“When you go to an art gallery, you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires” – Banksy
Some call it street art. Some call it graffiti. Some people love Banksy and some people hate him. His satirical artwork is on display across the world. They are sometimes humorous and sometimes, controversial. Often, they have a serious message and make anti-war and anti-establishment statements. His work is selling for record amounts of money at art auctions, (buyers include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). Banksy uses spray cans and stencils and is an accomplished artist. He is also a ‘guerrilla artist’ because his activities are illegal and some local authorities have removed his work from buildings and walls. What do we know about him? Basically, we don’t know who he is, although there are theories, but we know he hails from Bristol, England. Here is a cross section taken from a vast body of work.
No Ball Games
Tottenham Green Road, London
This is a recent work from September 2009. Banksy has taken back the streets and every piece of street work he does stakes a claim but it’s a constant battle with the authorities. Children have lost the right to play on the streets, so the artist takes up their cause.
Pulp Fiction Bananas
Near Old Street Tube Station, London
Banksy’s take on Tarantino’s cult movie was well known in the area and amongst collectors of his work. Transport for London ordered it to be painted over and have a strict policy against ‘graffiti’. The authority released a statement saying that they employed professional cleaners, not professional art critics.
Leake Street Underpass, Waterloo Station, London
Monkeys are a favorite of the artist and he has depicted them many times. Network Rail staff painted over this image and unattractive graffiti tags have replaced it. Some local people have said they would prefer Banksy’s work to remain. The railway company has since softened its approach, saying that they will try to remove any future images by Banksy and auction them for charity.
Chinatown, New York City
Picture of rat with scissors cutting painter’s cradle. Rats are another favorite of Banksy and he uses them as funny devices and to get serious points across. This is a joke image, found on Canal Street and West Broadway.
Rat Mural: Let Them Eat Crack
Broadway & Howard, SoHo, New York City
Another rat and a play on words this time, inspired by the Marie Antoinette quote, ‘let them eat cake’ about the plight of starving French peasants. This is a statement about the callous nature of corporate America.
Looters, New Orleans
Banksy produced a series of paintings around New Orleans to commemorate the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Following the devastation, there were reports of looting but many people said that this had been exaggerated by the media. There was also criticism of the government’s response to the needs of the people. Here, National Guard soldiers help themselves.
Old Street, London
Banksy likes to juxtapose contradictory images to make a political statement. The CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) logo is universally recognized as a symbol for peace. This is another image that has been removed.
Girl Frisks Soldier
Israeli West Bank Barrier
In 2005, Banksy produced a series of images on the Israeli concrete security barrier as a protest against its construction. The images are on the Palestinian side of the wall and include depictions of ‘what life could be like on the other side of the wall’. Some work was removed. Banksy reported that Israeli soldiers pointed guns at him as he worked.
One Nation Under CCTV
West End, London
The abundance of CCTV cameras is a controversial issue in the UK. Banksy produced this piece next to a camera at a Post Office yard, and so was being watched whilst he worked! It was his biggest work in London at the time. Westminster City Council ordered the work to be painted over and this was carried out in April 2009. Several Banksy images refer to street surveillance.
This is Banksy in a playful mood. The stencil painting appeared on the wall of a sexual health clinic on Park Street. The window is in keeping with the design of the real windows in the building. The enlightened local council took the trouble of organizing a poll of Bristol’s residents, asking them if they wanted the image to remain or be removed. It was a landslide yes to allowing it to remain and it’s one of the artist’s most famous works. It now attracts tourists to the area.