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  • Overview

    'If you want to say something and have people listen then you have to wear a mask.' —Banksy

    The anonymous street artist, painter, and social activist Banksy has shaken up the art world with his distinctive oeuvre characterised by dark humour, satire and political commentary. Inspired by the thriving street art scene in his home city of Bristol, Banksy’s works started appearing on trains and city streets as early as 1993. Spray paint and cardboard stencils allowed the artist to achieve a meticulous level of detail with speed, keeping him safely beyond the reach of law enforcement. His painting Gas Mask Boy, portraying a crouched figure whose respirator mask reflects the ethereal vision of a blooming field, contains some of the conceptual paradoxes the artist has become most known and recognised for, including the dichotomy between air toxicity and landscape purity, a subject of resounding relevance in today’s escalating climate crisis. Beside the young protagonist is the spray painted outline of a flower — perhaps the boy’s attempt at painting a meadow, as reflected on his mask.

     

    Detail of the present work.
    Detail of the present work.

    The Gas Mask

    'Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.' —BanksyParticularly poignant in the present work, the gas mask has been a recurring symbol in Banksy’s iconography. Evidently a tool to disguise his likeness (Banksy has, to this day, still not been visually identified), the mask furthermore contains fringe associations that transform it into a message of subversion in itself. First appearing during the Great War, the respirator mask symbolised the threat of both chemical and biological warfare, the destruction of the environment and the extreme lengths humanity will go to when waging war. In recent culture, the object has been used by state law enforcers during demonstrations, and thus come to embody notions of unrest, rioting, but also government control and oppression. Banksy channels all these ideas in his compositions, melding them into a single, easily understandable image that is immediately striking upon first encounter. In Gas Mask Boy, the artists aims his critique at the policing of graffiti art on an elementary level, but also at the environmental damage imposed upon younger generations, which might lead them to eventually lose sight of flowering meadows and be forced into masks for sanitary protection.

     

    Otto Dix, Stormtroops advancing under gas, 1924, etching  and aquatint, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, United Kingdom. Image: Bridgeman Images. © DACS 2021.
    Otto Dix, Stormtroops advancing under gas, 1924, etching and aquatint, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, United Kingdom. Image: Bridgeman Images. © DACS 2021.

    Subliminal Escapism

     

    Piercing through Banksy’s trademark use of greyscale (which, in public installations frequently incorporates the white or grey hue of the wall itself), the meadow projected onto the surface of the young boy’s mask in the present work features the most vibrant of blues, greens, and yellows, rendering an idealised image of sky and land. The chromatic spread appears embellished, almost false — like those one would find in old pieces of advertising, concealing subliminal messages of freedom, insouciance and happiness. The image is  also redolent of seminal artistic renderings of perfectly lit fields — like Claude Monet’s Effect of Spring, Giverny from 1890— but also of filmic interpretations of carefree, elated moments filled with music and synaesthetic beauties, namely Robert Wise’s 1965 The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews. In Gas Mask Boy, the meadow’s immaculate pictorial qualities sit in stark contrast to the remainder of the composition. They suggest notions of hope and escapism — forming an impossible daydream that all other visual elements eventually force back into reality.

     

    Left: Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music, 1965, directed By Robert Wise. Image: © Robert Wise Productions/Argyle Enterprises/Twentieth Century Fox / Diltz / Bridgeman Images.
    Right: Claude Monet, Effects of Spring, Giverny, 1890, oil on canvas, Private Collection. Image: © Lefevre Fine Art Ltd., London / Bridgeman Images.

     

    The Power of Banksy

     

    Drawing on recognisable visual imagery, Banksy subverts icons of cultural fantasy and products of capitalism to uncover disquieting truths regarding globalisation, exploitation and the mass media’s normalisation of violence. The elusive artist’s stealthy presence has not stopped him from becoming a global phenomenon. Hijacking some of the world’s most respected museums and galleries with deceptive works masquerading as legitimate institutional offerings, one such work included a caveman rock drawing that has now found its way into the permanent collection of the British Museum. It is rare that a creative outlaw like Banksy has been so fully embraced by the art world establishment. With graffiti, performances, covert incursions — most recently at the 2019 Venice Biennale — and more than 10 million followers watching his every move on Instagram, Banksy has established himself as an unstoppable cultural force.

    • Provenance

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

    • Artist Biography

      Banksy

      British • 1974

      Anonymous street artist Banksy first turned to graffiti as a disillusioned youth. Inspired by the thriving graffiti community in his home city, Bristol, Banksy's works began appearing on trains and city streets in 1993, and by 2001, his signature, stenciled works had cropped up across the United Kingdom. Typically crafting his images with spray paint and cardboard stencils, Banksy is able to achieve a meticulous level of detail. His clean and immediately comprehensible aesthetic is a result of his unique ability to distill complex political and social statements into simple visual elements.  

      Through whimsy and humor, his graffiti works, paintings, and screenprints satirically critique war, capitalism, hypocrisy and greed. His anti-establishment wit has had an undeniable impact on today’s contemporary street culture.

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Property from an Important Private Collection, The Netherlands

Ο ◆21

Gas Mask Boy

signed 'BANKSY' lower right; dedicated 'For H' lower left
spray paint and oil on wood
92.5 x 72 cm (36 3/8 x 28 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2009, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Pest Control.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£1,800,000 - 2,500,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £2,200,500

Contact Specialist

 

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

 

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+ 44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]

 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021