Nowadays everyone knows Banksy. They actually know his name and his art, since he still remains anonymous. Many wrote and write about him, his identity, his artistic portfolio, and the meanings behind it. This article would be different – it aspires to be an art city guide. You can use it now if you live next to a Banksy art location, or it could be useful for planning a trip in the future. Even if you don’t want to wait, or can’t go everywhere in the world, you can travel now. Thanks to Google Maps!
Banksy is famous for his satirical, original, and socially relevant works. He makes his audience reflect. The masterpieces of the street artist are not only ones made using cans and colors. He also creates sculptures, paintings, exhibitions, installations… and hotels.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to physically see every masterpiece for different reasons. First of all, there are so many, located almost everywhere in the world. Secondly, many of them were painted over and do not exist anymore. Thirdly, Banksy has an enigmatic official site and has only been using Instagram as a social network for the last few years, without ever posting any single piece or allowing any official exhibition about himself.
However, technology can help. If you want to see which artworks still exist and where, you can use Google Maps. With this tool and the present “worldwide guide”, you can learn about a selection of existing artworks that you can see personally or through the “street view” function (just open the links in this article!).
But that’s not enough. In some places, Google Maps gives you the option to see the “history” of the street view. Choosing the right year would allow you to find just the right spot from which a famous Banksy photo was taken. You can even travel in time to see some “ghost oeuvres”.
Banksy went to Paris in 2018 to paint a collection of murals during the fifty-year anniversary of the 1968 student uprising. There was a massive occupation of university buildings asking for “a new world”, far away from the consumerist capitalism and in which migrants would obtain asylum. A very contemporary theme. The most famous, mural with a mouse is located at the beginning of Rue Maitre Albert, next to a migrant center. The 8 has been removed, becoming Minnie Mouse’s ears. The ideals of 1968 have fallen in favor of a typical capitalist symbol for Paris: Disneyland. On Google Maps you can see it from Place Maubert, going through Rue Maitre Albert. You’ll see people taking photos!
The Red Horseman is on Avenue de Flandre. It is Napoleon with a red veil on his face. It is probably a criticism of French law, forbidding the wearing of the Niqab in public, which was brought into reality in 2010.
The first graffiti Banksy ever created in Italy was the Madonna with a gun, on Piazza Gerolomini, visible from Via dei Tribunali. The work is evidently a comment on the city’s reputation as full of devout Catholics and at the same time, of gun crime. As a matter of fact, a gun has been painted in place of a halo on the Virgin Mary, whose glance is towards a votive niche, which doesn’t exist anymore.
Venice was an efficacious theater for Banksy. The city was the place of his performance next to the Biennale in May 2019. He exposed a satirical street stall of oil paintings depicting a large cruise ship surrounded by Venetian gondolas. This was probably a criticism of the negative impact of tourism on the city. A pair of policemen invited him to go away, not having any permission to open a stall.
Just a few days earlier, Banksy had completed the Migrant Child, on the island of Dorsoduro, visible from Campiello Mosca. This work represents a child wearing a lifejacket and holding a pink flare. A reference to migrants and refugees is evident and it is currently a strong political issue in the country.
Unfortunately, the work can’t be seen in “street view” as the most recent picture is from October 2017. However, the location is this building.
London has always been one of Banksy’s favorite spots. It was even the scenario in which an epic battle took place: the one between him and the veteran street artist King Robbo (see details here).
Some of Banksy’s artworks are still fairly visible in the city. The first is Yellow Lines Flower Painter, on Pollard Street. The graffiti shows a painter resting after painting double yellow lines that turn into a large yellow flower on a wall. Over the years, the work has been heavily damaged. Only the Flower still survives.
The work Shop until you drop survives on the side of an office building on Bruton Lane. Also known as the Falling Shopper, shows a woman falling from the top of a building together with a shopping cart. The artwork simply points out the perils of consumerism. It is now still visible, although quite damaged.
The artwork entitled Designated graffiti area is situated at the back of the nightclub Cargo, on Rivington Street. It consists of the exact words “designated graffiti area” accompanied by a security guard with a poodle guard dog. Self-explanatory: graffiti is illegal, so let’s legalize it by writing a permission statement. Ironic as usual.
In Liverpool, Rumford Street, you can still see Love plane, a copy of which had appeared in London but today has totally vanished). What about love instead of pollution?
Brighton was the place of the iconic Kissing coppers. “Was”, because the original one was removed from the wall and sold to an anonymous buyer in Miami in 2011. However, a copy remains on Frederick Street, since the sentiment of the work was very important. Some think Banksy is poking fun at policemen, but others believe the work has a strong positive meaning, as showing a human side to the police force and at the same time imagining a sexual-identity accepting society.
