The South Banksy Show

JUST a few yards from the South Bank and only a short riverside stroll from Tate Modern, an old Victorian tunnel has been transformed into an art gallery that puts even that grand collection to shame.

Aidan Semmens

JUST a few yards from the South Bank and only a short riverside stroll from Tate Modern, an old Victorian tunnel has been transformed into an art gallery that puts even that grand collection to shame.

But you'll have to move fast if you want to catch it.

The sculptures, installations and living art are gone already. Many of the terrific pictures painted on the walls - or, in a couple of cases, actually carved out of them - are liable to be defaced, maybe disappear, fast.

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That's despite the fact that one of the stars of the show is possibly the most talented, and certainly the most topical, fine artist currently at work in Britain.

I refer, of course, to the “graffiti” artist Banksy, a few of whose eye-catching pieces currently adorn the walls of the Leake Street tunnel, below the tracks at the end of Waterloo station.

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There are also some terrific works by other artists with assumed names - Jef Aerosol, Eelus, Toastcat, Vhils - and some apparently with no names at all.

One of the anonymous efforts is a lifesize painting of a homeless man asleep on a bench with a Do Not Disturb sign dangling from his finger. Brilliant.

Other works are variously witty, entertaining, surreal, thought-provoking or overtly political. Some are extremely technically proficient as art. A number are all of those things at once.

A case in point is a typical Banksy, in which a council worker is seen spraying over a prehistoric cave-painting.

Arriving well after the three-day Cans Festival had closed, I missed the undoubted sense of occasion. I also missed the queues.

Mind you, there was still a significant stream of admirers.

And since this is quite possibly the single most photographed art exhibition ever, what I decided to capture with my lens was mostly the interaction between the artworks and the viewers.

THERE is, as far as I'm aware, no story, song or children's verse with the title The Cuckoo and the Nightingale - but there really should be.

Perhaps I should write one. It would probably come out something like an Aesop fable.

It's not just that the title itself has a nice rhythm (echoing Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter, or The Lion and the Unicorn) but that the two birds have such important places in traditional English mythology. And, indeed, in English country life.

I was having these thoughts while lying this morning listening to the dawn chorus.

Perhaps dawn cacophony would be a better description, since no two birds were making the same sound.

However, the overall effect was pleasing, despite the fact that it was keeping me awake when I could have done with a bit more sleep.

It was the nightingale that started it.

Once or twice lately I've half wondered if I could detect the nightingale's voice among the early singers. But once it's really at it, there's no mistaking that bubbling, fluid tone, even though it can sing for half an hour without ever repeating a phrase.

And there it was this morning, right outside my window. Or maybe, knowing how amazingly loud it can be for such a tiny bird, rather further away than it sounded.

It began tuning up at 4.00 and was still in full flow at 4.30, performing a recital that a jazz virtuoso could only envy.

Meanwhile, just in the background came the cuckoo, its insistent two-note call as constant and repetitive as the nightingale's melody was ever-changing. Virtual opposites, yet together perfect music.

Weary as I was, there was no avoiding the occasional smile at the turns of musical phrase.

This, as much as the burgeoning of every tree into frothing leaf, the bursting forth of the daisies, the buttercups and the forget-me-nots, is the true magic of May. How can one not enjoy it?

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