Banksy Street Art
Without a doubt the best-known street artists in the world, Banksy is also one of the most elusive and controversial. Thought to be originally from Bristol, England, he started out in the graffiti scene in the 1990s, and soon found his individual, provocative style. He seems to revel in sneaking up on a city, working overnight and keeping his identity mysterious.
Images of Banksy’s provocative works often go viral, and today art lovers pay six-figure sums for his originals. (In October 2018, one such aficionado plunked down $1.4 million for a painting that, soon after purchase, self-destructed.)
Alas, however treasured, the pieces tend to be impermanent, either because of vandalism or thievery. Most of the following iconic pieces are still up to see, though the nature of street art makes it so we can never know when one will disappear.
'Falling Shopper' - Bruton Street, London
Dating back to 2011, this large stencil of a woman and a shopping trolley falling from a great height is situated very purposefully in London’s fancy shopping area of Mayfair. In typical Banksy style, it’s evidently meant to provoke debate, in this case about the pitfalls of consumerism.
This clever take on “shop’til you drop” can be found high on a concrete office building, where it will hopefully remain for a while longer.
‘Well Hung Lover’ - Park Street, Bristol, England
This popular piece of art in Banksy’s hometown has been dubbed, cheekily, "Well Hung Lover." It depicts a naked man hanging by one hand from a window ledge, while the husband of a scantily-clad woman, with whom the man seems to have an affair, looks out of the window searching for the culprit.
While initially opposed by city officials, the mural was left intact when, in an online poll, 97 percent of respondents said they supported it.
‘Rat with 3D Glasses’ - Egyptian Theatre, Park City, Utah
Banksy is a big fan of using rats in his art. As with everything surrounding the mysterious artist, no one knows why, but it's been theorized that the creature represents Banksy himself, a cunning figure who comes out at night.
It also seems to serve as an homage to French graffiti artist, and Banksy idol, Blek le Rat.
The artist himself reportedly once said of rats, “If you feel dirty, insignificant or unloved, then rats are a good role model. They exist without permission, they have no respect for the hierarchy of society, and they have sex 50 times a day.”
This particular little rat, ready for the cinema, was discovered after the Sundance Festival in 2010. A little worse for wear, it is currently being protected by the theater.
‘Man Offering Dog a Bone’ - Rue Victor Cousin, Paris
This mural is a stunning example of Banksy's penchant for political commentary.
To those casually walking past, it looks like nothing special — just a man giving a dog a bone. But look closer, and you'll see that the dog has only three legs, and the man a saw behind his back.
The mural is seemingly meant to provoke conversation about social progress, as it is located where students rose up against the government and capitalism in 1968.
‘Sight-Seeing Rats’ - Pont Rouelle, Paris
On the side of a bridge crossing the Seine, with the Eiffel Tower looming behind, you'll find a couple of well-dressed rats, she with a parasol, him wearing a hat and walking stick.
It's a rare example of a Banksy piece without political subtext; the cute rats seem to simply celebrate the fact that Paris is a city of the flaneur, the leisurely walker.
‘Rat Holding a Stencil Knife’ - Near Centre George Pompidou, Paris
As we've mentioned, Banksy was influenced by French street artist Blek le Rat and has previously called Paris the home of stencil street art. It's no wonder, then, that many of his pieces can be found in Paris.
This street sign — which depicts a rat wearing a bandana across his face so as not to be recognized, holding something that looks like a utility knife to cut stencil paper — is among the most memorable.
A self-portrait, perhaps?
‘Hammer Boy’ - W 79th Street, New York
This stencil depicts a young boy holding a large hammer, about to hit a bright-red hydrant as if playing a carnival game. It is a particularly clever example of the artist's ability to turn urban objects into art.
It was created during Banksy's 2013 visit to New York, where he stayed for a month and made 31 pieces of art. Each morning, he'd post a picture on his website, sending fans on frantic scavenger hunts to try to find the new pieces.
‘Umbrella Girl’ - 1098 Kerlerec Street, New Orleans
It's believed that this depiction of a young girl standing under an umbrella, reaching out her hand, is meant to serve as a reminder of Hurricane Katrina and the local floods.
After graffiti artists tagged the stencil repeatedly over the years, it was protected with high-quality plexi glass.
‘I Must Not Copy What I See on the Simpsons’ - 1518 St Bernard Avenue/N Robertson Street, New Orleans
In 2008, Banksy visited New Orleans and created this mural of a boy similar to Bart Simpson, writing on a black board, an homage to the iconic intro to "The Simpsons."
Two years later, Banksy was asked to create his own opening-credit sequence for the show, using the opportunity to call out the cruelty of sweatshop labor. Perhaps this piece was his attempt to get the attention of producers?
‘Designated Graffiti Area’ - Cargo, Rivington Street, London
This large mural depicting a policeman holding a fancy poodle under a sign stating "This wall is a designated graffiti area" reflects Banksy's patented cheeky humor and resistance to authority.
The piece is located in Shoreditch, an area filled with street art, and is protected behind acrylic glass in a beer garden.
‘Always Fail Rat’ - Mount Pleasant Post Office, Farringdon Road, London
It's hard to discern, but in this stencil, the rat is holding up a sign board that reads "Always Fail." It's believed to be a nod to the nickname for the Royal Mail, which has a reputation for never delivering posts on time.
‘My Tap's Being Phoned’ - Crisp Street, London
This stencil uses an existing tap (faucet) on a market street to, it's surmised, make a statement about the surveillance state. It was placed after the U.K. was rocked by a press phone-tapping (hacking) scandal.
‘Waiting in Vain at the Door of the Club’ - 678 W 51st Street, New York
This piece depicting a lonely man holding a wilting bouquet of flowers was initially located on a side door to Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, and is today located inside.
It was created as part of Banksy's residency in New York in 2013.
‘Cameraman and Flower’ - 4th Street, Park City, Utah
Just prior to the Banksy film "Exit Through the Gift Shop" being shown at the Sundance Film festival in 2010, this small mural depicting a cameraman tearing up a flower was placed on the wall of the Java Cow coffee shop. Protected by Perspex, it is still in place today.
‘Pillow Fight’ - Walled Off Hotel, Palestine
Walled Off Hotel is owned by Banksy and located between Bethlehem and the checkpoint to Jerusalem, by the West Bank wall. Many artists have decorated the space, including Banksy himself, whose Pillow Fight room features a politically charged mural of a tussle between an Israeli border policeman and a Palestinian man.
The hotel also houses a museum, an art gallery and a gift shop, which sells Banksy originals for much less than six-figure prices.
‘Girl on a Swing’ - 917 S Broadway, Los Angeles
As with "Hammer Boy" and "My Tap's Being Phoned," this piece makes clever use of an urban object — in this case, a prominent "Parking" sign with its "ing" whitened out. People have surmised that it might be commentary on green spaces getting destroyed to make way for more parking spaces. But as with all Banksy pieces, one can only theorize.
In 2014, an artist pleaded guilty on two felony counts for trying to vandalize the piece.
‘The Mourning Figure/Ghost' - Bataclan, Paris
The Bataclan is the concert venue in Paris where a terrorist attack in 2015 killed 137 people and injured another 413. To memorialize the tragedy, Banksy installed this ghostly mourner on the venue's side entrance door.
The piece spoke to so many people that it was initially protected by a self-appointed guardian, a resident homeless man. Later, it was safely preserved behind a plastic sheet.
In January 2019, thieves removed the entire door, absconding with the art — but there is hope that it could someday be found and returned to its rightful home.