Bristol is very probably Banksy’s home, therefore there is plenty of graffiti, many of which perfectly preserved.
On Lower Lamb Street you can see You don’t need planning permission to build castles in the sky. The view in Maps is from 2012 because it is a very hidden place and it has not been photographed again since, but the work is still there, although a bit modified by a sort of door. The meaning of the sentence may be a sweet encouragement to dream the future, as also suggested by the smile created with the sentence.
The work Girl with the Pierced Eardrum appears between Hanover Place and Sydney Row. It is evidently Banksy’s 21st century translation of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. The difference lies in the technique and in the earring itself, which is an octagonal burglar alarm. Our street artist is also a champion in incorporating pre-existing features into his oeuvres. But there’s more about this Girl. This year someone gifted it with a pandemic-accessory: a mask. Was it Banksy or not? That’s not important: the message is clear.
On Stoke Croft, you can admire one of the first (if not the first) piece of Banksy street art in Bristol, created in 1999 – The Mild Mild West. It depicts a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at three riot police. It refers to the police forbidding raves in abandoned buildings in Bristol during the 1990s. Nothing wild, just always the “mild”, quiet England.
Finally, a damaged but still visible piece is one on Park Street. Well-Hung Lovers or Naked Man Hanging from Window acquires a notable meaning especially because the street artist painted it on the side of a sexual health clinic.
Hastings, St Leonard on Sea
Going further south in England, in Hastings, St Leonard on Sea, you can find the Tesco Sandcastles painting. This is evidently another criticism of consumerism: Tesco is a famous chain of supermarkets. From the street, the painting can be spotted thanks to the plexiglass covering it.
On the wall of a garage on Coome Street, an origami-crane with a goldfish in its mouth appeared in 2012. Nowadays it is barely distinguishable from the wall, but it is surely still there. Its interpretation could refer to the problem of extinction of animals: will only “fake” ones remain?
God Bless Birmingham, as it was baptized, is a work on Vyse Street which became famous all over the world because it features in a video on Banksy’s Instagram. It shows a homeless person named Ryan on a bench playing the role of Santa Claus, being pulled by two reindeer. However, just a few hours later, a vandal added red noses on the reindeer. A protective covering now stands in front of the work.
Like the one in Venice, the work is still not visible in street view because it is a photo from July 2019. However, here is the exact location of the famous bench.
The same story goes for Port Talbot in Wales. The place visible from Google Maps is clean because the piece was created on an anonymous garage just a few months ago. It is Season’s Greetings, an artwork that – playing with perspective – makes us reflect on pollution. What seems to be snow is in reality ashes. The reason for choosing Port Talbot was simple: it had just been crowned as the most polluted city in the United Kingdom.
In Nottingham, you can find such a recent stencil, that the paint may still be wet. On Rothesay Avenue, on October 13th, 2020, a girl hula-hooping with a tire was found, just next to a bike chained to a lamp post. And the bike is missing a tire! Banksy claimed his augmented-reality graffiti on October 17th, as usual via his Instagram page.
The Big Apple was one of Banksy’s favorite canvases. For example, in 2008 it was the place of The Village Pet Store & Charcoal Grill, an art installation. It took the form of a fake pet shop, criticizing our relationship with animals and questioning the ethics and sustainability of factory farming. It featured creepy exemplars, like chicken nuggets with legs dipping themselves in sauce.
New York was also the city of the Better our than in Residency, a one-month period in October 2013 during which Banksy created one artwork a day.
However, New York is the principal city of street artists. Therefore, many of Banksy’s works are now lost because they were painted over. The best conserved one is Hammer Boy on 79th Street. The child is playing a high striker or strongman game commonly found at carnivals; however, the exact meaning of the piece is unclear.
Banksy visited and loved the city of jazz, where he created a few pieces of graffiti. The most known is Nola, or Girl with Umbrella, on Annette Street. It appeared in response to the hurricanes that devastated New Orleans, affectionately called NOLA: Katrina in 2005 and Gustav in 2008. Banksy’s aim was to show sympathy for the city’s inhabitants. The young girl relies on her umbrella for obvious protection against the rain but discovers that the umbrella itself is the source of the rain.
In LA an actual masterpiece can be admired. The pre-existing word “PARKING” is modified into “PARK”, erasing the last three letters and adding a girl on a swing. The street artist probably wanted to warn against the necessity of guaranteeing places for kids instead of creating more spaces for cars. The work is still present along S. Broadway, in a narrow passage between two buildings. Of course, it was originally a parking lot.
