"Banksy paints over the line between aesthetics and language, then stealthily repaints it in the unlikeliest of places. His works, whether he stencils them on the streets, sells them in exhibitions or hangs them in museums on the sly, are filled with wit and metaphors that transcend language barriers." (S. Fairey quoted in "The 2010 Time 100," Time, 29 April 2010)
Executed in 2000, Banksy’s Che Guevara on Skates, encapsulates the artist’s early and iconic imagery of political satire that became synonymous with his name. The work, depicting Argentinian born, Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, falls squarely into Banksy’s subversive pantheon of recognizable authority figures. The present work has another key element that too has become synonymous with the artist’s work: playfulness. Banksy’s ability to juxtapose roller skates, a totemic symbol of leisure and play, with that of the Guevarra, a ubiquitous counterculture icon of guerrilla warfare, is simultaneously humorous and unnerving.
Che Guevara on Skates is made in Banksy’s characteristic method of multi-layered stencils. Inspired by a run-in with the cops at age eighteen, in which he fled the police one evening by taking cover underneath a garbage truck, Banksy began studying lettering. He quickly became immersed in the in the thriving graffiti scene of his native Bristol, England. Coming to prominence as a teenager in Bristol, in the early 1990s, Banksy began to achieve critical acclaim at the turn of the millennium through his anti-establishment wit and biting satirical images.
Subsequently, he began branching out across the United Kingdom and beyond. Banksy’s stenciled works began popping up on walls, trains and unlikely public spaces like that of Israel - West Bank boarder, the Louvre Museum and Disneyland, California. His fascination with political figures, like Guevara, may be understood in relation to the apparent lawlessness of his own practice. Banksy, himself, preaches a utopian view of street art, “Imagine 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 state agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet’ (Banks, quote in P. Gough, Banksy: The Bristol Legacy, Bristol 2010, p. 9).
The resulting lines are matte and sharp, befitting an approach that is daring, brazen and political. Indeed, part of the appeal of stencils comes from the inherited history of the repeatedly traced images: as the artist explained: ‘As soon as I cure my first stencil I could feel the power there. I also like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars’ (Banksy, quoted in W. Ellesworth-Jones, ‘The Story Behind Banksy’, Smithsonian Magazines, February 2013). Banksy’s desire to confront social and political issues through street art informs his work as a film director, activist and prankster, often using comedy to shed light on painful truths. The ubiquity of his works, with their distinct visual language, is made all the more intriguing by his anonymity. Through simple but powerful visual motifs, he offers unabashed commentary on contemporary issues, refusing to put a face to his campaign. Banksy has solidified his place as one of the most well-recognized street artists in the world and has become the international voice of a generation who seeks to confront injustice in the unlikeliest of places.