First appearing on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana in 2008, Banksy’s Nola or Umbrella Girl marked the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Offering a poignant memorial and searing critique, Nola AP (Green to Blue Rain) (2008) presents a young girl carrying an umbrella. Paradoxically, the green and blue rain pours down not from the sky but rather the umbrella itself, drenching the bewildered child, who reaches a hand outward towards a surprisingly tranquil sky. Like the city’s flood walls and levees which failed to protect its citizens from the rising waters, her umbrella too offers no guarantee of security or shelter. Banksy’s image was part of a series of fourteen murals put up in the city which gave image to the devastation wrought by the hurricane; Nola, as she is known, is also the nickname for New Orleans, short for 'New Orleans Louisiana'. According to a statement the artist released, the murals were also created as a response to the anti-graffiti campaigner Fred Radtke, known as the Gray Ghost, who uses grey paint to cover over street art: ‘Three years after Katrina I wanted to make a statement about the state of the clean up operation’ (Banksy, quoted in J. Bloom, ‘Banksy Hits New Orleans’, New York Times, 28 August 2008).
Three years after Katrina I wanted to highlight the state of the clean up operation”
Coming to prominence during the 1990s, Banksy has long addressed some of the twenty-first century’s thorniest issues with pointed, stark imagery. Initially focussing his critiques on the social problems in the United Kingdom, he has since widened his remit to tackle international concerns, painting the streets of Gaza, migrant encampments in Calais, and addressing everything from police brutality and climate change to Brexit. He is not without a sense of levity, however, and some of his street art exists simply to bring whimsy and joy to local neighbourhoods, such as Yellow Flower which playfully blooms from a road’s double yellow lines in East London. Banksy himself has utopian visions for what street art could accomplish, imagining ‘a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours, and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business’ (Banksy, Wall and Piece, London 2005, p. 97).
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Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).