Painting Politics in Banksy's "Vote to Love"

Painting Politics in Banksy's "Vote to Love"

Banksy’s subversion of the divisive British referendum, Vote to Love, features in Sotheby’s upcoming Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 11 February.
Banksy’s subversion of the divisive British referendum, Vote to Love, features in Sotheby’s upcoming Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 11 February.

E xecuted in 2018, Banksy’s Vote to Love is a subversive painting from the anonymous street artist’s seditious and politically charged oeuvre. To create the work, Banksy defaced a found ‘Vote to Leave’ placard from the UK’s 2016 Brexit campaign, led by UKIP’s then-leader, Nigel Farage.

The composition depicts a red, heart-shaped balloon, patched up with criss-crossed plasters, which has drifted in front of the placard’s slogan, altering the word ‘leave’ to ‘love’. With its striking simplicity and raw immediacy, Vote to Love offers a message of optimism at a time of increasing divisiveness in global politics.

The work was prominently displayed in The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition 2018, after originally being turned down for the show when Banksy submitted the work under the pseudonym Bryan S. Gaakman – a play on the words ‘Banksy anagram’. Accepted a month later in a slightly revised format under the artist’s true moniker, Vote to Love was sardonically priced in the exhibition catalogue at £350 million – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the infamous and much-lampooned Vote Leave bus which claimed Brexit would save the NHS an extra £350 million a week.

Born and bred in Bristol, Banksy has achieved a legendary status that teeters between acclaim and notoriety for his provocative paintings, sculptures, installations and graffiti.

His work is rich in dark humour and frequently captioned with subversive epigrams that provide pejorative commentaries on socio-political aspects of contemporary life. Banksy’s own mission statement, ‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable’, is itself a modern day take on the turn-of-the-century American satirist Finley Peter Dunne’s declaration that a newspaper’s duty is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” (Finley Peter Dunne cited in: Dean P. Turnbloom, Ed., Prizewinning Political Cartoons: 2010 Edition). Situated within a longstanding tradition of raising an illuminating mirror up to the world, Banksy’s work fits into a rich and venerable history of visual parody, from the British pictorial satirists of the eighteenth century, including Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray, and the great William Hogarth, through to venerable trailblazers in art history such as Marcel Duchamp.

Following the sale of Banksy’s Devolved Parliament in October 2019, a monumental work of biting satire, the creation of Vote to Love further exemplifies the artist’s penchant for disturbing and disrupting the status-quo. Striking and pertinent in its immediacy, Vote to Love encapsulates Banksy’s interrogative and anti-establishmentarian practice.

Contemporary Art
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