Unofficial War Artist


“It takes a lot of guts to stand up anonymously in a western democracy and call for things no-one else believes in like peace and justice and freedom”

Banksy is a vocal anti-war activist; as such protesting modern warfare is one of the most important topics explored in his work. Banksy‘s early works, from 2000 to 2003, are a were executed during a time of escalating tensions in the UK, as the US government began publicly setting out the groundwork for an invasion of Iraq supported by key allies. This war provoked intense controversy amongst the UK civilian and military population.


Through his work, Banksy addresses the public, hoping to prompt a reaction that challenges those politicians who portray warfare in a positive light, attempting to justify its worthiness as a necessary means to peace. Banksy also heavily criticizes the trivialization and commoditization of warfare – the way that we brush aside all of the nasty consequences and instead treat it like a war game.
In his first self-published book, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall, Banksy shares some of his early stencils including Bomb Love, and Bazooka Mona Lisa, underlining that “People are fond of using military terms to describe what they do…”

Weapons of Mass Distraction

Banksy, Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall, November 2001


Unofficial War Artist

1. Happy Choppers
2. Heavy Weaponry
3. Kids and Bombs
4. Every Time I Make Love To You
5. Applause
6. Bomb Middle England
7. CND Soldiers
8. Mona Lisa
9. Precision Bombing
10. Birds, Elephants, and Mosquitoes
11. Crazy Horses


1. Happy Choppers

The Apache Helicopter is a recurring theme in Banksy‘s oeuvre. This helicopter often adorned with a pink or yellow ribbon illustrates the Iraq war for Banksy, and has been used in various anti-war protests. This conflict was the subject of considerable debate at the time, as accusations were made that coalition military action was mostly motivated by Iraq’s oil supply, and not the fight for democracy as we were led to believe.
Happy Chopper, 2003
Screen-print in colors on paper
Edition: 750 (150 signed)

“A 5-color deluxe print lovingly crafted on heavyweight cartridge paper. This beautiful image captures the magical moment American Apache gunship helicopters visit chaos and terror on screaming civilian populations across the world. An ideal gift.”

Happy Chopper depicts a squadron of armed military helicopters against a bright blue sky. In stark contrast with the cartoony, fluffy clouds, the incoming choppers (American slang for helicopters) are rendered in much greater detail, in dark colors, with graphic emphasis on their heavy and imposing weaponry, evoking a sense of imminent danger. However, the lead chopper is “wearing” a baby pink bow, juxtaposing the violence of warfare with the innocence of childhood. The bow adorning the otherwise accurate representation of the fighter helicopter mocks ideas of masculinity and militarism, whilst reinforcing their inherent menace.
Happy Chopper first appeared in 2002 as a sprayed mural in Central London at the Whitecross Street Market.
Happy Chopper, Old Street, Shoreditch, London
Happy Chopper was also heavily featured during various anti-war protests throughout London, and Banksy included a picture of it in his self-published book, Cut It Out. Banksy also created originals on canvas with a few variations.
Study for Happy Chopper, 2003
Spray-paint on found framed oil painting
79×109.7cm (31 1/8 x 43 1/4 inches)
Happy Choppers, 2005
Acrylic, stencil and spray-paint on canvas




2. Heavy Weaponry


Heavy Weaponry depicts a singular elephant made in Banksy’s signature stencil style with a rocket strapped to its back. The entire composition consists of a minimally depicted animal simply strolling forward, heavy with irony. The image of the elephant bearing a rocket on its back carries multiple interpretations; presumably, the general message is anti-military, in line with Banksy’s other works invoking similar imagery. Using the elephant in this context is consistent with other famous Banksy works featuring various animals to represent ordinary people or the “masses,” vis-a-vis the establishment and the military-industrialist complex.
Banksy released 4 different originals on canvas featuring his now iconic super rocket Elephant: 2 versions in editions of 10 each in 2000, also featuring a barcode, including the text “London, New York, Bristol”; and 2 more versions were released in 2003, only this time it was simply the elephant either in white or silver. Each colorway was produced as editions of 25.
In “London, New York, Bristol” versions, Banksy uses an oversize barcode, the iconic elephant backpacking a missile, as well as the names of the cities where he painted so many murals.

