With its striking simplicity and raw immediacy, Girl with Balloon, 2006, is one of the most widely recognizable images by the anonymous and world-renowned artist Banksy. Unlike the other editioned iterations of this famous motif, the present work is a rare unique painting that was given to the present owner by Banksy in 2006 following the artist’s warehouse show, Barely Legal, in Los Angeles. 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 the nation’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 depicts a small child rendered in black and white who reaches out towards a bright red, heart shaped balloon dangling from a string. Like much of Banksy’s work, 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, a metaphor, perhaps, for the inevitable loss of childhood and innocence.
Composed in spray paint and acrylic on canvas, the motif is based on an original graffiti mural first painted outside a Shoreditch shop in 2002 and then on London’s Southbank that same year, this time accompanied by the epitaph ‘There is Always Hope’. Bordered by an ornate gilded frame, an integral element of the artwork chosen by Banksy himself, the present work is a kitschy emblem of pathos. Instantly gettable, Banksy’s graffiti image is a perfect encapsulation of human emotion for the short-attention span of our social media age: it seditiously pokes fun at high-minded art world savoir faire and in doing so appeals to many, for whom it represents a contemporary expression of sanctity, a bright and vivid symbol of hope everlasting.
Ultimately, however, Girl with Balloon is the poster-child of Banksy’s art: whether you are for or against him, this image utterly encapsulates the immediacy and controversy surrounding the artist’s mission.