it or loathe it, graffiti is endemic in most cities in the world. Some consider it vandalism, others consider it street art. Invariably, it is a form of protest, whether it be the simple tag - 'Kilroy was here' - or the more elaborate slogans that inveigh against capitalism, the war in Iraq, animal rights, or whatever other issue concerns its author.
The art versus vandalism debate took a new turn last week, with a work by a man who goes under the pseudonym 'Banksy' having sold at Sotheby's auction house in London for GBP102,000 (HK$1.55 million), double its pre-sale estimate.
Entitled Bombing Middle England, it depicts three old women engaged in the genteel sport of bowling, except the bowls are actually bombs.
Banksy began his career spray-painting in his home city of Bristol but his ambition has taken him far and wide. His stencilled, incisive images have appeared on the Palestinian side of the Gaza wall and in Mexico. He once climbed into the penguin enclosure at London Zoo and left the message, 'We're bored of fish' in huge letters.
It is perhaps this accessibility and sense of humour that have led to his popularity. It's reported that the Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie paid GBP200,000 for one of his pieces.
And a couple from Bristol are prepared to give their house away to anyone prepared to buy the 8-metre by 2-metre mural Banksy painted on one of the exterior walls. Most prospective purchasers had demanded the artwork be removed before completing a sale but the owners have detected a cultural shift regarding graffiti. The British Museum exhibits some of his work.
'He has an unnerving ability to get to the heart of the matter and is able to express strong political statements with poetry, energy and humour,' said Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of contemporary art at Sotheby's Europe.
The house on which the Bristol mural is painted is being marketed by artist David Anslow, who owns an art gallery called the Red Propeller in Kingsbridge, Devon. He said locals and other street artists hold the piece in high regard.
'They will fight tooth and nail to keep this artwork,' he said. 'The guy's a genius. He's turned a whole generation of disaffected youth on to art. The British tend to have a very straight attitude towards art. They think most modern art is a load of rubbish. But the Americans and Europeans respect it for the ideas and technical skill. Also, in most cases, it's drawn on some dilapidated, unused space, and often improves it.
Mr Anslow suggested that aspiring Banksys be given public venues to decorate.
'Instead of creating acres of desolate grey and decaying environment why not create blank hoarding and allow these kids to express themselves? They have a lot to say and nowhere to say it. This is spontaneous creativity from somewhere deep inside and, just maybe, a clarity, albeit naive, with which the youth see the hypocrisy of our corrupt and confused world, that may inspire some future solutions,' Mr Anslow said.