London New York Bristol (Monkey), 2000
Spray-paint and acrylic on canvas
61.2 x 61.2 cm (24 1/8 x 24 1/8 inches)
From a series, unique in this format
Tagged “BANKSY”, lower edge
London New York Bristol (Monkey) is a striking early example of Banksy’s bold visual language and arch commentary. Using black and white spray paint atop coats of various colors—fluorescent green, blue, red and a concluding wash of military green—he crafts an image of manifold connotations: a monkey surfs a bomb. The stenciled depiction recalls the famous scene in the 1964 black comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, during which Major Kong rides a bomb to its detonation. While Major Kong represents blind loyalty, Banksy’s monkey flashes a V sign towards the viewer.
Still from Stanley Kubrick’s film “Dr. Strangelove”, 1964. Image: © Sony Pictures Entertainment
London New York Bristol (Monkey) was acquired by the owner in 2000, after visiting Banksy’s exhibition in Rivington Street in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood on 31 May that year; the same monkey surfing on a missile was printed on the show’s invitational flyer, which promised ‘an illicit outdoor gallery experience’ to visitors.
For his first exhibition in the capital, Banksy painted a series of now-iconic stencils onto the walls flanking what is now the entrance to Cargo, a well-known nightclub. He came up with the idea after an evening out at the pub debating with his friends how easy it would be to hold a guerrilla exhibition on the walls of a London street. ‘As we walked through a tunnel in Shoreditch someone said: “You’re wasting your time, why would you want to paint pictures in a dump like this?”’ (Banksy, Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall, Bristol 2001, n.p.). In subsequent years, London New York Bristol (Monkey) was loaned to the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Although not a part of the Banksy vs. Bristol Museum exhibition in 2009, while the artist was casing the galleries determining where he should insert his works, he was shocked to come across one of his own canvases already on display in the museum. London New York Bristol (Monkey) comes with its original police tag authenticating the canvas.
This is Bristol, 9 April 2009
“I use monkeys in my pictures for a lot of reasons,’ Banksy has said, ‘guerrilla tactics, cheeky monkeys, the fact that we share 98.5 per cent of our DNA with them. If I want to say something about people, I use a monkey.”
Early depictions of the impudent anthropomorphized animal graced the walls of his Rivington Street exhibition as well as the contemporaneous Severnshed show in his hometown of Bristol. Over the decades, the humorous and mischievous motif has evolved, offering a contemporary twist on Singerie, the satirical visual arts genre in which monkeys, often fashionably dressed, are shown emulating human behavior. Banksy frequently deploys the chimpanzee when making his social and political critiques. His Devolved Parliament (2009), which depicts the House of Commons filled not with MPs but instead debating chimpanzees, was particularly scathing. Similarly, in Laugh Now, the forlorn ape’s sandwich-board attire bears the weight of his oppression. Although mankind has sought to distance itself from its closest animal relative, perhaps, as Banksy suggests, the two are not so far apart after all.