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Keep It Real (8), 2001-2003


Keep It Real, 2002
Acrylic and spray paint stencil on canvas
35.5 x 28 cm (14×11 inches)
From a series
Stenciled with the artist’s name on the overturn edge
Further signed, dated 2002, and dedicated on the stretcher
Sotheby’s London: 4 October 2019
GBP 337,500


Santa’s Ghetto, Dragon Bar, London, December 2002

One of Banksy’s most iconic and immediately recognizable images, Keep it Real encapsulates the artist’s biting sense of humor and cutting social satire. Rendered in Banksy’s signature graphic monochromatic visual language, the figure of the monkey appears apathetic, his lumbering shoulders slouched, his arms slack by his side and his heavy brow furrowed. Adorned with a sandwich board bearing the command ‘Keep it Real’, this enigmatic chimpanzee appears simultaneously as a figure of subservience and of domination; the perfect visual vehicle for Banksy’s cutting analyses of contemporary mass culture.
Keep It Real features one of Banksy‘s most iconic and popular images, the chimpanzee appearing here in one of its many incarnations as the loveable underdog with a sandwich board, underestimated and yet subversive, with the power to illicit social transformation. Standing upright like a human being with their signature look of slouched shoulders and downturned eyes, Banksy‘s monkeys often popped up overnight on streets, walls and bridges of cities throughout the world. The text written on their boards are often times political and social commentary coming from the artist. As with a large number of the artist’s recurring stencils this image has appeared at auction on many occasions in many media.
Banksy’s monkeys first appeared in 2002 in a sprawling stenciled mural commissioned by a nightclub in Brighton, where ten stenciled chimpanzees stood one after the other in a militaristic row with each figure featuring a placard emblazoned with the phrase ‘Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge” It was from this work that subsequent versions of the forlorn-looking monkey were created, and consequently became one of the artist’s most iconic and widely disseminated images. In its successive incarnations, the chimpanzees are often paired with signage imparting pithy remarks that provide pejorative commentaries on a range of socio-political aspects of contemporary life.
From its first iteration, Banksy has mobilized the figure of the monkey with all its Darwinian associations of docility, inferiority and intellectual simplicity, as the perfect visual representation of the subordination of the masses. In this light, Keep it Real, can be understood as a critique of the authoritarian manipulation of the working class, despondent and suppressed under the forces of capitalism. Conversely Banksy’s chimpanzees, rather than inhabiting a purely docile existence, may also be seen as deviant and mischievous clever characters. It is through this duality of association, that the monkey has taken center stage in Banksy’s practice as one of the most widely recognizable motifs in the artist’s arsenal through which to represent both the dejected and disillusioned masses and the authoritarian figures of the establishment.
From the earliest Monkey Detonator through to works that directly mock the establishment, notably the ambitious dystopian reimagining of the House of Commons run amok with irate chimps (Devolved Parliament, 2009), primates are Banksy’s most frequently called-upon symbol, as a means through which to mock and challenge perceived authority and the establishment. Indeed, the figure of the chimpanzee has remained central in the decades succeeding its inception. Considering Banksy’s mature practice, author Patrick Potter has stated, “These images can be really arresting at their best. They’ve evolved from the kind of cartoonish carnival of Banksy’s animal army to controlled irony, designed to reveal the foolishness hidden in plain view in our society’s values” (Patrick Potter, Banksy: You are an acceptable level of threat and if you were not you would know about it, Durham 2012, n.p.).

Keeping It Real

Banksy, Existencilism, May 2002
Banksy realized many variations on various media, size and colors, including two editions of 15 on canvas: one in white in 2002, and one in red in 2003.

Variations Sold at Auction

Keep It Real, 2002
Spray paint on cardboard
47×35 cm (18.5 x 13 3/4 inches)
From a series
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 7 October 2019
HKD 3,125,000
This work was created in a one-time performance event hosted in commercial shop in 2002 in Japan.

Keep It Real, 2001
Acrylic and spray-paint stencil on canvas
25.5 x 20.2 cm (10×8 inches)
From a series
Stenciled with the artist’s name on the right lateral edge
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 1 April 2018
HKD 3,250,000

Keep It Real, 2002
Acrylic and stencil spray paint on canvas
20.2 x 20.2cm (8×8 inches)
From a series
Sotheby’s London: 27 June 2018
GBP 418,000

Santa’s Ghetto, Dragon Bar, London, December 2002

Keep It Real (with Japanese slogan), 2002
Spray-paint and emulsion on cardboard
135×90 cm (53 1/8 x 35 3/8 inches)
From a series, unique in this format
Sotheby’s London: 21 November 2017
GBP 156,250

Keep It Real, 2002
Stencil spray paint on canvas
51 x 40.5 cm (20 1/16 x 16 inches)
From a series
Signed in stencil on turnover edge
Bonhams London: 1 July 2015
GBP 134,500 / USD 176,361

Keep It Real, 2002
Stencil spray-paint, emulsion and acrylic on canvas
61×61 cm (24×24 inches)
Stencil signature “BANKSY” lower right
Bonhams London: 4 March 2014
GBP 134,500 / USD 176,361

Keep It Real, 2002
Acrylic and spray enamel on canvas
53 x 45.6 cm (20 7/8 x 18 inches)
From a series, unique in this format
Stenciled signature “BANKSY” on the side, lower right
Christie’s London: 21 October 2008
GBP 34,850