Rat with Sunglasses Test Spray, 2009
Spray paint on card
23×25 cm (9 x 9¾ inches)
Sotheby’s London: 28 April 2022
Rendered in Banksy’s signature monochrome, stenciled style, the rat is one of the artist’s most iconic and prolific motifs. Hidden in alleyways and moving in anonymity through the most undesired routes of the urban environment, the rat is a potent symbol of the neglected and the unseen. There is of course irony and satire embedded in Banksy’s depiction of the rodent: it is indeed emblematic of the urban landscape, and often met with disgust and fear. In the present work, however, the artist depicts the small creature from the streets wearing a pair of star-shaped sunglasses, conveying it an almost glamorous appearance.
Hunted down by authorities, considered nuisances by society, and looked down upon by the establishment, Banksy and street art seem to form a sense of comradery with the rats. Banksy’s rats carry paint brushes and spray paint cans, accompanied by phrases such as “Our time will come” or “Get out while you can.” Other times, they are simply jamming with a stereo or snapping a photo. Voicing his messages through these small, playful and rebellious creatures, the artist humorously invites us to join their underground revolution. The image of the rat embodies all of Banksy’s beliefs as a graffiti artist. As the rodent multiplies in response to society’s attempts at pest control, the underground graffiti grows in response to the government’s attempts to cleanse the city of street art. As the artist stated in 2010: “Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big businesses. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet” (Banksy Cited In: Paul Gough, Banksy: The Bristol Legacy, Bristol 2010, p. 9).