Recently, Banksy, famed British graffiti artist and social commentator, stepped back into the limelight. This anonymous icon sold one of his pieces at an auction for nearly one and a half million dollars, only for it to self destruct and becoming mere shreds of paper. But who is Banksy, and why should one care about him or his work? Banksy holds an important role in the modern art world, and his story is mysterious, but fascinating.
Bristol-native Banksy has been creating street art under a fake name since he was a teen. Originally this served the purpose of protecting his identity from the law, but now it serves more as a brand, as it is quite a memorable name. His style has generally stayed the same and consists of him using stencils and spray paint. This clean and distinctive style has become part of Banksy’s brand and makes him stand out to the more-common freehand graffiti artist. He is also known for his very political works, that comment on events from the Vietnam War, to excessive monitoring, to the state of street art today. He no longer is just active in Bristol, and his works can be seen across England, America, and even in Jerusalem, but still remains primarily active in England, especially London.
Not only is Banksy famous in of himself, but his standalone works have had an impact as well. Three of his more iconic pieces are “Rage, the Flower Thrower,” “Kissing Coppers,” and “Balloon Girl.”
His first piece, “Rage the Flower Thrower,” was made in Jerusalem in 2005 and has been reproduced onto many prints, pieces of merchandise, and posters. This piece shows a man in the position of someone throwing a grenade, but instead of an explosive he holds a bouquet of red flowers. This is a good example of both Banksy’s clever artistic eye, as the flowers stand out since they are the only part with color, and his social messages, since this photo promotes the idea of replacing violence with peace, and seems like it isn’t in Jerusalem just by chance.
“Kissing Coppers” shows two typical London police officers in a loving embrace, kissing in their uniforms. This work is from 2004 and is in Brighton. Banksy is obviously advocating for same-sex marriage, and in this case using irony as a powerful tool. It is a funny image because of its irony, but also quite meaningful. The juxtaposition of a vulnerable moment between two men, and police officers, a symbol of prejudice and control, make a work of art that both makes one chuckle and analyze its true meaning.
The final mentioned piece is “Balloon Girl”, arguably his most famous work of all. It was made in 2002, and like “Rage, the Flame Thrower” it is just black and red. It shows a young girl reaching out for a balloon floating away. However, this balloon is in the shape of a heart, which inherently is thought-provoking. This can be interpreted as a girl reaching out towards love or innocence, which may have been taken from her due to a terrorist attack or other traumatic event, or a young girl letting go of this fragility. However, these both comment on how society’s harsh ways often force children to grow up very quickly, but in the end remains up to interpretation. If this work sounds familiar, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Not only was this already a very famous piece, but it was actually the stencil involved in the recent dramatic shredding at the auction. This elaborate prank is thought to represent the meaningless value given to material objects, and unsurprisingly was well received. The person who had originally bought it even followed through with the deal, after it had shredded! This goes to show how Banksy’s works mean more than just how good they look.