Girl with Balloon:
From Graffiti to Art History Icon


There Is Always Hope…

With its striking simplicity and raw immediacy, Girl with Balloon is now one of the most widely recognizable images created by Banksy. Beating Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, Constable’s The Hay Wain and Hockney’s A Bigger Splash to the top spot, Banksy’s Girl with Balloon was voted UK’s favorite artwork in a 2017 poll; a resounding affirmation of the broad and wide-reaching popularity of this undeniably iconic and culturally formidable image.
Girl with Balloon first appeared as an original graffiti mural first painted outside a Shoreditch shop in 2002 and later at London’s Southbank that very same year, this time accompanied by the epitaph “There is Always Hope”.
Girl with Balloon, Waterloo Bridge, South Bank, London, 2002
Girl with Balloon depicts a small child rendered in black and white who reaches out towards a bright red, heart shaped balloon dangling from a string. Like most Banksy’s works, the image is an ambiguous one, leaving the viewer to decipher whether the girl is reaching out to catch the balloon (a vibrant emblem of childhood delight) or rather has let it slip from her fingers and is watching in anguish as it drifts into oblivion. This could be interpreted as a metaphor, perhaps, for the inevitable loss of childhood and innocence. The red balloon, as the only spot of color, is an archetypal symbol of childhood and freedom many of us connect with. More than a simple child’s toy, it evokes fragility of what it stands for: innocence, dreams, hope, and love.
Well loved by the public and collectors alike, her heartbreaking gesture is iconic and easily understandable – making this one of the most recognizable artworks of the 21st century. Universally appealing, Banksy’s graffiti image is a perfect encapsulation of human emotion in the short-attention span of our social media age.
The Girl with Balloon imagery has been featured heavily and revisited often during Banksy’s career. A series of prints was released in 2004, and various editions on canvas, and originals on various media have been produced over the years.
Striking in its simplicity, Banksy also used the global notoriety of Girl With Balloon to impact the world with strong social commentaries. The artist created variations to support social campaigns: in 2005 on the West Bank Barrier; in 2014 to draw attention to the Syrian refugee crisis; and in 2017 during the UK General Election.
In 2018, a framed Girl with Balloon spontaneously shredded after the bidding closed on a lot at Sotheby’s by way of a mechanical device Banksy had hidden in the frame. Banksy confirmed that he was indeed responsible for the shredding, and gave the altered piece a new name, Love Is In The Bin. Sotheby’s said it was “the first work in history ever created during a live auction.”
Finally, the last time a new version of Girl with Balloon was seen, was on the Louise Michel, a boat that Banksy has acquired to save refugees in Europe.


1. Prints

Banksy released a screen-print on paper in 2004 in editions of 150 signed, and 600 unsigned prints. Furthermore, a special run of 88 signed Artist’s Proofs (in 4 different colorways) were released.
Girl with Balloon, 2004
Screen-print in black and red on paper
Editions: 150 signed, 600 unsigned
Girl with Balloon not only is collector’s favorite but is also the all-record breaker at public auction. Girl with Balloon (unsigned) is one of the most sold prints in 2020 with 13 prints sold at auction, breaking for the first time the $400,000 barrier at auction at Bonhams London in December 2020.
Girl with Balloon (unsigned), 2004
Numbered /600 in pencil with the publisher’s blindstamp, lower right 
The Artist’s Proof Editions, spread into four different colorways are also reaching unprecedented heights at public auction. For example Girl with Balloon (Dark Purple AP) sold at Christie’s online on 23 September 2020 for GBP 791,250 (USD 1,044,450).
Girl with Balloon (Dark Pink AP), 2004
Edition: 22 signed AP
Girl with Balloon (Gold AP), 2004
Edition: 22 signed AP
Girl with Balloon (Gold AP), 2004
Edition: 22 signed AP


2. Editions

Banksy released an edition on canvas of Girl with Balloon in 2003, in an edition of 25 and, two years later, released it as a diptych from an edition of 25.
We can also recognize a version of Girl with Balloon in Kids On Guns, which was released in 2003 as an edition of 25.
Girl and Balloon, 2003
Stencil spray-paint on canvas
50.8×50.8 cm (20×20 inches)
Edition: 25
Balloon Girl (diptych), 2005
Stencil spray-paint on canvas
Each 30.5×30.5 cm (12×12 inches)
Edition: 25
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.
The viewer is immediately moved by the silhouettes of a young boy and a girl standing atop a mountain made of weapons. They look at each other while holding toys and heart balloon, as if they were finding comfort and safety within each other. This work is another iconic visual created by Banksy to criticize our modern societies’ affection towards warfare or, more generally, hate and violence.
Kids on Guns, 2003
Spray-paint in color on stretched canvas
50.8×50.8 cm (20×20 inches)
Edition: 25


