Keep It Real
tagged 'Banksy' (on the turnover edge); numbered '11⁄15' (on the stretcher)
spray paint on canvas
12 x 12in. (30.5 x 30.5cm.)
Executed in 2003, this work is number eleven from an edition of fifteen
PYMCA (Kindit Ltd), London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004.
Further details
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Pest Control.

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Anna Touzin
Anna Touzin Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

Rendered in spray paint on canvas, Keep It Real features one of Banksy’s most iconic and popular motifs, the chimpanzee. Represented here in impactful monochrome, the monkey stands in a dejected stance with its arms limp and head lowered apathetically. Encumbered by a sandwich board that is slung over its shoulders, bearing the contrastingly cool and colloquial words ‘Keep It Real’, the work begs the question of what exactly constitutes everyday reality in contemporary Britain. Executed in 2003, the work was born out of a highly experimental and significant period in Banksy’s early career. It was in this year that Banksy presented his first major solo exhibition Turf War in London, and also commenced his series of museum pranks, most famously entering Tate Britain in disguise to hang one of his own artworks to a vacant space on the gallery wall. At once dissonant and satirical, the chimpanzee logo first appeared in Banksy’s arsenal just a year earlier, and would go on to be one of the artist’s most enduring and widely recognised subjects.

The celebrated chimpanzee stencil first appeared in situ in 2002, in a mural commissioned by a nightclub in Brighton. Ten chimps were depicted lined up, also adorned with boards emblazoned with the pithy line ‘Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge’. Recalling Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Banksy’s monkey has dystopic and portentous charge as it threatens to usurp man in the hierarchy of the species. Reminding the viewer of man, monkey and ape’s common ancestor, Banksy implies that the animal kingdom is not quite so far away from what we regard as evolved Western ‘civilisation’. Our systems, institutions and bureaucracy do not ennoble us from classification among these seemingly primitive mammals.

Indeed, this early employment of the monkey as a cogent device in Keeping It Real anticipates Banksy’s seminal Devolved Parliament, 2009. In a canvas stretched to the colossal width of over four metres, Banksy renders the House of Commons with the grandeur of a history painting. Yet, with his signature parodic and derisive twist, politicians are exchanged for a troop of chimpanzees, and by insinuation, diplomatic debate is substituted for an unruly cacophony of grunts, screeches, hoots and screams. The monkey serves as the perfect vehicle for Banksy’s socio-political commentary: ‘I use monkeys in my pictures for a lot of reasons’ he has stated, ‘guerrilla tactics, cheeky monkeys, the fact that we share 98.5 per cent of our DNA with them. If I want to say something about people, I use a monkey’ (Banksy, quoted in F. McClymont, ‘Cheeky Monkey’, The Independent, 27 May 2000).

Radically provocative for its anti-establishment rhetoric, Banksy’s work, with its low-grade and makeshift connotations, also pierces the elitist aesthetic pretensions of the middle and upper classes, the art world and its institutions. Switching from freehand painting to pre-cut stencils out of practical necessity after a close run-in with the police, Banksy recalled ‘as I lay there listening to the cops on the tracks I realised I had to cut my painting time in half or give up altogether’ (Banksy, quoted in Wall and Piece, London 2005, p. 13). Exploiting the anonymity and freedom afforded by the quick and discreet stencil, Banksy first executed this image directly within the urban landscape. Outside of the parameters of the gallery space, his art operates instead in a deeply charged ‘political battleground’ of crime, delinquency, branded capitalism, CCTV and surveillance (X. Tapies, Where’s Banksy?, London 2019, p. 7). Keep It Real therefore carries layered significance as, with characteristic bite, Banksy confronts the viewer with a sharp-edged reality that is all too honest.

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