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Is Banksy In San Diego?

Above: A close up of the rumored Banksy stencil on the side of Bull Taco shop in Oceanside. Photo by Ryan Cooper.

Banksy, the mysterious graffiti artist and current Oscar nominee, just may be in San Diego. Or, he may not be.

On Friday morning, Justin Lewis, owner of the Bull Taco shop in Oceanside, arrived at work to find graffiti on the side of his building. The large wall piece features a rat wearing star-shaped sunglasses and flying a kite marked with the traffic sign emblem used at immigrant crossings.

"It's been chaotic," said Lewis by phone Saturday afternoon. Since word spread, hundreds of people have stopped by to snap photos, take video, and pose in front of the possible Banksy mural. "They were here last night, and then more were here this morning at 8:30 when I came to work."

Banksy, who has managed to remain anonymous despite legendary status in the graffiti and art world, often uses rats in his stenciled pieces. He's also used the immigrant crossing emblem before, and political commentary is common in his work.

Lewis sounded a little baffled by the whole thing, though he admitted it's been exciting. "I didn't know anything about him but I'm learning a lot from his fans."

When asked if he would have the stencil drawing removed, he said he's not sure at this point. "I kind of want to take it down but people around here act like it's part of the bible or something...I'm trying to run a restaurant and there's a rat on the side of it." (Strangely, when I went to the home website for Bull Taco, a photograph of the stencil mural is prominently featured).

Not everyone thinks this is a work by Banksy. Photos of the work have already appeared on the photo-sharing site Flickr. A Flickr user named Ryan Cooper, who goes by the name Ape Flavored documents a lot of graffiti. He insists it's a fake.

I asked Cooper in his comment stream why he thinks the wall piece is fake and his reply was: "word on the street." Cooper and I then exchanged emails and he pointed me towards a website called the Carlsbad Crawl that breaks down why the Bull Taco mural is not Banksy's work.

The most interesting, if more insider, debate seems to center around the look of the immigrant crossing emblem on the kite and the appearance of "bridges." The Carlsbad Crawl actually compares an authenticated Banksy stencil of the same image with the Oceanside stencil. There are definitely differences.

Banksy's film "Exit Through The Gift Shop" is one of five nominees competing in the Best Documentary Feature category in Sunday's Oscar ceremony. The movie is a clever commentary on the art world, while also managing to document the culture of street art. Banksy, along with directing, is featured in the film with his face disguised.

The secretive artist is rumored to have painted on and stenciled walls and billboards in Los Angeles over the last couple of weeks, feeding speculation he's mounting his own version of an Oscar campaign.

But would Banksy include San Diego in his run through Southern California?

He declined to take part in the actual street art portion of last year's Viva La Revolución exhibit at MCASD (his work was included in the museum portion).

Since the Oceanside mural appeared, the Imperial Beach's Patch.com is reporting that another possible Banksy stencil has materialized at the intersection of 9th and Emory Street in Imperial Beach. The stencil also features a rat, this time with a surveillance camera. It's placed next to a sign warning passersby of a video surveillance camera. The article touched off a lively debate in the comments stream about whether or not the piece is by Banksy. Many seem to think it's not of the same quality as Banksy's stencil work.

What do you think? Is the Bull Taco graffiti stencil a work by Banksy or a fake?

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