Private Collection (acquired from the above)
A gift from the above to the present owner in 2011
Employing an enlarged painted replica of Reni’s original, Banksy has cut out the faces of the two Ovidian protagonists and introduced a fluorescent traffic cone that, somewhat phallically, shields Bacchus’s genitals. The result is utterly indebted to British seaside humour – its bawdy postcards, kiss-me-quick hats, and arcade amusements. Monumental in scale and far bigger than the Renaissance original, the present work takes the form of a high-art ‘Head in the Hole’ or ‘Peep-through’ board. Readily found at seaside amusement parks, these painted boards typically depict faceless caricatures such as ‘Strong John’, ‘Thin Tim’, or ‘Big Bertha’, dressed in bathing suits and cavorting at the beach. Having enlarged Reni’s original, introduced a seditiously positioned traffic cone, and removed the faces in the manner of a ‘Head in the Hole’ seaside board, Banksy downgrades and defaces the bourgeois conceit of classical painting in a manner that is entirely beholden to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp.
In 1919 Duchamp drew a moustache and goatee on a cheap postcard reproduction of the world’s most famous painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Titled, L.H.O.O.Q. this work launched an attack on traditional art and bourgeois taste. The salacious pun of the work's titular acronym (when pronounced these letters sounds similar to the vulgar French expression ‘there is fire down below’) and Duchamp’s masculinisation of classical female beauty poked fun at establishment ideals, particularly the bourgeois cult of Jocondisme that was rife during the early Twentieth Century. Building on this controversial Dadaist legacy, Banksy ridicules the respected. Herein, traffic cones appear frequently and comically in his work. Undoubtedly inspired by the custom of defacing public statues by adorning them with traffic cone hats, Banksy uses these ubiquitous utilitarian objects to denigrate symbols of cultural refinement. As tremendously deployed in Bacchus at the Seaside Banksy is a master of surprising juxtapositions; using humour and art historical acumen Banksy undercuts the elite to elevate the proletarian.
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