Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Toxic Mary (3), 2003


Toxic Mary (Double), 2003
Enamel and emulsion on cardboard
200.4 x 170.2 cm (78 7/8 x 67 inches)
Stenciled “BANKSY” (lower center)
Christie’s London: 26 June 2019
GBP 419,250 / USD 531,705

Turf War, London, 2003

Painted on a monumental scale, Toxic Mary (double) is a spare, poignant work. Against a ground of shimmering gold, the artist has painted the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus, here shown as a mirror image that has been doubled across the canvas. Banksy’s reinterpretation of a Renaissance Madonna, is one of the artist’s most iconic motifs, first appearing in his clandestine exhibition Turf War, held in London’s Dalston neighborhood in 2003. 
Both Marys feed their babies from orange hazard bottles, and above their heads hover two rifle sight devices. In the heavens, a single star hangs as airplanes roar below. The work was included in Banksy’s first gallery presentation Turf War, held in a warehouse in East London; the now-infamous exhibition was closed by the police two days after it opened. Hoping to maintain his anonymity, Banksy himself did not attend the exhibition.
Banksy’s signature use of multi-layered stencils was inspired by a run in with the cops at eighteen. Fleeing the police one evening, he hid underneath a garbage truck where he studied the lettering on the side of the cabin door. Using both stencils and spray paint, he crafts a highly legible and instantly recognizable visual language evident in Toxic Mary. The resulting lines are fiercely crisp, befitting an aesthetic that is brazen, political and outspoken. Indeed, part of the appeal of the stencils comes from the history of the repeatedly traced image.

“As soon as I cut my first stencil I could feel the power there. I also like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars.”

Certainly, his subjects are often wry and sardonic, blending together philosophy, politics and satire. For the artist, graffiti is both a totem to the present moment and a clarion call for change. As Banksy said in a rare interview, “Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw wherever they liked. Where the street was awash with a million colours and little phrases… A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business.”

Variations Sold at Auction

Toxic Mary, 2003
Spray-paint on two panels
180x188cm (74 x 70 3/4 inches)
Christie’s London: 12 February 2020
GBP 455,250

In this version of Toxic Mary, both Marys feed their babies from orange hazard bottles, and, in the sky above, a ring of stars hangs as airplanes roar below; set against a gleaming white, all connotations of virtue and purity traditionally associated with the color have been purged from the canvas. The work not only satirizes the seemingly unimpeachable relationship between mother and child, but also the role of religion more broadly, which, viewed through Banksy’s sardonic eye, is presented not as sheltering force, but as a social poison. If astral imagery has historically been used as a symbol of the heavens, in Banksy’s rendering, the divine circle has been broken; the corona borealis of Toxic Mary conjures an unreliable and noxious presence.

Toxic Mary, 2003
Spray-paint on wood
120 x 240 cm


Turf War, London, 2003