“As soon as I cut my first stencil I could feel the power there. I like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars.”

Banksy also realized many original artworks featuring this iconic rocket elephant against varying backdrops.
This has now become almost like a signature for the artist. He has only realized this visual in small formats to emphasize the grotesque nature of the imagery of an elephant carrying a rocket bomb. This giant animal is restricted within a small canvas, creating an odd dissonance.
A very simple version of Heavy Weaponry is also used as some kind of signature on the artist’s website, as well as the blind stamp on several editions of his print – including Chocolate and Strawberry Donut.


3. Kids and bombs

In Bomb Love, also known as Bomb Hugger, Banksy portrays a young girl hugging a bomb as if it were a stuffed animal, perhaps even a teddy bear. The fluorescent pink background accentuates the contrast between the innocence and purity of the smiling girl and the violence of the devastation that the bomb could cause. This image also provokes anxiety as this deadly weapon might potentially explode any minute. This work illustrates modern society’s affection for warfare, encouraging large corporations to mass produce and sell bombs by the millions as if they were toys. Bomb Love is also a clear salute to the power of love, as it has the ability to triumph over war and violence. The imagery makes the viewer question whether or not this little girl might be able to disarm a bomb with her loving embrace.
Bomb Love, 2003
Screen-print in colors on paper
Editions: 150 signed, 600 unsigned
This young girl shows no fear; on the contrary, her face and smile clearly demonstrate she is quite comfortable hugging this dangerous bomb. Bomb Love highlights how comfortable and numb we have become, as a society, to the warfare. We live in a world where bombs and weapons are manufactured everyday and sold to oppressive regimes, often under the pretense that weapons are necessary to maintain peace in the world. It also highlights the trivialization of warfare, presenting bombs in this light suggests they are harmless and ignores the devastation and consequences they cause.
Bomb Love was shown for the first time Banksy‘s first solo-show, held in Los Angeles at 33 1/3 Gallery, entitled Existencilism
Bomb Hugger, 2002
Stencil spray-paint on canvas
43×43 cm (17×17 inches)
Banksy chose a young, innocent girl as the protagonist in several of his anti-war and anti-violence pieces as she is an ideal character to emphasize the obvious contradiction between “harmless” and “extremely harmful.” Girl Holding an Ice Cream Bomb is another instance in which viewers observe an uncomfortable scene playing out: a young girl with a smile on her face, holding an ice-cream cone with a stick of dynamite in it. The dynamite is only visible from our perspective, and we’re led to believe that she is unaware of the nasty surprise she has in that tasty treat.
Girl Holding Ice Cream Bomb, 2004
Stencil spray-paint on wooden palette
60.5×48.5cm (23 13/16 x 19 1/8 inches)
Banksy used this stencil a few times – first at Turf War in 2003, and later in a 2004 mural in Brighton.
In Crayon Boy, a mural Banksy created in Los Angeles in 2011, the artist wittingly reverses the situation as he often does. This young boy does not look particularly harmless as he stands there holding a fully loaded machine gun. He looks quite resolute standing there, with crude renderings of a sun, flowers, and even some butterflies. Everything about the scene would make the viewer smile, except for the fact that our protagonist is wielding a fully automatic weapon.
Crayon Boy, Westwood, Los Angeles, 2011
Upon closer examination, we see that his ammunition are crayons, not bullets – so indeed he is fighting his own war, free from the dictate of some adult lost in the perversion of our Western societies. Perhaps then, this boy is determined to express his creativity, create beauty, and share love with crayons as his ammunition. We are reminded that artists can impact the world in a more constructive and healthy way than any war machine can.
The simplicity and severity of the color contrasts in Kids on Guns gives it both beauty and deeper meaning, making it one of the artist’s most somber visuals.
 Kids On Guns, 2003
The viewer is immediately moved by the silhouettes of a young boy and a girl on top of a mountain made out of weapons. As they look at one another, she holds her red heart balloon as he holds a teddy bear. The appear to be find comfort and safety within each other, and there is hope that perhaps if adults could tap into and embracing the innocence and love children innately have for others, we might be able to overcome the current state of affairs that are marked by war, hatred, violence, and oppression.


