Venus is one of the most important examples of Banksy’s highly significant and internationally celebrated series of Corrupted Oils, in which masterpieces of the Western Art Historical tradition are vandalised through frequently humorous additions. Brilliantly provocative and boldly witty in its appropriation of probably the most iconic image of beauty, Banksy’s Venus transforms Velazquez’s The Rokeby Venus (1647-51) into a pithy commentary on the commercialisation of looks and appearance in the modern age. Whilst the original painting - in which the languidly reclining goddess of Love admires herself in the mirror held up by her son Cupid - is an unabashed meditation on female beauty, Banksy’s Venussubverts this message with exquisite irony. Venus, the most beautiful of the gods, is here rendered delightfully fallible through the presence of a bandage on the bridge of her nose, clearly indicating that a woman considered the acme of feminine perfection has succumbed to the lure of cosmetic enhancement. Through this small but loaded addition, Banksy thus transforms the goddess into a recognisably mortal woman, one who turns trustingly to the modern phenomenon of cosmetic surgery as an instinctively accepted solution.
As Banksy’s oeuvre developed from the urban street art of his origins he sought new ways to challenge the prevailing traditions of art history. He wrote in 2006, “If you want to survive as a graffiti writer when you go indoors I figured your only option is to carry on painting over things that don’t belong to you there either.”(Banksy, Wall and Piece, 2006, p.158). Venus, which formed part of ‘Barely Legal’, Banksy’s seminal exhibition in Los Angeles that achieved widespread acclaim and recognition for the artist, is the perfect incarnation of this sentiment and retains the sharp sense of humour and witty satirising of contemporary culture that characterise his graffiti art. With truly remarkable painterly skill, Banksy recreates Velazquez’s work before adding his own addition and in doing so challenges the whole canon of Art Historical practice. Far from being dislocated from his urban art, with his Venus Banksy’s foray into figurative art magnificently encapsulates the thrillingly subversive spirit that he embodies.
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