Rat Business and Pest Modernism


“They exist without permission.
They are hated, hunted, and persecuted.
They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth.
And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilizations to their knees.”


Rats are one of Banksy’s greatest sources of inspiration and one of the most prolific subjects in his work. An anagram of “ART,” the rat is an allegorical tool used by Banksy to reveal the vices and flaws of the human race, and to make a stand for those suffering toiling in the dark and treated as “lesser than.”

“I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said ‘that’s clever
it’s an anagram of art’
and I had to pretend I’d known that all along.”


The symbol of the rat is also one Banksy connects with himself. Hunted down by the authorities – rats – like graffiti artists, tend to appear at night under the cover of darkness, and are considered by much of society to be dirty, disgusting, nuisances and pests. By giving the figure of the rat a voice, Banksy is speaking for those oppressed and defeated by the endless competition and consumerism that exists in our capitalistic society – the proverbial “rat race.”

Banksy’s appreciation for rats is often attributed to French stencil artist Blek le Rat, who is widely considered to be the father of stencil graffiti and is famous for introducing urban art to France in the 80’s, some 20 years before Banksy. Motivated by social consciousness, Blek le Rat chose to paint rats because they were “the only free animal in the city.”

Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original,
I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well, only 20 years earlier.”


The rats are personified and often shown in comical situations, poking fun at human flaws. Wall and Piece, Banksy‘s book published in 2006, references more than 30 different representations of rats from the artist’s early career painted in UK and Germany.

In terms of artistic output, Banksy has realized many murals featuring rats – mostly in England, and they tend to be smaller pieces. Banksy also realized numerous prints on paper in 2004, featuring various of his iconic rat characters. Given the relative importance of rats in the artist’s iconography and symbolism, Banksy has done a surprisingly few number of originals with them as the main protagonists. Instead, it seems he prefers monkeys for his original and editioned canvases.

“If you are dirty, insignificant, and unloved, then rats are the ultimate role model.”

In many ways, Banksy also uses the symbol of the rat as a way of aligning himself with the wretched and the underdogs whom he often speaks about or on behalf of in his works.


Rat Business and Pest Modernism

1. Blek Le Rat
2. Early Rats
3. Gangsta Rat
4. Love Rat
5. Placard Rats
6. Radar Rat
7. Paparazzi Rat
8. Bronze Rat & Rat with Roller
9. Banksus Militus Vandalus
10. Pest Control Office
11. Rat with 3D/Star Glasses
12. The Human Race
13. Parisian Rats
14. Covid Rats


1. BLEK Le Rat

Blek le Rat (born Xavier Prou,1952) is a French graffiti artist. He was one of the first graffiti artists in Paris, and has been described as the “Father of stencil graffiti.”
Blek started to paint stencils of rats on the walls of Paris street in the early 1980’s. He described the rat as “the only free animal in the city,” and one which “spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art.” His artist’s name originates from the comic book Blek Le Roc, using “RAT” as an anagram for “ART”.
Blek Le Rat has had a great influence on today’s graffiti art and “guerilla art” movements, the main motivation of his work being social consciousness and the desire to bring art to the people. Many of his pieces are pictorials of solitary individuals in opposition to larger, oppressive groups. In 2006, for example, Blek created a series of images meant to shine a light on the homeless problem facing our society. To achieve this, he depicted them standing, sitting, or lying on sidewalks, in an attempt to bring attention to what he perceives as a societal problem that nobody else wants to acknowledge or address. By stenciling them onto walls and on sidewalks, they don’t “go away” – they become something that we are reminded of more frequently and hopefully it forces us, as a society, to deal with the problem once and for all.

Initially influenced by the early graffiti-art of New York City after a visit in 1971, he chose a style which he felt better suited Paris, due to the differing architecture of the two cities. Blek Le Rat’s oldest preserved street art graffito – a 1991 replica of Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreta – which he dedicated to his future wife, Sybille – was rediscovered behind posters on a house wall in Leipzig, Germany, in 2012.

