mixed media sculpture
220 by 130 by 155 cm. 86¾ by 51⅛ by 61 in.
Executed in 2004, this work is unique.
This work is accompanied by a Pest Control certificate.
Steve Lazarides, United Kingdom
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2014
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
Counting among one of Banksy’s most ambitious sculptural endeavours to date, his iconic – and ironic – The Drinker was conceived in 2004, a defining moment in the career of Britain’s best-known, and most elusive, street artist. Bold and irreverent, the work offers a subversive recreation of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. Brimming with the aesthetic tension and visual impact of street art, Banksy’s brazen statue presents the figure of a man sitting on a rock; yet, rather than lost in thought as in Rodin’s masterpiece, Banksy’s figure is slumped in drunken stupor, a traffic cone perched precariously upon his head – a humorous relic, it would seem, of the previous night’s antics.
The Drinker was originally erected in March 2004 in a small square off Shaftsbury Avenue in London, but was subsequently stolen by the leader of the rebellious art group Art Kieda, Andy Link (known colloquially as AK47). The media coverage surrounding Banksy and AK47’s controversial art feud went international. Two years later, the work was mysteriously retrieved from Art Kieda’s lock up in an anonymous heist which left AK47 with nothing but the abandoned traffic cone from atop The Drinker’s head. A certificate for The Drinker was thereafter produced in 2008, and the work, now crowned with a new traffic cone, was later acquired by its present owner in 2014. Then in 2015, over a decade after its first debut, the work returned to the headlines once again, when Art Kieda produced an imitation of Banksy’s sculpture with some uncanny alterations in tow: titling it The Stinker, the group embellished this new rendition with a number of sardonic objects including a toilet seat and flush. Such slapstick humour recalls the comedic brilliance of Robin Williams, who once posed for a photograph in front of Rodin’s The Thinker at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, offering up a roll of toilet paper to the French sculptor’s famous bronze. In 2016, the heist became the subject of a sensationalised documentary entitled The Banksy Job. Indeed, alongside Banksy’s now-legendary Girl with Balloon – which self-destructed in an artist-driven prank at auction in October 2019 to become the freshly titled Love is in the Bin – as well as his gloomy theme park Dismaland – which was temporarily constructed in the rainy seaside resort town of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, in 2015 – The Drinker ranks amongst the most iconic, and infamous, works from Banksy’s provocative oeuvre.
Composed in imitation of Rodin’s illustrious bronze, Banksy’s sculpture is in fact rendered from industrial materials, wittily transforming Rodin’s esteemed subject matter and medium into something resolutely quotidian. Banksy has used the traffic cone in many of his works as a symbol of proletarian anarchy. It features, for example, in Bacchus at the Seaside (2009), a work depicting two Ovidian protagonists from Banksy’s series of vandalised paintings, modified so that the female subject appears to hide her male counterpart’s private parts behind a humorously positioned fluorescent orange traffic cone. Alluding to a rich history of iconoclasm – from impassioned religious and political protests to the inebriated university student-pranksters of contemporary Britain – the present work offers a poignant, punchy and comical reflection on the world we live in. Potently conflating bawdy humour with art historical acumen, Banksy’s The Drinker exemplifies the street artist’s notorious practice.
The iconic sculptural allegory of the creative mind at work was originally created by Rodin around 1880 as The Poet, to adorn the ornamentally elaborate tympanum of a set of monumental bronze doors intended for a museum of decorative arts in Paris. The motif, which sought to represent the author of the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri, meditating on his work and transcending his suffering through poetry, provided Rodin with a rich source of ideas for individual figures that he worked and reworked for the rest of his career, culminating in what is arguably one of the most recognisable sculptures in the history of art: The Thinker. Describing his sculpture, Rodin explained: "What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes" (Auguste Rodin cited in: Debora L. Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-siècle France: Politics, Psychology, and Style, Oxford 1992, p. 261). Subverting Rodin’s imagery from pivotal to puerile, Banksy creates a wry caricature that is at once instantly familiar and humorously debased. In alluding to the ponderous pose and form of Rodin’s heroic statue, Banksy pokes fun at the pretensions of the world’s great philosophical thinkers, presenting instead a bathetic, slumped and intoxicated drunk.
Banksy’s ironic twist, with the addition of the reflective dusty traffic cone, is characteristic of the artist’s idiosyncratic predilection for co-opting and disrupting art historical references and found objects. Seemingly incompatible with the original subject matter, Banksy sets out to undermine the sacred traditions of canonical artworks by wrestling them from their original context and consequently transforming the cultural markers of the elite into visually immediate puns that challenge expectations surrounding art, ownership and originality. “People usually see art as an abstract emotional vehicle, lacking the direct impact of language. Banksy paints over the line between aesthetics and language, then stealthily repaints it in the unlikeliest of places”, writes fellow street artist Shepard Fairey; “His works, whether he stencils them on the streets, sells them in exhibitions or hangs them in museums on the sly, are filled with wit and metaphors that transcend language barriers” (Shepard Fairey, ‘The 2010 Time 100: Banksy’, Time, 29 April 2010, online). With whimsy and sardonic drollery, Banksy prompts the viewer to contemplate the fundamental gravitas of his artistic message and the social critique that lies at the heart of his multifaceted practice. Reminiscent of the pictorial appropriations of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, The Drinker takes its place within Banksy’s satirical pantheon of imagery.
The Drinker comes to auction following the media storm surrounding the recent sale of Banksy’s monumental piece of political satire Devolved Parliament (2009), which sold for almost five times it’s high estimate in October this year. Banksy remains the most well-recognised street artist in the world and his work can be found in a variety of public, private and provocative spaces across the globe. A striking example of the anonymous artist’s penchant for dark humour and social commentary, the present work exemplifies Banksy’s artistic mission, revealed in a rare public statement: “Some people want to become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place” (Banksy, Banksy: Wall and Piece, London 2005, p. 8). An act of poignant parody, fine-art vandalism, and urban expression, The Drinker encapsulates the raw immediacy of Banksy’s commanding appeal as artist, activist and rebel.