Bonhams London: 21 October 2021
GBP 562,750 / USD 773,874
Santa’s Ghetto, Dragon Bar, Leonard Street, London, December 2002
Bomb Love, also known as Bomb Hugger, is pure Banksy: provocative, bitingly satirical and yet tender. Always a vicious opponent of mass media and casual consumerism the sense that today’s youth are being sold aggression instead of innocence, war instead of play explodes from the canvas in a flash of bubble-gum pink. The little girl sporting a ponytail tightly hugs onto the cumbersome military weapon as if it were her favorite cuddly toy and this is redolent of his Girl and Balloon in its whimsicality, and Kids on Guns in its wistful agony. All three images are stone cold classics by the artist coming from the zenith of the artist’s most celebrated period.
Banksy’s works intend to shock, yet they also aim to engender thought-provoking discourse through their simple visual elements. The proximity of someone so vulnerable, yet so close to danger, is undoubtedly compelling, and through Banksy’s clever dichotomy, the artist is sending a message of optimism to the universe, with the aspiration that one day love will overcome war. The image appeared in his autobiographical book Wall and Piece, alongside the caption “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” (the artist in: Wall and Piece, London 2005, p. 29). Bomb Love is charged with a veiled anti-war sentiment and through his rendering, Banksy is tackling international concerns, and critiquing the government and the media for the rose-tinted glasses worn during periods of brutal warfare.
This evident juxtaposition of the fragilities of childhood, closely intertwined with the atrocities of war, is an ironic combination of subject matters common in Banksy’s Street art. The depiction of a young child heightens the emotions of love, loss, and hope and there is seemingly an appetite amongst collectors for this powerful motif of lost innocence.
The artist’s empathetic and consistent dialogue within a contemporary global crisis is to be admired and there is an attractive irony to Banksy’s compassion. The hybrid street artist and social activist rose to prominence in the 1990s as a graffiti maverick, rejecting any form of government control. Banksy’s close encounters with the police in his early years led him to adopt his signature stencils; spraying onto a ready-made template allowed the artist to execute his works quickly, whilst sheltering behind his concealed identity.
“All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars.”
Despite the use of stenciling by other notorious street rebels, such as Blek le Rat and Shepard Fairey, Banksy has placed himself in a category of his own and has superseded any expectation of graffiti subculture’s success. His outlaw status and anti-establishment street art are the essence of his prolific career and practice. He is perhaps the most important artist to emerge in Britain since the turn of the millennium and this signature work can be seen as a signature example of the artist at his very best.
Variations sold at Auction
Bomb Hugger, 2002
Acrylic and spray enamel on canvas
30.5×30.5 cm (12×12 inches)
From a series, unique in this format
Christie’s London: 25 June 2013
Bonhams London: 29 March 2012
GBP 49,250 / USD 64,578
Existencilism, 33 1/3 Gallery, Los Angeles, 2002