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Hummingbird, 2015


Hummingbird, 2015
Fiberglass, spray paint and emulsion on board in the original frame by the artist
65x55x40 cm (25 5/8 x 21 5/8 x 15 3/4 inches)
Unique from a varied series
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 24 May 2021
USD 2,040,000

Dismaland, Weston Super Mare, 2015

“I want to live in a world created by art, not just decorated with it”

In Hummingbird, Banksy makes a poignant claim for the importance of graffiti, and of art at large, by invoking the vitality of the natural world. Within a battered gold frame, he depicts a section of concrete wall daubed, splashed and sprayed with paint: the central white splash is improvised into a flower with the addition of a black-sprayed stem and pair of leaves. In a masterful use of trompe l’oeil, a meticulously painted hummingbird hovers, drinking from the flower with its long bill. The bird’s body is not contained within the picture plane but overlays the gold frame so as to break the ‘fourth wall’ of the painting. It is a powerful image, transforming the graffitied splash into a nurturing burst of floral beauty.

Banksy created a similar sculpture of a hummingbird feeding from a painted wall for his temporary art space Dismaland, which opened in the seaside resort of Weston-Super- Mare the same year the present work was made; the bird also features, perhaps not coincidentally, on the reverse of the British ten-pound note. Banksy famously modified the currency to create his Di-Faced Tenner series (2004), one of which became the first work by the artist to be acquired by the British Museum in 2019.

Banksy’s use of the ornate gold frame, a device typically associated with the grand paintings of the past, can be seen in the vein of museological satire that runs through his work. This has sometimes extended to playful disruptions of museum space itself, including his furtive 2005 installation of a fake cave-painting in the British Museum’s ‘Roman Britain’ gallery. Much of his practice is animated by a sensitivity towards the arbitrary boundaries between so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, and the authorities that make such distinctions. His lavish framing of the faux-concrete wall, with its graffitied splashes and daubs, sets up an art-historical pastiche: but for their context, these gestural brushstrokes could be the work of Abstract Expressionist painters such as Pollock or de Kooning. At the same time, the hummingbird might be seen to have ‘escaped’ from a traditional natural-history painting by Martin Johnson Heade or Frederic Edwin Church.

“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw wherever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colors and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall—it’s wet.”

Many of Banksy’s works gesture towards humanity’s degrading of the natural world. His infamous Crude Oils exhibition of 2005 included reworkings of a Monet and other found landscape paintings, subverting idyllic rural scenery with the grim detritus of modern life: burnt-out cars, shopping trolleys, a police incident sign. In this context, Hummingbird offers a more optimistic picture. The jewel-like bird draws life from the painting. In line with Banksy’s utopian view of street art, it asserts creativity—on city walls and canvas alike—as a reason for hope in an ever-darker world.