Banksy - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "I like to think I have the guts to stand up anonymously in a Western democracy and call for things no-one else believes in – like peace, and justice, and freedom."
    Featuring one of notorious guerrilla artist Banksy’s most iconic and enduring images, Laugh Now But One Day We’ll Be In Charge encapsulates the sharp wit and keenly satirical character of Banksy’s work. A nuanced composition, this important early iteration of the Laugh Now works has been executed in combinations of black and white spray paint against an unusual slate-grey ground using the artist’s signature stencil technique. Deceptively simple, the work communicates a powerful message in its stark economy. Although his shoulders slope under the burden of the sandwich board, his set jaw and subtly clenched fists indicate a spirit of defiant resistance in the face of his oppression, signalling an ominous warning of what is to come.


    Men and Monkeys 

    Advocating for the oppressed and disenfranchised within the socio-economic contexts of late capitalism, Banksy’s work cleverly juxtaposes epigram and image as a way of challenging the status quo and the concentration of power in the hands of the few. Like the rat - another recurring character from Banksy’s bestiary - the monkey is employed by the artist as a way of darkly addressing social issues, drawing on the animal’s metaphoric relationship to humans to comment on issues of inequality, political resistance, and protest that underpins the street artist’s entire project. As Patrick Potter has suggested, ‘These images can be really arresting at their best. They’ve evolved from the kind of cartoonish carnival of Banksy’s animal army to control irony, designed to reveal the foolishness hidden in plain view in our society’s values.’ii


    David Teniers the Younger, The Monkey Painter, 1805, Prado, Madrid. Image: Bridgeman Images

    In this respect, Banksy contributes to a long satirical tradition of anthropomorphising animals in allegorical tales of human folly and hubris, notably the painterly tradition of Singerie. Featuring monkeys dressed as humans elaborately dressed in the fashions of the time and ‘apeing’ human behaviour and social codes, Singerie visually satirised the vanity and foolishness of its target – a tradition upheld in Banksy’s 2009 Devolved Parliament where a host of chimpanzees replace Members of Parliament in a House of Commons debate, highlighting the ‘kinds of power structures and hypocrisy that global ethical agendas must contend with.’iii


    While the placard-carrying monkey here could be read as pointed socio-political commentary on the dangerously buffoonish tactics of our ruling elite, useful reference to the 18th century trend for sing peintre (or, ‘monkey painter’) provides a further point of reference. Used historically as a means of critiquing the pomposity of the artworld more specifically, the tradition of sing peintre certainly resonates with Banksy’s anti-establishment position, and as a ways of speaking back to graffiti’s historically maligned status.

    Seen as uncivilised by Darwinian evolutionary logic, the Monkey itself proves to be something of a cipher for the anonymous guerrilla artist, underscoring graffiti’s reputation as a crude and ‘untrained’ mode of art-making in the context of cultural elitism, classism, and definitions of ‘high art’. Banksy clearly made this identification at an early stage in his career, his Self-Portrait from 2000 featuring a monkey-headed figure wielding two spray cans, a disguise picked up again in the monkey mask adopted by the artist in the 2010 film Exit Through the Gift Shop.


    Detail of the present work


    Monkey Business 

    Executed in 2002, just as Banksy was transitioning from anonymous street artist to a globally recognised icon, Laugh Now But One Day We’ll Be In Charge marks one of the most important chapters in Banksy’s career, and of the movement of street art from unexpected, public locations into more sanctioned spaces. Departing from the urban materials of brick walls and metal railway carriages more usually associated with graffiti, the work itself appears on canvas, one of five created by the artist using this stencil in this format and palette. Different iterations of the monkey stencil have been included in all major Banksy exhibitions – including  his United States debut, Existencilism, a landmark exhibition which opened in the same year as the present work’s execution.

    More than any other motif, the lineage of the Laugh Now monkeys highlights the success with which Banksy has translated the energy and invective of graffiti into more traditional art world contexts, the stencil having been famously used in a specifically commissioned context in Brighton’s Ocean Rooms nightclub in 2002. Executed in the same year as the present work, the six meter long commission was designed to form the backdrop of the nightclub's bar, six of the monkeys bearing the titular slogan seen here.


    But the iconic design has its roots firmly in the tradition of street art, appearing in Banksy’s first – and now legendary – London exhibition in 2000. As Banksy recounts of the exhibition: ‘A week later we came back to the same tunnel with two buckets of paint and a letter. The letter was a forged invoice from a mickey mouse Arts organization wishing us luck with the “Tunnel Vision mural project”. We hung up some decorator’s signs nicked off a building site and painted the walls white wearing overalls. We got the artwork up in twenty-five minutes and held an opening party later that week with beers and some hip hop pumping out the back of a transit van.’iv

    Staging what the flyer invitation described as ‘an illicit outdoor gallery experience’ Banksy populated Rivington Street in London’s Shoreditch area with twelve stencils, including an iteration of the present work featuring the titular slogan. Although no murals of the work now survive, it remains an enduring image of British counterculture and the thriving street art scene in the years leading up to the millennium.


    Collector’s Digest 

    • Coming out of a generation of urban counterculture centred in Bristol in the late 1980s and 90s, Banksy is one of the leading and most provocative street artists of his generation. His stencils are amongst the most instantly recognisable and defining images of contemporary British art, and Banksy was recently voted the nation’s favourite artist in 2019.

    • Ranking amongst his most iconic and sought-after motifs, the Laugh Now monkeys are directly related to Banksy’s infamous 2000 ‘guerrilla exhibition’ in East London’s Rivington Street.

    • Executed in 2002, the same year as the ‘Ocean Rooms’ commission and Banky’s first American exhibition Existencilism  this important early work is one of only five works in this format.

    • While indebted to the pioneering stencil graffiti of artists like Blek le rat, Banksy’s work has gone on to inspire a whole new generation of artists, and his work remains highly sought after by established and emerging collectors alike.

    i Banksy, quoted in Demetrio Paparoni, ‘Guerrilla Banksy and Postmodernism’, in Gianni Mercurio, ed., A Visual Protest. The Art of Banksy, London, 2020, p. 20. 
    ii Patrick Potter, Banksy: You are an acceptable level of threat and if you were not you would know about it, Durham 2012, n.p.)

    iii James Brassett, ‘British Irony, Global Justice: A Pragmatic Reading of Chros Brown, Banksy and Ricky Gervaos’, Review of International Studies, Vol. 35, No. 1., January 2009, pp. 232-3.

    iv Banksy, ‘Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall’ (2001), in Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artist’s Writings, Berkley, 2012, p. 431. 

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      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


Laugh Now But One Day We'll Be In Charge

stencilled with the artist’s tag 'BANKSY' lower right; signed, numbered and dated ‘BANKSY 03/05 2002’ on the stretcher
spray paint and emulsion on canvas
91 x 91 cm (35 7/8 x 35 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2002, this work is number 3 from an edition of 5 unique examples and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Pest Control.

Full Cataloguing

£1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for £1,172,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022