4. Every Time I Make Love To You

To mock warfare, Banksy created several paintings featuring various armored vehicles, as if they were toys used by some authority playing games without caring about the dire consequences. The artist takes it a step further by showing them making love in front of the viewer, in an indecent manner. Who other than Banksy could be so audacious as to present warfare as if it were a cheap game being played by teenage boys.
Every Time I Make Love To You I Think Of Someone Else, 2002
Stencil spray-paint and acrylic on canvas
91.5x76cm (36×29 7/8 inches)
As the title of the work suggests, modern warfare could also be seen as an expired, loveless relationship in which the invading parties are simply going through the motions. The banality of this arrangement is mocked by the oversized pink heart, which speaks to the superficial, even tacky, nature of the “theater” created by the parties intent on going to war.
The vehicle on the left bears a strong resemblance to a British Humber armored car, one of the most widely produced armored cars for WWII. Its machine gun, pointed away from view, disappears into the undercarriage of a second military vehicle, one that bears a strong resemblance to the American M1117, a mine-resistant armored military vehicle that was deployed in increasing numbers after 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan. This striking visual obviously also suggests that both protagonists also have their sights set on other objectives and willingly engage in war to promote a hidden agenda like, say, obtaining access to oil fields…

Playmate of the Month, 2000


5. Applause


“Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for a print named…

This is taken from a Banksy sketch that frankly is a good deal more interesting than the painting ended up being.
Kind of sexy, kind of smart, kind of sarcastic in a way you can afford to be if you’ve never spent six months floating in a giant tin can getting herpes defending the good name of queen and country.”
Applause, 2006
Screen-print in colors on paper
80×120 cm (31 1/2 x 47 1/4 inches)
Applause shows two air traffic controllers preparing a fighter jet for take off. This print is mostly monochromatic, except for the yellow vests, and the red sign that reads “APPLAUSE” to emphasize and accentuate the message.
Perhaps, viewers should clap and celebrate as if they were attending or watching some sort of game show. This work illustrates the media’s attempt to often simplify and transform serious and violent themes in the news into entertainment to increase its viewership. In a world in which images of aggression are shared 24 hours a day through television or social media, dramatic events have become a form of amusement, leading to the public becoming desensitized to the true nature and consequences of violence. Banksy used a well-known image of former US President George W. Bush deplaning a military Bomber for this print.
Applause original, exhibited at Barely Legal, Los Angeles, 2006


6. Bomb Middle England

Bomb Middle England shows three elderly ladies playing boules on a strip of grass created from two horizontal planes of green, the only elements of color in an otherwise muted palette. At closer inspection, the viewer can notice the boule balls are, in fact, cannonballs with lit fuses.
Bomb Middle England, 2003
Screen-print in colors on paper
35×100 cm (13 5/8 x 39 inches)
Banksy thus illustrates how the elite and power in charge are believed to be indifferent to the violence and devastation of war, as they seem to throw bombs without a care. It also portrays a cynical parody of war as a game played by those in power who can decide to expend the lives of others and never suffer any of the consequences.
Bomb Middle England (diptych), 2002
Acrylic and spray-paint stencil on canvas, in two parts
Each 92.5×92.5×6 cm (31 1/2 x 31 1/2 x 2 3/8 inches)


