There is only one English painter who’s every new work makes headline news in the mainstream media upon its unveiling. This same English painter’s art is now almost always instantly stolen, covered up or defaced. Last week the press reported that one of his most popular pieces in Bermondsey had been boarded over or removed by the owner of the property on which it was painted, because this English artist does not exhibit (primarily) in galleries but on walls, streets and in public spaces. He is the Bristolian known as Banksy, and one of his works can still (just) be seen within a 20 second walk away from St Bride Foundation.
If you are enjoying a drink at the top of the steps outside the Old Bell pub on St Bride’s Avenue you may spot a dark smudge on the wall at your feet which at first glance looks like weather and age damage to the stucco. It is in fact the faded remains of Poison Rat, one of a series of illegal pictures using this same stencil template Banksy had placed in various locations in London and Los Angeles around 2005.
The rat is pouring a jug of toxic liquid down the steps leading up from Bride Lane, though more than a decade later the aerosol paint is so faded this is now hard to “read” and some web sites have claimed the piece no longer even exists. The green goo once gushing from the poison jar has been completely erased by time. My photo above dates from 2011.
Within a 20 – 25 minute walking radius of St Bride Foundation two more Banksy rats can still be seen. On the wall of the Mount Pleasant Post Office is a Placard Rat, again dating from around 2005, its original slogan ALWAYS FAIL(E) was lost during the Banksy/King Robbo feud which saw a few of Banksy’s works defaced following a perceived slight to the older London graffiti artist’s work. A few yards across the road from this the daubed over remains of Cash Machine & Girl can still be discerned just off the Roseberry Avenue/Farringdon Road junction.
The other Placard Rat, still in rather good condition, can be spotted on Chiswell Street near the Barbican. Again the original slogan (London doesn’t work) has been painted out.
Slightly further afield, about 45 minutes away are the protected remains of two vintage, canine inspired works at the Cargo Club on Rivington Street, Guard Dog and His Master’s Voice. However Guard Dog is currently partly obscured. Both date from the early 2000’s, and my photos here were shot a few years back.
About 55 minutes away on Essex Road in Islington is another Perspex shielded work which demonstrates some of the pitfalls local Councils can face when confronting the ol’ “is it art or vandalism” debate. In this case, Very Little Hurts, a large scale piece was deemed to be art worthy of saving and following attacks by Robbo’s crew and others, it was covered by a plastic sheet which unfortunately has itself become so badly vandalised it’s difficult to discern the original picture underneath (photo from 2012).
Meanwhile, about 1 hour and 40 minutes away (or up to 2 hours if you take the number 4 bus) two pieces were wiped by the same Islington Council. A1 Road to Anywhere in Archway was removed in 2012 following a single complaint that it was “an eyesore”. Down the road, oppisite Tufnell Park tube, Macanical Flowers (below, photographed in 2011) was also scrubbed. Last time I spotted it in 2o12 some taggers had graffed up the wall beside it and I assume that the cleaners brought in to blast the tags must have wiped off the early 21st century Banksy piece too, accidently or otherwise.
A protected work could still be spotted at Jeffrey’s Street, Camden until recently, but the Perspex has been removed (its outlined remains can still be seen) and the Banksy painted over. Another protected picture still exists on Clipstone Street and up until last week, The Grange in Bermondsey. However the south London painting dating from 2014 was removed from view last week and may even have been cut from the public space for private sale (the property owner has refused to comment: “Disappearance of Bermondsey Banksy stirs concern for its future” Southwark News 11 February 2016).
Banksy’s last London work, Les Miserables, was visible to the public for barely even a single day (January 24 2016) when the owners of the Knightsbridge building on which it was painted first tried to remove it, (damaging it in the process in front of the world’s press) then covered it up with wooden boards. Vandalism or art, Banksy had made an undeniable cultural impression and there are few street artists working today who could (or would) repudiate his importance. If you want a photo of one of his London pieces though you had better be quick.
” The scene in London at that time was about only one guy that nobody knew who he was – and he was painting like crazy the whole city and the trains I had seen here and there.” Brazilian street artist Nunca, VNA magazine, issue 28
Poison Rat today