Banksy created this work as part of The Cans Festival, Leake Street, London, in May 2008. It no longer exists. Photo: Courtesy of Pest Control Office, Banksy, London, 2008
Although his identity remains a mystery, Banksy’s provocative stencils are among the most iconic and controversial images in Street Art. He first sprayed — or ‘bombed’ — the walls of Bristol in the southwest of England in the early 1990s, but his fame soared after he moved to London in the early 2000s. He has since left his mark on cities around the world, from Bristol to Barcelona and Bethlehem.
His first official solo show in over a decade, Cut and Run showcased the artist’s original and previously unseen stencils used to create some of his murals over the last 25 years. Held at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, it drew record visitor numbers during its ten-week run in the summer of 2023.
Banksy, No Ball Games (Grey), 2009. Screenprint in colours on wove paper, signed in pencil, numbered 182/250. Image: 610 x 640 mm
Banksy has an Academy Award-nominated documentary (2010’s Exit through the Gift Shop), a pop-up ‘bemusement park’ (Dismaland, created in 2015), a dystopian hotel (The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem), more than 12 million followers on Instagram and an auction record of £18.5 million to his name.
His collectors include celebrity actors, musicians and artists, and even the British Museum, which added a fake banknote depicting Diana, Princess of Wales, to its collection of coins, medals and currency.
In May 2020, Banksy’s canvas Game Changer, which shows a boy playing with a nurse doll dressed as a superhero, appeared overnight in a hospital in England as the artist’s way to thank staff for their contribution to tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. The following March, Christie’s offered the picture, with the proceeds going to charity. It raised £16.8 million and became Banksy’s second most valuable work to have sold at auction.
So, how did Banksy’s art go from the street to the saleroom? Here, Prints & Multiples specialist James Baskerville explores Banksy’s commercial career and the works that have performed best at auction.
Banksy versus the art market
The irony that the Establishment has embraced his anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian art is not lost on Banksy. His screenprint Morons lampoons the auction world: the image parodies a photograph of Christie’s record-breaking sale of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers in 1987.
Van Gogh’s Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers goes to auction at Christie’s on 30 March 1987. The painting sold for £22,500,000, the record price for any artwork at the time of the sale
Banksy, Morons (Sepia), 2007. Screenprint in colours on Somerset wove paper, signed and numbered 142/300. Image: 507 x 709 mm. Sold for £44,100 on 28 September 2023 at Christie’s Online
Banksy has been selling his art since the 1990s
Alongside his street art, Banksy has been creating works for sale for more than 20 years and his earliest commercial prints are from 2002.
‘Banksy didn’t create prints to make money. They were sold for low prices in order to democratise his art and make it accessible,’ explains Baskerville. ‘People were often buying the art as if it was a poster, with no awareness of its future value.’
Banksy continued to sell his work in later, now-famous solo exhibitions, including Barely Legal in Los Angeles in 2006, and Banksy versus Bristol Museum in 2009.
His most iconic images fetch the highest prices
Banksy’s most sought-after editions, canvases and sculptures are often directly inspired by his graffiti art.
Girl with Balloon, depicting a girl extending her hand towards a heart-shaped balloon, was originally a series of stencil murals first sprayed in London in 2002 and is synonymous with the artist.
‘Editions of this iconic artwork are some of the most desirable Banksy pieces at auction,’ says Baskerville. There are variations of the image in red, purple, pink and gold.
In September 2020, Christie’s sold an artist’s proof with a purple balloon for £791,250, more than triple its low estimate. The price set a new world record for a Banksy edition at the time of sale.
Banksy, Nola AP (Dark Orange to Light Orange Rain), 2008. Screenprint in colours on arches wove paper, signed and numbered AP/62l, from the edition of 66 artist’s proofs of six colour variants. Image: 639 x 440 mm
Banksy, Nola (White), 2008. Screenprint in colours on arches wove paper, signed and numbered 76/289. Image: 640 x 440 mm
NOLA, also known as Umbrella Girl, first appeared in New Orleans in 2008. It was created in response to the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Editions with white, grey, orange and yellow rain were subsequently made for general release in editions of 289, 63, 32 and 31 respectively.
Banksy also made a total of 66 artist’s proofs comprised of six unreleased colourways, including the transitional colourways Dark Orange to Light Orange Rain and Green to Blue Rain. The sale of NOLA (Yellow Rain) — Outside of the edition for £375,000 in April 2021 set a record price for the subject at auction.
Rats and chimps
According to Baskerville, works featuring rats and chimps are among the most recognisable and sought-after. ‘There are many variations of the rats. Some hold placards, others paint,’ says the specialist. ‘A picture of a chimpanzee bearing the words “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge” is also one of the most celebrated.’
Banksy, Welcome to Hell, 2004. Screenprint in colours on wove paper, numbered 115/175. Image: 388 x 180 mm
Original Banksy graffiti
By the late 2000s, the art world had caught up with Banksy’s popular appeal, and many of his surviving works (those which had not been removed by overzealous council graffiti-removal teams) had been removed from their original public settings and sold, without the artist’s consent.
Banksy has always wanted his street-art pieces to remain in their original contexts, and it is important to note that they will not be authenticated by the artist or his team if they have been removed.