On Broadway, San Francisco, open criticism of American politics is depicted. If at First You Don’t Succeed – Call an Airstrike, says a child wearing a gas mask. The usual, ironic Banksy develops in his own version of a famous quote. The work is at a high position and is only perceivable because during the day.
Toronto was the scene of another graffiti battle, the one against the Grey Ghost. He was a mysterious figure who painted over graffiti with a grey tone. Although he covered many of Banksy’s pieces, two still remain. The one in Church Street represents a man hugging a kid and another man on the other side, who seems to be looking at the word “Banksy”.
The other one, Guard with balloon dog, was put in a museum to be preserved.
Israel and Mediterranean Sea Guide
The Walled Off Hotel and the Armored Dove
Banksy was very active in reference to the Israel-Palestine question, especially on the wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In the latter city, he created The Walled Off Hotel. This is a real hotel in Caritas Street, Bethlehem, which the artist himself projected and furnished. It has a special view: the controversial wall. The furniture and decorations are also studied ad hoc: an example is the painting in a room representing two soldiers in the middle of a pillow fight.
The wall itself was a great canvas for a lot of street artists. Besides around 7 artworks realized on it, Banksy also chose the side of a Palestinian Heritage Center to create his Armored Dove. In this difficult city, even the perennial symbol of peace has to protect itself.
The Louise Michel Boat
In the Mediterranean Sea, Banksy very recently bought and painted a boat, which was then donated to a non-governmental organization to save migrants and refugees. It was named Louise Michel after a French feminist anarchist. This is another sign on the same theme of Venice’s mural.
Banksy’s ghost oeuvres are countless. Now, Banksy claims his art pieces on Instagram and had previously published them on his personal site. However, not every piece of work appears on either his social media or his personal site. Some could have been painted on successively destroyed buildings; authorities or other artists may have erased some others. Let’s take a look a some of the more significant ones.
One Nation under CCTV is the famous criticism about controlling lives under the excuse of security and it was totally painted over. It was visible in 2008 on Newman Street, London.
One of the best tributes to the past and contemporarily a statement of his own aim was Choose your Weapon, on The Grange, London. The dog was used as a form of protection against criminals for the young people of this district. But the man is Banksy himself, and the dog is Keith Haring’s. So, Banksy recognizes where his art comes from, at the same time declaring that street art is his weapon.
If graffiti changed anything – it would be illegal says a simple, self-explanatory statement on Clipstone Street, London.
The famous Masked Gorilla or Gorilla in a Pink Mask from 2008 was painted over many times and then restored. The last time (just a few weeks ago) anonymous people definitively covered it. It was located on Fishpond Road, Bristol.
Just photographs and reproductions
Here are four globally famous pieces that are neither easily visible on Google Maps, nor easy to find on the streets.
First of all Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge, a piece that the artist also largely sold. Is it a warning about exploiting poor people, who will one day rebel? Or about exploiting animals and putting an end to the human species?
Secondly, Love is in the Air or Flower Thrower, another masterpiece on a wall on the side of a garage in Jerusalem on the main road to Bethlehem. It is next to the famous, hated wall. The artwork refers to the idea of throwing something other than bombs might result in peace.
Then, the graffiti in Dover put a light on Brexit, showing a man destroying a star on the European Union flag. When Brexit was about to become a reality, someone painted over the stencil work. Banksy is said to have planned to update the mural with a fallen flag on Brexit day.
Last but not least, There is always hope (or Girl with Balloon or Balloon Girl or Girl and Balloon), the famous masterpiece depicting a girl losing her balloon, is no more visible on its original wall in London, but has been repainted in many locations and then largely sold as an icon on many surfaces. Its most famous reproduction on canvas became Love is in the bin at the moment of sale. The artist had hidden a paper shredder in the frame, which activated when the auction operators moved the painting. A revolutionary idea that only a genius or a visionary (or a visionary genius?) could have come up with.
Maybe we will never have a real “ultimate” guide: the artworks are too numerous, and the artist is still active. But many are happy with that: they are now just waiting for Banksy’s next original. In the meanwhile, some reading material about graffiti and street art would help.
- Banksy, Gary Shove, Patrick Potter, Lee Crutchley. You are an acceptable level of threat and if you were not you would know about it. Great Britain, Carpet Bombing Culture, Tenth Edition, 2019.
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Online Art Travels: An Ultimate Banksy City Guide for 2020 was first posted on October 27, 2020 at 5:00 pm.
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