French authorities identified Blek in 1991 when he was arrested while in the process of stenciling a replica of Caravaggio’s Madonna and Child. From that point on, he has worked exclusively with pre-stenciled posters, citing the ability to more quickly execute the work on the wall, as well as lesser punishment should he be caught in the act.
Blek Le Rat Mural in London, 2008

2. Early Rats

In Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall, Banksy‘s first self-published book, the artist shows a few of his early stencils featuring rats. Since then, most of them have long disappeared, notably Rat with Violin, which has never again been revisited by Banksy.
Banksy, Banging You Head Against A Brick Wall, November 2001
Rats are even more frequently represented in Banksy’s second book, Existencilism, published in May 2002. In many of these instances, they are quite ingenious, and they often carry some kind of tools used to cut, saw, or drill various areas of the urban space. They are often “up to no good,” and are generally being mischievous.

“Rats are called rats because they’ll do anything to survive.”


Banksy, Existencilism, May 2002

Pest Modernism

Banksy, Cut It Out, December 2004



3. Gangsta Rat

Gangsta Rat is unquestionably the “coolest” of Banksy’s rats. He appears to be some kind of “rat royalty” as he seems to be well fed and fearless of the world in which he lives. He wears a New York Mets baseball cap, a chain necklace, and he is carrying a boombox – quite a hip rat! This character is reminiscent of the New York underground style that was so beloved across the UK (and US) in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Banksy has used this stencil extensively in his oeuvre.
Gangsta Rat was reproduced as murals in Farrington in 2004, Old Street in 2006 and New York City in 2013. It was only appropriate that Gangsta Rat make an appearance at Banksy’s New York residency, Better Out Than In. New York City might be considered the unofficial “rat Capital of the world” given that it has been estimated that there are more than 2 million rats in New York City – that’s almost 25% of the size of the population of people there!
Gangsta Rat, 2004
Screen-print in colors on paper
Editions: 150 signed, 350 unsigned
Banksy also released rare colorways of the  Gangsta Rat print that are sought after by collectors as they come in very small edition sizes: Blue, Pink, Yellow, Orange, Grey, Green. It is the first time that Banksy released a print in numerous colorways. He would do it again with Choose Your Weapon in 2010.
Gangsta Rat, 2012
Spray-paint on canvas
60×60 cm (23 5/8 x 23 5/8 inches)
Anarchy Rat, 2006
Stencil spray-paint and acrylic on canvas
79×59 cm (29 1/2 x 23 1/4 inches)


4. Love Rat

Love Rat might appear as a romantic at first sight, but we have come to know that things are never quite the way they appear when it comes to Banksy. The rat is shown just under a red heart freshly painted with a paintbrush he is still holding. As rats are often associated with being dirty and disliked, this visual could be suggesting that even the “worst of the worst” are capable of love. In a different interpretation, one could see the dripping red heart painted by the rat as bleeding, in which case Love Rat is, in fact, affected with some pain of the heart.
Love Rat, 2004
Screen-print in colors on paper
Editions: 150 signed, 600 unsigned
It is interesting that when the edition was first released online, Banksy jokingly suggested that this print might be, “ideal for a cheating spouse.”
Love Rat on palette, 2003
Stencil spray-paint on wooden panel
60×55 cm (23 5/8 x 19 1/16 inches)
Love Rat, 2003
Spray-paint and emulsion on canvas
60.9 x 46.2 cm (25 15/16 x 18 3/16 inches)
Rat and Heart, 2015
Spray-paint and emulsion on cut-out canvas, in artist’s frame
25×30.2 cm (9 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches)


5. Placard Rats

Placard Rats were released in 2003 as editions of three different screen-prints: Welcome To Hell, Get Out While You Can, and Because I’m Worthless.
Because I’m Worthless, 2004
Screen-print on paper
Editions: 75 signed, 175 unsigned
The inspiration behind the series comes from a book written by George Marshall “Get Out While You Can, Escape the Rat Race,” explaining how to find a way out of “salary slavery.”
Each print portrays a rat standing up on its hind feet, like a human, and holding up a placard with bright red or pink script.
Get Out While You Can, 2004
Screen-print on paper
Editions: 75 signed, 175 unsigned
The rat, wearing a necklace bearing a peace sign, is seemingly engaged in a form of social protest as well as a warning of a danger still to come. The violence of the message is contrasted by the peace sign around the rat’s neck in a complex double meaning, characteristic of Banksy’s work.
Welcome To Hell, 2004
Screen-print on paper
Editions: 75 signed, 175 unsigned
 The sign, in bright red splattered paint inevitably reminds the viewer of blood. They all clearly stand for Banksy’s position on law enforcement, militarism, capitalism and consumerism, with a clear warning against modern life in the over-surveilled city.

