Banksy is in the news again, who’d have thought? For the benefit of anyone dwelling beneath something hard and rock like, an image of three drone missiles appeared on a STOP sign at a road junction in Peckham, South London, acknowledged as a genuine Banksy on Banksy’s instagram. What made this Banksy particularly newsworthy was the blatant broad daylight removal of the street sign by two thieves which was captured on hi-definition video footage and rapidly circulated on social media.
The artwork is an anti-war message, Banksy’s name for the image is “Stop War”. There is little doubt in the light of Banksy’s past work in support of Palestine that the reference is to the current war in Gaza.
Among the more ludicrous theories spouted on the internet was the idea that this theft was some kind of Banksy stunt. Team Banksy is renown for professionalism and secrecy, it’s hard to imagine Banksy engaging a thief who didn’t have the nous to cover their face when committing a crime in front of the cameras. Also, Banksy would surely have had to give any accomplice an indemnity for potential consequences including arrest and he isn’t that stupid.
The artwork’s message is delivered through a subversion of an existing road sign, this is a rather unusual niche in Banksy’s street art.
Banksy’s books, website and Instagram account are the only public sources for verifying something as a genuine Banksy and these reveal just a few examples of modified street signs. In his 2005 Wall and Piece book we find two photos of what appear to be subverted road signs though we’d need photos of the intact signs to be certain. In 2009 there was an amended “No Stopping” sign in Whitechapel, London with a rat in a wheel, an image that appeared subsequently in New York and Croydon except the rat is now in a clock face rat race.
In 2018 a genuine Banksy “OAP Crossing” sign appeared in Clevedon, Somerset. The sign needed the context of an elderly population for full impact so as a dormitory town for retired old folk Clevedon was ideal but in the absence of a suitable existing sign Banksy made the sign from scratch and placed it on the lamppost.
Identical drones have appeared a number of times in the Banksy cannon including as artwork in his currently closed Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem and as part of the Gross Domestic Product shop in 2019.
The GDP drones were advertised for sale online by Banksy and the secret of the craftsmanship is revealed in the product description. From photos they may look stencilled but the drones are actually painted resin glued to the signs. This gives rise to the excellent drop shadow effect and the relief structure can be seen in this photo.
For about 12 hours the police position on the Peckham stop sign was they weren’t taking any action as no loss had been reported. After a short idling period they did a U-turn to “Seeking information regarding an incident” which then gave way to “A man has been arrested”. Miffed artists droned on about preferential treatment for Banksy and one full caps online comment screamed “SOUTHWARK APPARENTLY THINK ITS THEIRS. ITS NOT”, referring to the notion of street art being for everyone. Well, actually it is theirs. The thief was charged with criminal damage which is a property offence, nothing to do with it being art theft. Street signs on local roads (sub motorway and A roads) are the council’s responsibility and Southwark could not give a flying one about the Banksy, it’s more likely that they can’t be seen to be blasé about such a high profile un-authorised street sign removal.
Other artists have augmented street signs for art and political purposes, without doubt the best known is the French artist Clet Abraham. Banksy isn’t the only artist whose subverted street signs get nicked.
This isn’t the first time I have put up a blog post on Christmas Day, in 2009 Robbo (RIP) delivered a brilliant ripost to Banksy, part of the memorable spat between the pair and blogged HERE.
Many thanks to Art Of The State whose thoughts and reminders greatly informed this post