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Gas Mask Boy, 2009


Gas Mask Boy, 2009
Spray-paint and oil on wood
92.5 x 72 cm (36 3/8 x 28 3/8 inches)
Signed “BANKSY” lower right
Dedicated “For H” lower left
Phillips London: 15 April 2021
GBP 2,200,500 / USD 3,030,000
Source: Phillips

Gas Mask Boy portrays a crouched young boy wearing a respirator mask. The screen of his respirator reflects the ethereal vision of a blooming field… This work contains some of the conceptual paradoxes Banksy has become most known and recognized for, including the dichotomy between air toxicity and landscape purity, a subject of resounding relevance in today’s escalating climate crisis. Beside the young protagonist is the spray painted outline of a flower — perhaps the boy’s attempt at painting a meadow, as reflected on his mask.
Particularly poignant in the present work, the gas mask has been a recurring symbol in Banksy’s iconography. Evidently a tool to disguise his likeness (Banksy has, to this day, still not been visually identified), the mask furthermore contains fringe associations that transform it into a message of subversion in itself. First appearing during the Great War, the respirator mask symbolized the threat of both chemical and biological warfare, the destruction of the environment and the extreme lengths humanity will go to when waging war. In recent culture, the object has been used by state law enforcers during demonstrations, and thus come to embody notions of unrest, rioting, but also government control and oppression. 
Banksy channels all these ideas in his compositions, melding them into a single, easily understandable image that is immediately striking upon first encounter. In Gas Mask Boy, the artists aims his critique at the policing of graffiti art on an elementary level, but also at the environmental damage imposed upon younger generations, which might lead them to eventually lose sight of flowering meadows and be forced into masks for sanitary protection.