Because I’m Worthless, London, 2003



6. Radar Rat

Radar Rat has no time to waste painting hearts or listening to music in a cool outfit. Instead, he is busy and focused on his work. We see him standing on his hind legs, wearing headphones and holding radar equipment with a hand-sprayed apple-red spiral in the background. 
Radar Rat, 2002
Stencil and free-hand spray paint on canvas
He appears to be listening intently to the world around him, in what seems to be a comment on the ever-increasing presence of surveillance equipment in cities such as London.
Radar Rat, 2004
Screen-print on paper
Edition: 75 signed, hand-finished
Radar Rat, 2002
Spray-paint on cardboard
50.2 x 37.5 cm (19 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches)
From a series, unique in this format

7. Paparazzi Rat


Banksy’s relationship with the media and with the concept of “celebrity” has always been a complex one. On one hand, he is without a doubt simultaneously one of the best-known artists of the modern age; on the other hand, his true identity remains unknown, an art world outsider who refuses to “play the game.” It is fair to assume that Banksy has no interest in being famous, despite the fact that his immense talent has earned him considerable fame and notoriety. Works like Paparazzi Rat explore this complex dynamic and strange interplay.
Paparazzi Rat, 2004
Stencil spray-paint on canvas
40x40cm (15 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches)


8. Bronze Rat & Rat with Roller

Bronze Rat is one of the rare sculpture editions Banksy ever made. It was created in 2006, and released as an edition of 12. He carries an oversized paintbrush, a backpack and wears a backwards baseball cap. He is clearly some kind of graffiti artist.
Bronze Rat, 2006
Bronze sculpture, 25.4 x 31.7 x 12.7 cm
Rat with Roller appeared many times throughout Banksy‘s illustrious career, here poised to play the role of the graffiti remover. In a later work, this same rat even defaced a Damien Hirst spot painting at the Banksy vs. Bristol Museum exhibit in 2009.
Rat with Roller, 2006
Spray-paint with emulsion on canvas, 61x79cm
James Pfaff, Rat with Roller, Studio Session III, London 2004

9. Banksus Militus Vandalus

In April 2004, Banksy entered the Natural History Museum disguised as an employee. He carried a taxidermy rat in a glass-fronted box. The rat was outfitted in sunglasses and a complete graffiti kit. Apparently, the rat had sprayed “our time will come” on the wall behind him. The installation came with a printed placard to accompany the piece titled “Pest Control.” A few years later, Banksy set up his own certification and authentication office and affectionately dubbed it, “Pest Control.”
 Banksus Militus Vandalus, 2004
Taxidermy rat, spray-paint, paper, and mixed media in framed box
63.5 x48.5 x 11.5 cm (25 x 19 x 4 1/2 inches)


10. Pest Control Office

Pest Control Office was established in 2008 and is run by Banksy and his associates themselves. It furthers his desire to keep a fair amount of distance between him and the traditional gallery system. It also, very occasionally, has new works to sell; you can sign up for an email list to be contacted about such news. No other entity has the authority to authenticate Banksy’s works although, from time to time, there are attempts to establish dealer-led, independent verification bodies – none has achieved any true staying power.
Through its work, Pest Control Officeguarantees the authenticity of artworks which allows the market to grow and collectors to safely purchase genuine pieces.

11. Rat with 3D/Star Glasses

Rat with Star Glasses was created to help with the promotion of Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Just like Kate Moss with Vogue Magazine, Rat with Star Glasses made it to the cover of Time Out in New-York.
Rat with 3D Glasses was sold at Marks and Stencil, an exhibit organized by Pictures on Walls, that opened on 27 November 2010. It had some new Banksy originals for sale, as well the Choose Your Weapon print which sold for 450 GBP.
Rat with 3D Glasses, Park City, Utah, 2010
Rat with 3D Glasses on Board


12. The Human Race


“The Human Race is an unfair and stupid competition.
A lot of the runners don’t even get decent sneakers or clean drinking water.”


