Diamond in the Rough, 2010
Spray-paint on truck door
192.7 x 93 x 10.2 cm (75 7/8 x 36 5/8 x 4 inches)
Signed and dated ‘BANKSY 10’ on the right edge
Unique in this format
Christie’s New-York: 10 May 2022
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Art in the Streets, April-August 2011
One of the most enigmatic figures in contemporary art, Banksy is a highly vocal critic of society, bad actors of capitalism, and the place of graffiti within a greater art historical conversation. Diamond in the Rough speaks to the artist’s beginnings in the urban environment and is a deft combination of readymade surfaces and Banksy’s instantly recognizable style. The composition’s ingenuity lies both in the artist’s seemingly simple choice of subject matter and its ability to start a conversation about the art form at large. Leveraging the perceived rebelliousness attached to street artists in order to bring more attention to their work and his own cultural statements, examples such as the present work are testaments to the place of street art in the canon and the inability to fully extract it from its perceived history. Working to incorporate the city itself into his work, Banksy activates walls, doors, and various found objects with his stencils, sprays, and brush in an effort to pay homage to the living organism that is the metropolitan sector. Never content to work within the confines of a prescribed space, the artist’s myriad ventures spread across the globe in a variety of provocative forms.
Taking a steel and glass truck door as his canvas, Banksy builds out Diamond in the Rough by employing the extant tags and painted markings as the backdrop for his composition. Rendered in the artist’s signature stencil mode, a young girl sits at the bottom of the frame. Her right hand extends outward with the palm up to cradle a glowing gem with shine lines emanating on all sides that are reminiscent of the playful compositions of Keith Haring. A direct predecessor, Haring’s work also graced the public transit system decades prior and prefigured some of Banksy’s own compositions like Choose Your Weapon, 2010, which features an homage to the late artist’s barking dog motif.
Brushed in over a spray of silvery gray paint, the stylized stone in Diamond in the Rough is simple in its structure but bold in its presentation. Its basic composition is at odds with the more shaded and nuanced rendering of the girl, and this dichotomy serves to link Banksy’s figure with the chaotic jumble of lines and colors hovering above. This turmoil of various tags and linework is centered on a rounded square of a now-obfuscated window. The frame of the portal acts as an enclosing visual element while the discernible text elements within provide a passing resemblance to the cartouches of Ancient Egypt. The metal door also evokes the false doors of many Egyptian tombs that mark the threshold between the works of the living and the dead, and the cut corner, a scar of the object removed. Furthermore, Banksy has painted over the bottom portion of the door with gray paint in an effort to separate his figure and her find from the energetic scrawls above. This cleaner, more orderly space on the lower section contrasts distinctly with the pulsing energy of the upper portion. The juxtaposition creates a narrative wherein the girl and her treasure are lifted out of the pandemonium in a brief, glimmering moment. Wheeling above her head is a powerful visual force made by countless hands, but for that instant, her eyes only see the facets of her crystalline trophy.
Stela of King Intef II Wahankh, circa 2108-2059 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Photo: Bridgeman Images.
“You might not agree with him,” noted arts editor Will Gompertz for the BBC, “but at least he is making art that penetrates the public consciousness; art that is in the world, not detached from it; art that raises questions that need an airing… Banksy makes art that, as Hamlet said, holds ‘…the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure’” (W. Gompertz, “Will Gompertz on Banksy’s shredded Love is in the Bin”, BBC News, October 2018, 13, online). One must realize that the work in situ would have been even more striking for this fact as the diamond would become a clear-cut focal point within an expansive urban environment that, constantly moving and changing, would have frozen for a mere moment at the end of a snaking subway car.
Left: Johannes Vermeer, Woman Weighing Gold, 17th century. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Photo: Album / Art Resource, New York. Right: Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror, 1932. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, New York.
First rising to public prominence in the 1990s, Banksy is as poignant in his selection of venues as he is expansive in his choice of subjects. Having painted everywhere from the streets of Gaza and the West Bank to the walls of small stores in the UK, his works often address hot button issues like consumerism, climate change, and the police while also drawing from the art historical canon with nods to the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci. The same motif used in Diamond in the Rough was painted during the artist’s visit to Detroit, Michigan around the same time the present example was created. Existing as a simpler composition of just the girl holding the gem painted on the cinderblock wall of an abandoned storefront, its attempted removal by unnamed parties resulted in its ultimate demise. This unfortunate event points to one of the most polarizing aspects of Banksy’s work: their public nature. Some of his most revered works have appeared in random corners of the world to be appreciated by the community, painted over by city works employees, or sometimes removed to be preserved and shown in a gallery context. Reconciling the different levels of his work and its interaction with the environment, Diamond in the Rough is a treatise on itself, Banksy’s work in general, and its reception as a whole. Keen observers sift through the spray-painted walls of their city streets looking for the artist’s work before it can be looted or destroyed. In a way, the little girl is a representation of all street art enthusiasts and those keyed into recognizing genius amidst the rubble and noise.