Banksy, Love is in the Air, 2005
Sold at Sotheby's New York in May 2021 for $12,903,000
© BANKSY 2021

One of Banksy’s most iconic and immediately recognizable images, Love is in the Air encapsulates the decisive social commentator and wry humor that typify the artist’s provocative and highly acclaimed oeuvre. In its original guerrilla iteration in Beit Sahour near the West Bank Barrier, Love is in the Air testifies to Banksy’s unique ability to activate urban environments and public architecture in a way that supercharges his message, lending his images a searing immediacy which extends far beyond all those who live in or visit the region, juxtaposing the active gesture of protest with the reconciliatory symbol of a Flower Bouquet. This anti-war sentiment is compounded by the work's visual echoes of the flower power movement and the student protests which took place in France and American in the 60's. The youthful subject throwing flowers as his weapon reminds us of the famous 1967 photograph of a young protester placing a flower in the barrel of a rifle pointed at his head during an anti-war demonstration. With this now-iconic image, Banksy offers us a universal message: that we must harness the virtues of peace in order to overcome the division and conflict that surround us and look ahead to a hopeful future.


Jan Davidsz de Heem, Still life with peonies, cherries and a pocket watch, 1655-65
Image © Fine Art Images / Bridgeman Images

The present work features a bouquet of flowers hand painted in oils by the artist, a unique feature rarely seen in Banksy’s oeuvre. The incorporation of these richly painted flowers brings to mind the long tradition of floral still life paintings; yet in typical Banksy fashion, these vivid blooms are a far cry from the somber beauty of a 17th century Dutch floral arrangement, or indeed the symbolic incorporation of flowers by Medieval, Renaissance and Victorian artists, but rather appear as if they may have been have been snatched from a local gas station to be hurled at an unseen enemy. Banksy understands his lineage as a social commentator and satirist and – much like Honoré Daumier and William Hogarth before him – uses the power of familiar symbols juxtaposed with incompatible references to create absurd and provocative images which convey potent political messages. His tongue-in-cheek tone is reflected the fact the work shares a title with a crooning 1978 John Paul Young hit. While humorously incongruous with the subject matter of the work, this double entendre gives the painting a sense of vitality, preempting the moment the flowers, symbolizing love, are flung forward by the subject.

Roy Lichtenstein, Whaaam!, 1963, Tate Gallery, London
Art © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

The oil painted flowers act as a tender counterpoint to the crispness of the stenciled figure, reminding us of the artist’s hand in the quasi-mechanized process of creating stenciled images. Whilst in many ways a revolutionary figure, Banksy’s decision to include this hand-finished detail as part of the stenciled piece serves as a nod to his artistic forebears, recalling Warhol’s use of stencils combined with a fluid application of color to subvert totemic – and often, highly political—images from popular culture. This is exemplified by Warhol’s portraits of Chairman Mao, in which he uses technicolor inks to playfully transform Mao’s carefully controlled likeness, often with the effect of making it appear as though the imposing leader is wearing garish makeup. Similarly, Banksy uses the colorful bouquet of flowers to create an image of violence disarmed, disrupting the stark image of a young militant caught in an act of violence by replacing his Molotov cocktail with a symbol of peace.

Banksy is well known for his distinctive use of stenciling, a technique he started using widely in the late 1990s in order to create complex graffiti works very rapidly in public spaces. The use of stenciling allowed the artist to reduce the window in which he risked being caught ‘vandalizing' by the police, but without compromising the intricacy of the images. Banksy’s choice of stenciling as a technique has significance beyond pragmatic considerations: the practice has long been associated with underground political movements and punk culture, as it enables people to create visually striking images that can be reproduced quickly, cheaply and by anyone. These characteristics lend the technique to grassroots activism and speak to the DIY, anti-establishment, traditions of punk.


The connection between stenciled art and dissent is particularly apposite in the context of Love is in the Air, which caused a stir when it first appeared on the side of a garage in Beit Sahour, close to the Israeli West Bank Barrier, a 708km wall separating Israel from the West Bank. The wall was erected by Israel in 2002 and has served as a focal point for a number of Banksy’s works in the region, with the artist visiting and creating works along the wall shortly after its construction. Like much of Banksy’s work, these pieces highlight what he views as social and political injustice and the damage caused by such global issues as terrorism and military oppression. Since the mid-2000s, many pieces by the artist have been spotted in Gaza and the West Bank and in 2017, Banksy opened The Walled Off Hotel alongside the Barrier wall in Bethlehem, advertising it as having “the worst view of any hotel in the world.” Exemplified within the present work, Banksy’s continued activity in the region demonstrates his sustained commitment to drawing attention to the militarism and division caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Left: Demonstrators march in support for the legalization of drugs, Hyde Park, London, 1967. (Photo by Stanley Sherman / Express / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Right: Flower Power photograph by Bernie Boston, taken during "March on The Pentagon", 21 October 1967.
“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It's people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages.”

Love is in the Air is a quintessential Banksy painting: instantly recognizable, the image has become synonymous with the artist’s indelible graphic style, wry humor and galvanizing political commentary. Banksy’s subject adopts the archetypal pose of civic unrest, preparing to hurl a brick or bomb towards an unseen foe, however the artist replaces his projectile with a bunch of flowers, disarming this image of violent unrest to create a work that is both a call for change and advocation of peace. This work was notably chosen to be illustrated in Banksy's 2005 monograph, Wall and Piece, and the street intervention upon which it is based was chosen for the front cover. One of the artist's most cherished works, further distinguished by the inclusion of hand painted flowers in oil, Love is in the Air is a work that reminds us of the injustice and inequality that exists around us, and offers a simple message of hopeIn the tradition of other iconic images that have gone before it, such as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych or Alfred Leete’s Lord Kitchener Wants You poster, Love is in the Air has been referenced, replicated and imitated countless times in a testament to its visual power. It is indisputable that this bold and declarative work helped to establish Banksy’s place in art history, cementing his reputation as a pivotal and universally heard artistic voice.