Shredded version displayed on page - spray paint on canvas, 2006
Original - stencil mural, 2002
Active since the 1990s, Banksy is an English street artist and activist, who despite his world-wide fame, remains anonymous to this day. His stencil and spray paint-based technique is utilized to create humorous, thought-provoking social commentary that can be admired by the masses. On his technique he writes, “As soon as I cut my first stencil I could feel the power there. I also like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars.”
Balloon Girl was a series of works Banksy began in London in 2002 depicting a simple image of a young girl, dress blowing in the wind, arm reaching out towards a bright red balloon. Has she purposely let it go, or is she reaching out to grab it? It may be interpreted in many ways from lost innocence, and fragility, to the arrival of hope and love. In traditional Western art, this would be considered a momento mori, or a visual reminder of the brevity of life.
While Banksy shields his identity, he encourages a direct connection between artists and their followers. He explained, “This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people. We need to make it count.” On October 5th, 2018, he did just that when one of his Balloon Girl pieces went up for auction at Sotheby’s, and as the bidding began, it self-destructed in a booby-trapped shredder! On Instagram Banksy called this newly altered painting, “Going, going, gone…” He also created a video capturing this spectacle that included a quote he attributes to Picasso, “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”
Despite its new identity, the partially shredded artwork sold for $1.37 million and will take its place as one of the most shocking cultural criticisms and performance pieces ever seen.
*momento mori – A memento mori is an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death. The expression 'memento mori' developed with the growth of Christianity, which emphasized Heaven, Hell, and salvation of the soul in the afterlife.
For more information on the artist, visit smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-story-behind-banksy-4310304/
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-Johnny DePalma, Owner / Curator
-Janelle Graves, Art Historian / Museum Educator