What Hanksy's Rat-Themed Street Art Means For Tom Hanks' "Larry Crowne"

As Tom Hanks heads to the box office with his latest flick, a rodent-bodied spoof pops up on the streets of NYC--and on popular photo app Instagram. Is this a marketing stunt or just an odd cultural collision?

Tom Hanks is gnawing his way to the box office this weekend--his dramedy Larry Crowne opens today--but the star's sleepless smirk has also been spotted perched atop a stenciled rat that looks a lot like the work of the infamous street artist Banksy. When the image was posted to the photo-sharing app Instagram in mid-April, some began to wonder if Hanks had pulled-off an impromptu collaboration with the roving Robin Hood of the graffitti world.

After all, Hanks is already bosom buddies with a bizarre cultural zeitgest (few Oscar winners can also claim their own trashbin meme). And he's been thinking outside the box office for Larry Crowne by opting out of the typical Hollywood press machine and choosing instead to dance on Spanish television, make a Pulitzer-plea for the Onion, and "leak" production details via Twitpic. But the film's studio rep assured us he had nothing to do with the illicit act. So why are people drawing the connection? 

The prime suspect is the mobile-photo sharing app Instagram, which is booming with images of street art bombings. It's hard to say exactly how many images of urban ephemera are documented on the popular iPhone app, but since adding the hashtag feature to uploaded photos last January, the community has over 40,000 pictures identified as #streetart or a similar variation. The library of mostly unidentified work is already larger than Getty Images and is poised to take over Flickr's massive collection. What's more, the sharing and geotagging creates an ever-growing documentation of art that doesn't usually last longer than a day.

"You can broadcast your discoveries immediately and that immediacy adds to the power of street art," says Marc Schiller, co-founder of artist group the Wooster Collective specializing in the representation of street artists such as Banksy, Space Invader and Mr. Brainwash  (of Exit Through the Gift Shop fame). "It's the perfect storm." 

Schiller ought to know. He and his wife/business partner Sara have recently published a book on the subject titled Trespass, A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art, which spans four decades and 150 artists, including unpublished work by Keith Haring and Shepard Farey. Though Banksy penned the foreward to the book, Schiller swears the Robin Hood of the graffiti world has not been involved in any other extracurricular forms of expression.

"I don't know who 'Hanksy' is and I like not knowing," says Schiller. "But it's not Banksy." For now, at least. 

View the slideshow: Trespass, A History of Uncomissioned Urban Art

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