7. CND Soldiers

CND Soldiers depicts two soldiers, crouching and and scouting the landscape around them. One is holding a machine gun, covering for his colleague as he holds a paintbrush as he puts the finishing touches on a red peace sign.
This sign originally symbolized the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) of 1957, and is now widely known as an international symbol of peace. The satirical juxtaposition of armed soldiers alongside the iconic peace sign questions the role and impact of military in keeping the peace. The peace sign, painted in dripping red evokes the bloodshed of war. The soldiers, who act on behalf of the government, are now represented as activists and vandals, graffitiing the wall in protest – despite the fact that they are armed and presumably prepared to “kill or be killed” for their country, even if they fundamentally disagree with their involvement in the first place.
CND Soldiers, 2005
Screen-print in colors on paper
70×50 cm (27 1/2 x 19 5/8 inches)
CND Soldiers is yet another artwork by Banksy which questions the grounds of authority, freedom, and speech and highlights the media’s trivialization of warfare.
Banksy, Wall and Piece, 2006
This striking visual first appeared outside the Houses of Parliament in London during an anti-war protest led by Brian Haw, an English peace campaigner who lived for a decade in the Westminster peace camp. Around this time, it had come to light that millions of people in the UK (including many soldiers) were vehemently against the Iraqi invasion in 2003. Despite this, their voices were ignored. With this background, the CND Soldiers piece makes a great deal more sense.


8. Mona Lisa

Banksy‘s appropriation of the iconic Mona Lisa illustrates with sarcasm and humor his stance on the aberrations of warfare. Mona Lisa is here equipped with an AK47, but interestingly enough she also has a target painted on her forefront indicating she is a target herself. Banksy captures the mystery of Mona Lisa that made her so famous, as she maintains her infamous smile and plays on both sides of the conflict.
Mona Lisa with AK47, 2000
Spray-paint stencil on board
122×122 cm (48×48 inches)
Mona Lisa with Bazooka, Soho, London, 2001
Mona Lisa is seen as an ideal of femininity and serenity. Yet Banksy puts the viewer in front of two seemingly incompatible worlds: how can Mona Lisa smile in such a gentle manner while simultaneously carrying such a powerful weapon of destruction? Obviously, it is a metaphor of the stance of our Western societies being fully satisfied fueling wars while they keep their distance, blind of the consequences on civil populations, such as the British elite playing with bombs in Bomb Middle England.
Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall, November 2001


9. Precision Bombing

Precision Bombing depicts a group of men in suits walking towards what seems to be a sports car. The vehicle is being targeted by a green precision range finder and scope.
The background of this painting was released in a number of different colors (exact number unknown).​
Precision Bombing, 2000
Precision bombing is a well-defined war strategy referring to the aerial bombing of a target with some degree of accuracy, with the aim of maximizing target damage and limiting collateral damage. Precision bombing was initially tried during World War I, however it was found to be ineffective because the technology at the time did not allow for sufficient accuracy. Since World War I, the development and adoption of various types of guided munitions has greatly increased the accuracy of aerial bombing. Because the accuracy achieved in bombing is dependent on the available technology, the “precision” of precision bombing is relative to the time period. Precision has always been recognized as an important attribute of weapon development. Obviously, the consequence that Banksy underlines is that it becomes a game played at a safe distance, participating to the trivialization of warfare.
Family Target, 2003
Spray-paint on canvas
75×75 cm (29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches)
Banksy released his Duck & Cover through Gross Domestic Product in 2019.
In this humorous take on the classic 1970s interior decoration stereotype of the three flying ducks, Banksy has made three small scale models of unmanned drones that can be affixed to a wall. Shown in a duck formation, however, Banksy has replaced gentle birds with lethal weapons – the very weapons Western societies now use to kill and destroy targets from the safety and comfort of their own base.
In Duck & Cover, the artist comments on the damage incurred from the extensive fighting in the Middle East that has persisted throughout much of his lifetime. Through the advancement of weapons technology, these conflicts have become more brutal (and impersonal) than ever.
Now, weapons can be operated from many, many miles away – which makes the violence less “real” to the people waging this war, in a sense because they are not forced to see the consequences of their actions firsthand. They’re able to carry out mass destruction from the safety and comfort of a location far away; it’s almost as easy as ordering something off the internet.
Finally, to conclude our discussion about Precision Bombing, Banksy is not afraid to use another bit of shocking imagery in one of his more controversial images – this time, as shown in the Walled-Off Hotel, Jesus Christ is himself is the target, and he’s got a laser from a sniper squarely in the middle of his forehead.
Walled-Off Hotel, Palestine