3. Originals

Girl with Balloon, 2006
spray paint and acrylic on canvas, mounted on board, in artist’s frame
101 by 78 by 18 cm. 39 3/4 by 30 3/4 by 7 in.
Girl and Balloon, 2006
Spray-paint on canvas in two parts
76.2 x 125.4 cm (30×60 inches) overall
In Case of A Divorce Cut Here, 2010
Spray-paint on masonite in artist’s frame
48.8 x 66.6 cm (19 1/4 x 26 1/4 inches)
Girl and Balloon, 2005
Spray-paint stencil on metal
60×91 cm (23 5/8 x 35 7/8 inches)


4. West Bank

In August 2005, Team Banksy visited Palestine where they painted seven large murals on the segregation wall.
Banksy’s feelings about the barrier are made explicit in a statement which says the wall “essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open prison.”
On Banksy’s website, readers are reminded that Israel’s 425-mile-long West Bank barrier, separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, is considered illegal by the United Nations.


5. Girl and Morons

A biting example of Banksy’s satirical oeuvre, Girl with Balloon & Morons Sepia is a double-sided composition boasting two of the artist’s most famous images: Girl with Balloon and Morons. It was released in 2007 as an edition of 8.
It sold for a record GBP 1,232,500 at Phillips London on 22 October 2020.
Girl with Balloon and Morons Sepia, 2007
Girl with Balloon: spray-paint on paper / Morons Sepia: screen-print on paper, double-sided
56.5 x 76 cm (22 1/4 x 29 7/8 inches)
Edition: 8
On one side, Girl with Balloon depicts a young girl extending her hand toward a red, heart-shaped balloon, carried away by the wind. On the other, a crowd of art collectors is shown gathered around an auctioneer who, mid-performance, gestures toward a large, gilded framed canvas. When held up to light, Girl with Balloon and Morons Sepia magically fuse into a single composition, transporting the young girl into the sale room, and creating a mirror effect between her extended arm and that of the auctioneer.
Forming part of an edition of 8 works, each version is nonetheless rendered unique by the artist’s spray painting of the young girl’s figure to the front of the work – a feat that distinguishes it from Banksy’s other editions of Girl with Balloon and Morons.
First developed in 2002 and 2006 respectively, Girl with Balloon and Morons have, as independent images, become laden with meaning. The former, initially devised as a stencil mural, was exhibited in such public and political spaces as Waterloo Bridge and the West Bank barrier. Its portrayal of a young girl reaching for – or releasing – a drifting balloon spurred a number of interpretations relating to one’s inevitable loss of childhood and innocence. Recognized as one of the artist’s foremost symbols for more than a decade, and voted the UK’s favorite artwork in 2017, the image once again captured the world’s attention in 2018, when a framed copy of the artwork came to auction and sold for a record price.
Where things get really interesting is that the work began self-destructing just a few moments after the closing bid by means of a concealed mechanical paper shredder Banksy had built into the bottom of the frame. Marking auction history with an unprecedented performative art quality, Girl with Balloon became an icon for the unpredictable developments of contemporary markets, whilst simultaneously entering the realm of popular culture.
Did Banksy foreshadow this shredding event? Again, when the print is held to light, the balloon from Girl with Balloon lines up perfectly in the gilded frame of the piece the auctioneer is auctioning off. The fact that he chose to print these two images together, coupled with the realization that the balloon lines up perfectly in the auctioneers piece cannot be mere coincidence. When further consider that Girl with Red Balloon is the first (and, to date, only piece) he has ever destroyed, and we remind ourselves that this took place at a public auction (very much like the one depicted in Morons) cannot be a set of happy coincidences. Nothing Banksy ever does is simply “just because,” as we’ve seen time and time again that there is always a hidden meaning to what he does.
Banksy created this print edition in 2008, and the shredding took place 10 full years later – marking perhaps what would be the “longest burn” to one of his stunts that we’ve ever seen.
Similarly quoting the environment and corporate fabric of the auction world, Morons was published as a set of six prints on the occasion of Banksy’s important and characteristically controversial warehouse exhibition Barely Legal, which took place in Los Angeles in 2006. In the now iconic image, an auctioneer commands a sale room packed with bidders, immortalizing the historical 1987 sale that saw Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers yield a price of £22,500,000, a record for any work at auction at the time. Among the works on display, a large canvas to the right of the composition stands out, reading the words “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU MORONS ACTUALLY BUY THIS SHIT.” Unleashing a critique of the contemporary art world – one that Banksy has become known and revered for – the artist paradoxically turns his own creative gesture into a reproducible image, one that, in Girl with Balloon & Morons Sepia, constitutes half of the work’s iconographic value.
Together, Morons and Girl with Balloon form a joint critique of the art world, irreverently contributing to the artist’s overarching political stance. As such, the work epitomizes Banksy’s ability to propel his infamous urban vernacular to the realm of high art. “This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people”, he mused. “We need to make it count.”


