Banksy - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Thursday, December 3, 2020 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • "You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist." —Banksy


    Legendary street artist-provocateur Banksy is widely considered as one of the most prolific creators of the 21st Century, having built an international reputation that far precedes his anonymous identity, teetering between acclaim and notoriety. Active since the 1990s, his satirical compositions combine sardonic humour with graffiti and are now instantly recognisable across the globe. Monkey Detonator, one of Banksy’s most famed and coveted images, perfectly exemplifies the Bristol-born artist’s irreverent wit in its portrayal of a cheerful monkey jumping directly onto a detonator to ignite an explosion. Caught mid-leap with hands already grasped around the plunger, ready to push down, a curious juxtaposition is presented between the dangerousness of the device and the chimp’s determination, despite the obvious risk of being fatally harmed himself. As a captivating example from Banksy’s visually striking oeuvre, Monkey Detonator invites viewers to both laugh at the absurdity of the composition whilst also reflect on the distinct socio-political undercurrents quintessential of the artist’s oeuvre. 


    Monkey Business


    The monkey is a recurring motif in Banksy’s body of works, used by the artist as a deliberately provocative character since the early 2000s. In a contemporary take on singerie, a visual arts genre popular among French artists in the early 18th century which depicted comical scenes of monkeys aping human behaviour, Banksy’s chimps too, are often presented in ironic juxtapositions that provide a tongue-in-cheek satirising of society which so often thinks of itself as ‘above’ the animal kingdom.


    Abraham Teniers, Tabakskollegium von Affen, mid-17th century. Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

     In recent years, Banksy’s punk attitude has taken on an increasingly acerbic and politically charged tone. His ‘Walled Off Hotel’ in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, touted by the artist as having the ‘worst view in the world’, overlooks the highly controversial Israeli West Bank barrier which separates Israel from the Palestinian territories. Contrasting its 19th century bourgeois interior are disturbing aberrations crammed into every corner, such as the life-size monkey bellboy that welcomes guests through the door. Employing zoological symbolism to further ridicule this spectacle, Banksy’s dark humour moves visitors outside of their comfort zones, drawing attention to areas of social and political struggle.
    "They say that if you gave a thousand monkeys a thousand typewriters at some point you’d have yourself a novel. I was wondering if you gave a thousand monkeys a thousand sticks of dynamite how long would it take for them to make the city a more beautiful looking place." —BanksyIn the case of Monkey Detonator, the mischievous protagonist appears mere seconds away from causing a violent explosion, bringing to mind the idea of reckless action leading to disaster. Though one may argue that the wild primate is blissfully unaware of the impending consequences of his actions, the radio on his ear reveals otherwise. Used in warfare to trigger a wireless detonation from a distance away, Banksy’s inclusion of this detail confronts viewers with the subject’s alarmingly strong sense of determination that drives this perilous course of action. 


    Monkey See, Monkey Do


    As a vocal anti-war activist, protesting modern warfare is a theme Banksy often explores in his work, appreciating how ‘it takes a lot of guts to stand up anonymously in a western democracy and call for things no-one else believes in - like peace and justice and freedom’i. Executed in the wake of 9/11, in the midst of escalating tensions as the US government began publicly setting out the groundwork for an invasion of Iraq supported by key allies, the present composition offers a biting social commentary on global issues that are still as poignant today as in 2002 when Banksy created the work. Subversive yet with an ostensibly light-hearted tone, Monkey Detonator powerfully illustrates the artist’s ability to use art to relay messages of social importance that are universally understood.


    The Banksy Effect 

    Whereas the original artists working under the singerie genre preferred for their monkey characters to be fashionably attired, donning frills and ruffles and other elaborately intricate details, Banksy’s image is instead crisp and direct, showcasing the artist’s masterful skill of constructing brilliance through simplicity. Originally a freehand graffiti artist within the nourishing street art scene in Bristol, Banksy developed his distinctive stencilled spray paint technique out of a need for efficiency and consistency - namely to avoid being caught by the police, but also to protect his anonymity as his popularity grew. In the artist’s words, ‘as soon as I cut 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’ ii.


    Banksy, Monkey Detonator graffiti in Waterloo, London, 2006. Courtesy Pest Control Office.

    Though not the first to blur the line between graffiti and ‘high art’, following on from prominent artists before him such as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Shephard Fairey, all of whom started in the street-art scene, Banksy’s influence – coined the ‘Banksy effect’ – has helped pave the way for a generation of urban artists to emerge. Now placed at the centre of an artistic movement and with works of his forming part of prestigious public collections including the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Banksy’s iconoclast status as a vandal turned mythic hero has extended the genre to a new horizon as he continues to redefine to many what ‘art’ is.

    i Banksy, Wall and Piece, London, 2006, n.p. 
    ii Banksy, quoted in Tristan Manco, Stencil Graffiti, London, 2002, p. 76

    • Provenance

      Lazinc, United Kingdom (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography


      British • 1975 - N/A

      Anonymous street artist Banksy first turned to graffiti as a miserable fourteen year old disillusioned with school. Inspired by the thriving graffiti community in his home city, Bristol, Banksy's works began appearing on trains and walls in 1993, and by 2001 his blocky, spray-painted works had cropped up all over the United Kingdom. Typically crafting his images with spray paint and cardboard stencils, Banksy is able to achieve a meticulous level of detail. His aesthetic is clean and instantly readable due to his knack for reducing complex political and social statements to simple visual elements.

      His graffiti, paintings and screenprints use whimsy and humour to satirically critique war, capitalism, hypocrisy and greed — with not even the Royal family safe from his anti-establishment wit.

      View More Works


Monkey Detonator

spray paint on card
90.8 x 90.8 cm. (35 3/4 x 35 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2002, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Pest Control.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,800,000 - 4,800,000 

Sold for HK$5,292,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 3 December 2020