S otheby’s London is pleased to present our third sale dedicated to Britain’s most provocative artist. Banksy surveys the mysterious artist’s work, with a curated selection of sought-after prints that are sure to appeal to all Banksy enthusiasts, from the first-time buyer to the established collector. Online bidding will be open from September 9-18 with a pre-sale exhibition of highlights at Sotheby’s New Bond Street.
Following a subversive art historical tradition initiated by Duchamp, Banksy repurposes well-known historical imagery to express anti-war and anti-authoritarian sentiments.
In Golf Sale (lot 4) and Flag (Lot 20), respectively, Banksy appropriates Jeff Widener’s 1989 photograph of Tiananmen Square and Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image, ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’. In Applause (lot 23), the artist uses a photograph of President George W. Bush de-planing a military bomber. He follows a similar strategy in I Fought the Law (lot 9), manipulating a video still of President Reagan’s security detail tackling John Hinkley after his assassination attempt.
In each instance, Banksy synthesises his potent source material with irreverent details and captions, creating compelling images that are simultaneously playful and deeply satirical.
Children are depicted in several of Banksy’s most iconic works, acting as symbols of innocence, purity and hope (and in some cases, the loss thereof).
In Toxic Mary (lot 6) and Bomb Hugger (lot 8), children are paired with incongruous and threatening objects—a bottle apparently dispensing poison in the former and a cumbersome explosive that takes the place of a soft toy in the latter. In a similar vein, Jack and Jill (lot 17) depicts two children playing joyfully while wearing bulletproof vests; whilst Nola (lot 25) shows a young girl beneath an umbrella that appears to be the source of (rather than her protection from) the rain. Through such incompatible juxtapositions, these works convey variously subtle or more explicit messages regarding threats to youthful innocence.
Arguably the most effective image to portray the hope and innocence of childhood is Girl with Balloon (lot 11). This subject has now come to be regarded as a universal symbol of hope in the face of adversity. The image first appeared as a mural on Waterloo Bridge in 2002, alongside the handwritten message: “There is always hope.”
Banksy’s critique of capitalism and consumerism is a key thread throughout his practice. In Napalm (lot 10), the artist appropriates Nick Ut’s harrowing photograph of children fleeing a napalm blast in Vietnam to make a comment on large-scale corporations and their relationship with war. Sale Ends (lot 27) and Very Little Helps (lot 26) also comment on the pervasive allure of capitalist entities, as the figures depicted appear to worship and pledge allegiance to a ‘Sale Ends Today’ sign and Tesco shopping bag respectively.
Banksy began stencilling rats across the streets of England from the beginning of his career. His use of the subject paid homage to Blek le Rat, the Parisian graffiti artist and pioneer of stencilling. The rat also makes for a fitting symbol of street art – much like the animal, graffiti intrudes, unsolicited, on unexpected places.
Among the earliest prints to feature the subject were Love Rat (lot 15), and the ‘Placard Rat’ series, which includes Welcome to Hell (lot 12), Get Out While You Can (lot 13), and Because I’m Worthless (lot 14). The images had initially appeared as graffiti and featured in the artist’s book: Wall and Piece. Here, Banksy explains the reasoning behind their depiction: ‘If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model.’