Since the 1990s, Banksy has ‘bombed’ cities across the UK, including London, Brighton and Bristol, as well as urban hotspots across America, Australia and Canada. He strikes with no prior warning, so the next city or dwelling to be sprayed could be yours.
In August 2021, Banksy undertook a ‘Great British Spraycation’ and installed several graffiti pieces in sites on the east coast of England.
In November 2022, Several Banksy murals with anti-war themes appeared in cities across Ukraine. Days later, the artist confirmed they were by his hand when he uploaded a video of his painting tour through bombed-out cities to his social media account.
Soon after Banksy released the screenprint (Fr)agile in an edition of 50, donating all the proceeds from sales to the Legacy of War Foundation.
He also released the following statement: ‘In Ukraine I saw a Legacy of War team sweep in and provide medical attention, heaters, fresh water and a friendly face to some very desperate people in a bombed out building. They also lent me one of their ambulances to work from, which turned out to be extremely useful when an angry babushka found me painting on her building and called the Police. I feel the least I should do is raise enough money to replace the number plates on the ambulance I hotted up.’
‘Banksy’s murals in Ukraine, and his subsequent fundraising print release, is a continuation of the artist’s constant support for charities helping those in the most desperate of situations,’ says Baskerville.
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His prints often come in both unsigned and signed editions — and a Pest Control certificate is essential
Banksy’s unsigned prints are created in higher edition numbers. As a result, they are more affordable than their signed counterparts. Unsigned and signed artworks are equally legitimate — a certificate from Pest Control, Banksy’s ‘handling service’, is the proof of authenticity that you need.
Banksy set up Pest Control in 2008 to authenticate his artworks and prevent fakes from circulating on the market. All Banksy artworks created after 2009 were sold with a Pest Control certificate. The service can retroactively issue certificates for works created before 2008. Pest Control is now the only channel through which to buy new primary-market works by the artist.
Baskerville warns that there are fake Pest Control certificates in circulation. ‘If you’re unsure about your certificate, you can have it checked via Pest Control’s ‘Keeping It Real’ service. All of the works that we offer are reviewed by Pest Control prior to sale.’
Banksy’s works are currently only available on the secondary market
‘It’s not possible to buy a new work by Banksy on the primary market these days,’ says Baskerville. ‘A decade ago, the artist was selling directly through certified dealers, at exhibitions, or through his former printers, Pictures on Walls. But today he only sells directly, and nothing is currently available.’
If you are acquiring a Banksy on the secondary market, the specialist’s advice is to buy from a trusted source such as a big auction house or a reputable dealer. All Banksy artworks offered at Christie’s have been authenticated and come with Pest Control certificates.
Banksy, Choose Your Weapon (Light Orange), 2010. Screenprint in colours on wove paper, signed in orange crayon, numbered 20/25. Image: 600 x 600 mm. Sold for £88,200 on 28 September 2023 at Christie’s Online
Banksy, Choose Your Weapon AP (Dark Blue), 2010. Screenprint in colours on wove paper, signed and numbered AP/4, one of a small number of this rare colourway from the edition of 58 artist’s proofs comprised of different colour variants. Image 600 x 600 mm. Sold for £126,000 on 28 September 2023 at Christie’s Online
Choose Your Weapon is one of the artist’s most collectable series and was produced in a multitude of colourways.
The image pays tribute to Keith Haring’s iconic ‘barking dog’ motif, remixing it with a hooded figure and chain leash. In addition to the standard edition of 100 in the ‘Cool Grey’ colourway, the artist produced several other variants in smaller editions of 25, including ‘Light Orange’, ‘Turquoise’, ‘Magenta’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Silver’. There was also a subsequent colourway called ‘Queue Jumping Grey’, which was created in an edition of 58 for those who had missed out on obtaining a print at the original release due to others pushing in line.
A special release of 58 artist’s proofs were mostly comprised of different colour variants from the published series, with a very small number in an additional colourway of ‘Dark Blue’. This colour was not released as a numbered edition, and so is exceedingly rare, having only been available within the artist proof edition and a select few gift impressions.
Banksy’s market has a wide collector base
In Baskerville’s opinion, Banksy has earned his place in art history. ‘There is continued interest for Banksy editions and we see increased demand from collectors when the artist pulls a stunt and global media coverage ensues.’
It’s also a matter of supply and demand. Baskerville points out that Banksy didn’t release any new editions between Choose Your Weapon in 2010 and Sale Ends (v.2), which was released from the Pictures on Walls closing-down sale in 2017.
‘The artist then unexpectedly unveiled a shopfront in Croydon, London, in October 2019, where collectors had the opportunity to purchase limited editions and collectibles via a lottery system. However, the lucky buyers had to wait two years before they could apply for the accompanying certificates of authenticity. This was also the case with the most recent edition (Fr)agile, released at the end of 2022.’
Banksy, Banksquiat (Grey), 2019. Screenprint in colours on grey card, signed and numbered 153/300. Image: 700 x 652 mm
Look after your Banksy — and it will look after you
Although Banksy’s street art is weathered, most of his commercial works are issued in pristine condition — whether on paper, canvas, cardboard or stencilled on a wooden box. Care for them as you would any other artwork: hang canvases and prints away from direct sunlight and changing humidity. Works on paper should be framed beneath UV-protective glass.
It’s just as important to look after the Pest Control certificate: you will need it if you ever decide to sell your Banksy.