Anonymous street artist Banksy has put forth many highly controversial pieces that seem to increase in relevance with time.
Using street art as a medium, Banksy has displayed a great distaste of the very structure of western society. Combatting ideologies of consumerism, capitalism and corruption, he often uses stencils, paint and unadulterated creativity within urban landscapes to create politically-charged images that resonate across the globe.
Through layers of symbolism, Banksy has managed to create thought-provoking artwork that aims to spread international awareness and spark constructive discourse around depicted issues. Although some may perceive his means as an act of vandalism, the controversy of the resulting artwork remains as relevant today as when originally found. Here are ten of the most crucial artworks by Banksy.
Elephant In the Room, Los Angeles, USA (2006)
One of the most highly debated pieces was found within Banksy’s free show Barely Legal as a live elephant was painted to match the surrounding walls. “There is an elephant in the room” often describes a situation in which people are clearly missing the big picture, that something is going on without their attention right in front of them. Banksy aimed to show he felt strongly that citizens are consistently letting significant life issues pass on a regular basis. The piece being open to the public for free, and using an interactive stage with a live animal allowed for people to feel included, and likely managed to influence the most amount of minds of the common public.
Sorry the Lifestyle You Ordered is Currently Out of Stock, London, UK (2011)
In the most basic of fonts, “Sorry! the lifestyle you ordered is out of stock” is written in black text over a white block backdrop on the side of a building in London. Banksy uses this piece to comment on the the unobtainable lifestyle desires of the many, pointing towards Capitalism as the driving force toward our cravings for endless amounts of possessions. Using a side of a building with the city landscape situated in the background allows the viewer to greatly ponder the vast extent of this potential truth.
Cardinal Sin, Liverpool, UK (2011)
Surrounding the many sexual abuse cases that seem to commonly stem from the church, Banksy steps out of his usual painting in favour of a sculptural bust. Cardinal Sin is a bust with its face sawn off and replaced with blank tiles that mimic a blur and block a clear vision of the priest’s face. This work was gifted to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, where it has been presented since. In a famous quote, Banksy states “At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse.” Strong comments on religion naturally bring about a great amount of backlash, but with the scandals continuously plaguing the church, viewers are left to ponder its validity.
Snorting Copper, London, UK (2005)
Police are often criticized by the few who fail to uphold the law, however within London’s drug culture, it seems to be worsening. Corrupt officers are known to routinely turn a blind eye to major drug dealers in exchange for a piece of the profits. In this shocking graphic, a cop is looking up while snorting a line of cocaine, which the creeps onto the ground in front of the work. Yet another work by Banksy showing a highly critical view on the system at hand. With such criticism, it is somewhat surprising that so many have protected this piece closely after it being rediscovered.
Draw the Raised Bridge, Hull, UK (2018)
Reading “draw the raised bridge,” a boy in a superhero-type costume is stenciled in black and white on an abandoned bridge. The most common interpretation is that it related to the brexit decision and the ongoing immigrant crisis in Europe and America. The location is important, as bridges are a structural representation of allowing people free mobility, which shows the art when rising, closing off the mobility. It can also be noted that the boy is very young, potentially inferring a us versus them mentality in terms of immigration or bordering countries can be immature and generally problematic.
KKK, Birmingham, USA (2008)
Banksy went pretty obvious with a message in this one with a Ku Klux Klan member being hung on the side of an Abandoned gas station, a shocking reminder of the history of Alabama. The people of Birmingham were quick to blackout the painting, but not before people captured a few images to be shared. The UK artist made an effort to show his need for redemption, as well as his depth of knowledge surrounding the history of the deep south.
Steve Jobs, Calais, FR, (2015)
In a refugee camp in Calais, Banksy painted a portrait of Steve Jobs carrying an older computer and a duffle bag as a reminder to many that the famous founder of Apple, like many other successful company CEOs and founders, had immigrant parents. While immigrants are consistently bashed for bringing the worst into a country, Banksy made an effort to prove that they are often contributors of importance, with fresh ideas and creative outlooks. The late Jobs is perhaps the best reminder as one of the most powerful and influential people of modern history.
Consumer Jesus (2004)
Christmas to Banksy is a massive paradox. A holiday dedicated and associated with family, togetherness and giving thanks through religion has become driven by profit. This profound thought was solidified during poor economic times throughout England, as sales of products through December never failed to increase. Banksy uses a depiction of Jesus hanging with shopping bags in his hands in place of the usual nails. Jesus (or Christmas) is viewed in this painting as being a slave to the consumer industry. With attention to detail, mickey mouse ears car be seen protruding from one of the bags, which speaks to corporate control of society.
Let Them Eat Crack, New York, USA (2008)
Through this massive installation of paint on the side of a three storey building, Banksy proves his depth of knowledge of the problems that plague America and deeply relates them to Queen Marie Antoinette’s famous quote “let them eat cake”. Antoinette’s quote is known for her utter lack of knowledge of the lifestyle of the lower class. Banksy effectively attributes a similar quote “let them eat crack,” referring to the lack of care and knowledge regarding poverty throughout the American upper class. Crack cocaine is known as a common in poverty stricken areas the US and sometimes is even used to negate hunger. Banksy furthers his point as the rat carries a briefcase full of money and an umbrella, likely showing how people shield themselves from lower class issues when they ultimately find their own success
Pop-Up Art Stall, New York, USA (2013)
In a particularly unusual way, Banksy sold his art for the very first time. Kind of. He managed to produce many small canvas artworks and hired an older gentleman to sell the pieces at a stand in Central Park. For about half the day, no paintings were sold but finally a few were purchased at the modest rate of $60 each and resold after the fact for nearly $30,000 a piece. Consistently, Banksy is robbed of his work as building owners and property managers remove it from the street and sell it themselves for large sums of money despite the great strides to protect them. With this pop-up shop people were then given easy access, yet leaves it up to the common citizens to obtain the art they enjoy, rather than just for his name.
Words by Eric Cooper.