Forgive Us Our Trespassing, 2011
Acrylic, spray-paint and marker pens on wooden panels, in four parts
Overall: 655×421 cm (257 7/8 x 165 3/4 inches)
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 6 October 2020
Towering at seven meters in height, Banksy’s monumental Forgive Us Our Trespassing from 2011 is the largest known piece by the anonymous street artist, evincing a powerfully resplendent vision at once unabashedly brazen and deeply poignant. While the widely recognizable image of the kneeling boy, accompanied by the title Forgive Us Our Trespassing, first appeared in 2010, the present 7-meter work was created in 2011 with the participation of over 100 6th to 9th grade students at the City of Angels School in a project aimed to encourage children to create art.
With students assisting in tagging the stained-glass windows, Forgive Us Our Trespassing goes to the very heart of the spirit of street art and graffiti. The imagery itself, on the other hand, is a potent and moving revelation of Banksy’s conflicted feelings about being a graffiti artist, speaking to deep preoccupations and pathos that underscore his artistic production.
Trespassing is an act and word that underlies the very modus operandi of graffiti and street art, as street artists must trespass on private property in order to tag or paint a wall or surface.
Forgive Us Our Trespassing, Art in The Streets, MOCA, Los Angeles, 2011
By asking for forgiveness, Banksy acknowledges the concerns of those who see his work as vandalism, but seems to convey that he ultimately means well, asking for understanding.
Forgive Us Our Trespassing, Salt Lake City, Utah
First appearing in 2010, the image in Forgive Us Our Trespassing sets aside Banksy’s usual biting satire and derision, revealing instead subtler, more nuanced sentiments. The iconic image of the praying boy kneeling beside a can of paint and a brush first appeared on a wall in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2010, the image was distributed in the form of posters; this time, a halo adorns the boy’s head.
The posters were used to promote the artist’s fake documentary film Exit Through the Gift Shop, which challenges the core of visual culture by questioning notions of authenticity and originality in a postmodernist society. In the present version of the image, the boy dons a hoodie, and the halo is replaced by a dazzling, gloriously graffitied stained-glass window. The setting of a sacred church functions on the one hand to heighten the ambiguous sentiments of contrition and repentance; on the other hand, the sacrilegious blasphemy of defacing the hallowed windows of a church paints an incredibly powerful statement that epitomizes Banksy’s cheeky, anarchic irreverence and rebellious spirit