Banksy is the name of an unknown graffiti art superstar. His satirical social commentary has been spray painted on walls from London to Hong Kong. He’s also a painter. Political activist. And film director.
In 2010 Time Magazine named Banksy as one of the world’s most influential people. Also on the list were Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs and Barack Obama.
The British born Banksy started out spray painting or “bombing” walls in Bristol, England in the 1990’s. He was heavily involved with the Bristol underground scene. Members of this scene included artists and musicians. They often created together.
Banksy is master of satire and clever puns. His style includes a stenciling technique and a kind of dark, gallows humor. He works on publicly visible surfaces such as walls and self-built physical prop pieces.
Today, Banksy has evolved from graffiti on city walls to painting on canvas. Making sculpture. And directing motion pictures. His documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop was nominated for an Academy Award.
The artist doesn’t sell photographs or reproductions of his street graffiti. Some have tried to sell his on – location street art to the highest bidder. They leave the problem of removing their prize up to the buyer.
His work can be extremely emotional and powerful. To me these are among his best:
Consumer Jesus, 2004 – Banksy screen print
Consumerism is a major theme of Banksy’s work. His Consumer Jesus screen print is one his best images on the subject. It shows Jesus being crucified. This is a very common theme in Western art.
In this case Banksy uses crucifixion imagery to skewer the rampant consumerism of the holidays. It’s as if he’s telling us to “remember that Jesus is the reason for the season”. A common saying of Christians around Christmas time.
Jesus is shown as if crucified. This time he holds three bags in each hand, instead of a cross. There are gifts inside of each bag. In fact they seem to be stuffed with gifts.
I Remember When All This Was Trees, 2010 – Detroit, Michigan
This Banksy work is criticism of what was allowed to happen to inner city Detroit. Not surprisingly, this piece was quite controversial. The work was done on a brick wall outside the abandoned Packard car plant.
Workers from Detroit’s 555 Gallery took the piece down. They transported it to the downtown gallery.
The piece is a take on Detroit’s poverty and ruin. The Packard Plant was abandoned with the decline of the auto industry. The words “I remember when all this was trees” has a bitter meaning. The sad child stands in the place of many squatters and homeless people within the Packard Plant ruins.
KKK, 2008 – Birmingham, Alabama
Sometimes people choose to remain in the dark. It’s much easier to deny a dark past than to face its present day effects. Just ask the people of Birmingham, Alabama. The KKK and the city of Birmingham have a long, dark history that dates back to as early as 1915. They didn’t call it “bombingham” for nothing.
Banksy’s target for this piece is clearly the KKK. But, Birmingham residents were not too fond of the work. The imagery brought back a past that was just too hard to face.
This stenciled piece was removed from the wall of an old gas station. Actually, it was painted over with black paint. This was not out of hatred towards Banksy. But because of the vivid imagery he used. It was just too much.
Sirens Of The Lambs, 2013 – New York City
Banksy’s Sirens of the Lambs was a mobile installation. The work was inspired by an actual truck operating in the meatpacking district of Brooklyn. This was created during his “Better Out Than In” residency in New York.
The piece is made of stuffed animals each with its own squeal. It’s intended to show the horrors of the slaughter. The animals’ heads actually turn.
This work really tugs at out heartstrings. The squealing stuffed animals are very effective. They call on us to feel sympathy for plight of the creatures we kill for our food.
Napalm, 2004 – Banksy work on Canvas
Banksy’s Napalm piece is strong criticism of American war culture. The imagery of the naked girl is taken from a famous Vietnam War photo. It depicts 9 year old Kim Phuc. She was running in panic from a napalm blast.
Banksy removed Kim from her village. He shows her running hand in hand with two of America’s most beloved cultural symbols. Some people see this piece differently. They say its criticism of how the Americans treated civilians during the war. I can see that too.
There Is Always Hope, 2007 – South Bank, London
Banksy’s Girl With Balloon is one of his most uplifting pieces. Banksy’s work shows a young girl letting a hear shaped balloon fly into the wind. To the right he etched a small quote. It says, “There is always hope.”
The use of color is notable here. The girl is painted as black and white. The balloon is bright red. Its heart shape represents love. Hope. Innocence. Childhood. Some say the heart-shaped represents a child-like optimism and self-confidence.
Guantanamo Bay, 2006 – Disneyland – Anaheim, California
This Banksy political statement shut down Disneyland. The artist managed to quietly place a life-sized replica of a Guantanomo Bay detainee next to one of the park’s rides. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Park patrons were forced to confront the injustice of our mid-east policy for a short time. It was up for just 90 minutes before the park began shutting down.
The piece speaks of torture. Indefinite detention. Lack of due process. All of the issues people have with the infamous prison.
Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainswash was there to film the stunt. He was taken into custody and questioned for hours. Banksy himself escaped by changing clothes in a restroom.
Banksy carefully placed the inflatable figure among old-west scenery. The dummy wears an orange jumpsuit and has a black hood on its head. The footage went viral. It was included in Banksy’s award winning film Exit Through The Gift Shop.
No Loitering, 2008 – New Orleans
In 2008 Banksy created work dedicated to the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. One of these was a painting of an old black man. He sits in a rocking chair wearing overalls. He’s holding an American flag.
To me this is a statement about those who were forgotten in the storm’s aftermath. Certain parts of the city were said to be “improved” due to being emptied of poor people. The words “no loitering” appears over the man’s head.
The message is simple, wave the flag all you want, we don’t want you here.
The wall on which Banksy painted this piece had been vacant since Katrina destroyed the 9th Ward.
Follow Your Dreams, 2010 – Boston
This Banksy piece is commentary on the lack of social mobility in today’s world. It’s located in a low-income area of Boston. Essex Street in the Chinatown District.
The imagery features a tired looking painter armed with a brush and bucket. The phrase “Follow Your Dreams ” is written in capital letters. It’s all but covered with the word “Cancelled”.
This cancelling out is an expression of the deep despair of modern day poverty. It seems the rich keep getting richer while everyone else struggles to stay alive.
The message is not hopeful or uplifting, yet very powerful. I guess dreams really don’t come true anymore.
Kissing Coppers, 2004 – Brighton,England
In 2004 Banksy painted Kissing Coppers on the wall of Prince Albert Pub in Brighton, England. It’s a picture of two male police officers kissing each other.The work seems to be Banksy’s embrace of gay rights and a rejection of anti-gay bigotry.
This artwork was actually supported by the owner of the pub. He let the piece stand for seven years before removing it. In 2011 it was finally sent to America to be auctioned off. It sold for huge bucks.
Cardinal Sin , 2011 – Liverpool,England
This is a rare Banksy sculpture. Here the mysterious artist took on the Catholic Church. The work was unveiled in December 2011, just days before Christmas. The controversial sculpture was originally shown at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.
The work looks like an 18th century stone bust of a priest with a pix-elated face. The removal of the face is the point. It’s a metaphor for the Church covering up the identity of priests accused of child sex abuse.
It’s crude but effective.
No Trespassing, 2010 – San Francisco
Unless you’re a native American you have ancestors that came here from some other country. Voluntarily or not. This Banksy piece is a simple reminder of that fact.
The image is a Native American man sitting at the base of a “no trespassing” sign. Banksy stenciled his figure around an existing street sign image. It was created in the Mission District of San Francisco in 2010.
The figure’s clothes, headdress, and arrows are painted in black and white. His skin is slightly tinted in sepia tone. The work is also a response to the 2010 sit-lie ordinance in San Francisco. The image has since been whitewashed.