10. Birds, Elephants, and Mosquitos

With Bird and Grenade, Banksy offers another striking visual that makes it virtually impossible for the average viewer to remain ambivalent. Just like Bomb Hugger, this beautiful, innocent creature is carrying a grenade in its beak. The bird is eerily joyful despite the fact that the pin could be pulled simply from the gravity of the grenade hanging from its mouth. All of this taking place in the forefront of an otherwise terribly pleasant countryside scene – another classic Banksy “a-ha, not so fast, my friends” moment.
Bird and Grenade, 2002
Oil and spray enamel on found canvas
68.5×99 cm (27×39 inches)
Dumbo, mostly left black and white, save for his corn-yellow watercolor hat, depicts a disoriented and woozy Dumbo lying on the ground as the extremists celebrate on top of and around him.
Dumbo, the iconic elephant created by Disney, is an example of the American cultural export – this time serving as a metaphor for American planes sent to the Middle East to to fight Islamic extremists.
Dumbo, 2014
Hand-painted watercolor on screen-print
56×76 cm (22×30 inches)
Dumbo is a very rare print that originally came from a film Banksy created as part of his New-York residency Better Out Than In.
Rebel Rocket Attack, a short video released on Banksy‘s website, depicts Islamic militants using rocket launchers to bring down Dumbo, the iconic Disney elephant. After Dumbo has been shot out of the sky, a small child kicks one of the older extremists at the end of the video. The following statement from Banksy was released along with the video,
Commenters of the clip believed it “reflects the way we’ve been granted an insight into the Syrian conflict through videos uploaded onto the internet.”
Mosquito, 2002
Spray-paint and emulsion on perforated card, mounted on board
80×90 cm (31 1/2 x 35 3/8 inches)
In Mosquito, Banksy doubles the pleasure. In this work, a mosquito with large wings and a gas mask is represented against a mosaic-like montage of Queen Elizabeth’s portrait with the same gas mask against her face. This image of the Queen is also the same one Banksy used for his provocative and controversial Monkey Queen artwork executed in 2003.
It is painted as a flying combatant in action, swooping down to attack any human that might get in his way. However, in a very ironic turn, if a gas mask covered the insect’s head, it would actually prevent it from hurting anybody, or from receiving the blood it needs to survive.
Mosquito is a brilliant example of Banksy’s criticism of authority, violence and militarism. A large part of Banksy‘s street art pieces, screen prints and canvases mock militarism so as to denounce the trivialization of violence. It seems perhaps, in this case, it is the mosquito who needs protection from human beings.
In such work, Banksy directly questions and criticizes the role governments and authorities play in glorifying and popularizing violence, as well as the involvement of “big money” and the capitalist machine in such military operations. Animals like the mosquito appear often throughout Banksy’s images to address various social issues. They usually symbolize the working class and the suffering masses vis-à-vis the elite and authorities.


11. Crazy Horses

This installation is most probably the most politically charged piece created by Banksy during his New York residency, Better Out Than In. It presents a complex visual dynamic with armed men in the crosshairs of a scope, horses wearing night vision goggles, coupled with the audio of an air strike when people called into a toll free number they were directed to.
Crazy Horses Riding Through The Lower East Side to a Wikileaks Soundtrack
159 Ludlow Street, between Stanton and Rivington Street, New York
A distinguishing feature of this piece is that no part of it is actually on a wall: it is rendered entirely on the sides of an abandoned car and a truck, adding impressive visual depth.

But the real strength of this work resides in the accompanying audio…
The 1-800 number takes the caller to a 39-minute recording of a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad.
The listener can clearly hear the racket of gun turrets and radio communications between soldiers requesting permission to engage fire on groups of civilians.
The audio comes from the infamous Collateral Murder video released to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning in 2010. The 17-minute horror show depicts U.S. soldiers killing children and civilians in Iraq who were trying to rescue wounded Iraqi combatants. The sound taken for the Banksy piece starts comes around the 12-minute mark.

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