5. Love Hurts

The heart shaped balloon is an important image within Banksy‘s oeuvre and, as such, rich in symbolism.
The first Love Heart Balloon with plasters appeared at Art in the Streets, the seminal street art museum exhibit at MOCA, in Los Angeles in 2011, curated by Jeffrey Deitch.
Love Hurts was then painted in the streets of New York in 2013 during Banksy‘s artistic residency, Better Out Than In.
Later, a painted canvas with the Heart Balloon was sold for $650,000 in 2014 to support the Haitian Charity Auction.


6. Syrian Girl

In March 2014, the third anniversary of the Syrian Conflict, Banksy reworked his original Girl with Balloon to depict a Syrian refugee and added the hashtag #WithSyria. On March 13, the image was projected on the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Nelson’s Column in London. An animated video was released, featuring imagery of based on Banksy‘s work, narrated by Idris Elba, and was accompanied by music from Elbow.
“On the March 6, 2011 in the Syrian town of Daraa, fifteen children were arrested and tortured for painting anti-authoritarian graffiti,”
“The protests that followed their detention led to an outbreak of violence across the country that would see a domestic uprising transform into a civil war displacing 9.3 million people from their homes.”
In the following weeks, musician Justin Bieber got a tattoo based on the original art and posted a picture of it on Instagram before deleting it. Banksy posted this picture on his Facebook page with the comment “Controversial.”


7. Union Jack

In early June 2017, just before the UK General Election, Banksy announced the release of a new Girl with Balloon with the balloon featuring the Union Jack.
Banksy initially offered to send a free print to registered voters in certain constituencies who could offer photographic proof they had voted against the Conservative Party.
“This print is a souvenir piece of campaign material, it is in no way meant to influence the choices of the electorate.”
Banksy cancelled the release on 6 June 2017 after the Electoral Commission warned him this incentive could violate election bribery laws and invalidate the election’s results in those constituencies if he made good on his promise to deliver prints to those who voted against the Conservatives.


8. Love Is In The Bin

On 5 October 2018, a 2006 framed Girl with Balloon on canvas was auctioned at Sotheby’s London and sold for GBP 1,042,000, a record high for the artist.
Moments after the closing bid, the artwork began to self-destruct by means of a hidden mechanical paper shredder that Banksy had built into the bottom of the frame. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whom you ask) only the lower half was shredded instead of the entire piece as he intended. The room filled with art collectors looked on in horror and confusion as the canvas began to self-destruct, and countless others were watching the auction unfold online.
Banksy released an image of the shredding on Instagram with the words:
“Going, going, gone…”
The woman who won the bidding at the auction decided to go through with the purchase. The partially shredded work has been given a new title, Love Is in the Bin, and was authenticated by Pest Control Office.
Sotheby’s released a statement that called it “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction.”
Banksy released a video of the shredding and how the shredder was installed into the frame in case the picture ever went up for auction. He expressed disappointment that the entire canvas was not shredded, indicating that it worked every time during their “dress rehearsals.”


9. M.V. Louise Michel

Banksy has always been very involved with the refugees crisis in Europe. In August 2020, the world discovered he had funded a 31 meter boat to rescue refugees making their way from North Africa to Europe.
Located in the Mediterranean Sea, the bright pink boat features the word “RESCUE” on its side, and the iconic Girl with Balloon can be found on the other side of the boat, only this time instead of holding a balloon, she’s holding a heart-shaped life ring.
The boat was named “Louise Michel” after the French feminist anarchist.


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