Banksy, Cut It Out, December 2004
In April 2018, Banksy left an amazing Racing Rat on 6th Avenue, a few blocks south of Empire State Building.
Banksy released a Racing Rat clock at the GDP store in Croydon in October 2019. Banksy™ Clock is an “upcycled” office clock featuring a rat, which plays an essential role in Banksy’s oeuvre. Running up one side of the clock’s face as if stuck in a wheel, the rodent represents the endless rat race we find ourselves in.
Whether clocking in or clocking off, the rat is forever trapped in what Banksy terms as the “relentless and steady ticking towards the great unknown.”
Originally described as being suitable for home, office, or “home office,” this is a classic piece from Banksy’s oeuvre that while strikingly contemporary, also looks back to his earlier works such as Love Rat, Radar Rat and Gangsta Rat whose origins were as graffiti, yet are now highly collectable, editioned prints. These works, as well as the clock, provide important reference points to Banksy’s evolution as an artist, and are noted in their nods to French street artist Blek le Rat, whom Banksy credits as inspiring his stenciled style.

13. Parisian Rats

Banksy also left a few Rat Murals in Paris in May 2018, perhaps to pay homage to Blek Le Rat who is considered one of the earliest stencil artists, and is said to have had a great influence on Banksy‘s work. In comments on his Instagram post accompanying the pictures of the rats, he confirmed that they reference the 50th anniversary of May 1968. May 1968 in France was a volatile period of civil unrest, when the government ceased to function, and millions of workers were on strike and citizens took to the streets.

A rat wearing a Minnie Mouse bow under May 1968 appeared in the Sorbonne neighborhood in Paris. This is where the major student demonstrations took place.

Banksy plays with the date 1968: the 8 appears to have fallen down and is now a bow for Minnie Mouse. Obviously Disneyland is not the artist’s favorite (he makes quite a few references to it in other works such as Napalm, Guantanamo Bay), and it most probably illustrates that Capitalism and Consumerism ruled the day in France in May 1968.
Then, Banksy posted a photo of a rat holding a box cutter on Instagram, with the caption:
“Fifty years since the uprising in Paris 1968. The birthplace of modern stencil art.”
Rat Holding a Box Cutter, Paris, June 2018
Next to the Centre Pompidou, which hosts Le Musee d’Art Moderne, the largest museum of modern art in Europe, Banksy painted a mischief rat, which was later transformed into a bigger one holding a large X-Acto knife, a common symbol of stencil cutting.


On a more festive note, Champagne Rat seems to be propelled by a popping champagne cork. Using this symbol of affluence as their vehicle to overtake obstacles, the rodents are once again Banksy’s metaphor for working class people making significant change when they join together and fight for similar cause.


After all, Paris is still seen as a romantic destination where numerous newly wed couples come to spend their honeymoons, obviously rats are not exception to the rule…


14. Covid Rats

On 16 April 2020, Banksy released a series of pictures on Instagram from what appears to be an art installation of various rats within what looks to be someone’s personal bathroom. 
While most of Europe was in quarantine, it is a way to showcase the world that creativity never stops and that anywhere can be used to create some fun and to express and share some art.
Banksy added: “My wife hates when I work from home”.
From the looks of the pictures, these mischievous rats have been having some fun in the bathroom. One swings from a towel ring and stretches out its small paw to make the toothpaste splatter, while another runs over a roll of toilet paper. There’s even a rat making use of the facilities, though its aim is clearly off the mark. In the mirror, we see one rat doing the same thing many of us are—marking off the days in quarantine.
Not only is Banksy’s work the bit of humor that we all needed at the time, but it also proves that the creative mind can’t be stopped. Even when shuttered indoors, it will still find a way to come out.
On 14 July 2020, Banksy hit the London Tube to paint new COVID-19 theme artworks. In support of facial coverings, Banksy shared a video on his Instagram shortly after he executed this new stunt.

Titled London Underground Undergoes Deep Clean, the footage shows a person dressed up as cleaning staff spray-painting Banksy’s signature rats. The artwork covers the inside walls of a Circle Line Tube Train and features little rats coughing across the train, using masks as parachutes, and carrying sanitizer. If it wasn’t already enough, the gooey nasal excreted is painted in light green and is seen splattered all over the place – a reminder to wear masks!

From this issue