Applause was first released at Banksy’s momentous Barely Legal show in Los Angeles in 2006, as an edition of 100 unsigned prints, each selling for US$500. Visitors to the exhibition had the chance to buy a special portfolio called the Barely Legal Print Set, which contained Grannies, Applause, Sale Ends, Festival, Trolleys, and Morons. These are now among Banksy’s rarest and most sought-after prints, and even more valuable when sold as a complete set.
After Barely Legal closed, Modern Multiples were ordered to destroy the plates for the six prints, so they could never be reproduced without the involvement of Banksy’s UK-based printer at the time, Pictures On Walls.
Banksy is known best for his black and white stencil art. Five out of six of the Barely Legal Print Set follow this style faithfully, with the addition of a few bursts of colour, and subsequently helped to sky-rocket Banksy’s success as a stencil artist. Applause, however, is made using a photomontage method, inspired and assisted by artist Peter Kennard. To create the piece, Banksy put together a series of individual photographs, instead of by designing and spray-painting stencils. The result is a completely unique effect that more closely resembles a black and white sketch.
A second way that Applause differs from the other five prints is in its size. While the first five measure 76 x 57 cm, Applause measures 114 x 76 cm, making it the largest print edition Banksy has ever released. This change in size may be to do with the different method of production used or the sheer amount of detail included.
Banksy’s London-based printers, Pictures On Walls, later released additional screen prints of Applause, taking the editions up to 150 signed and 500 unsigned prints. This was to honour the promise made at the original exhibition and reflected Banksy’s growing popularity. Each Barely Legal print followed the same release schedule, apart from Sale Ends. On the occasion of their closing down sale in 2017, Pictures On Walls released 500 prints of Sale Ends (Version 2), a reworking of the 2006 original, with an added fifth figure in the image.
Many may recognise the original photograph that Banksy has modified to create Applause as an image of former American President George W. Bush deploying a military bomber. Banksy has added the two air traffic controllers in the foreground; but, instead of holding up cues to the pilots, one of them holds up a sign similar to those used in comedy theatres and live television performances to cue the audience to cheer.
The fact that the artwork may seem witty or even comical at first forms the basis of the artwork’s message. Banksy criticises the treatment of war, violence, and conflict in the mass media, suggesting the public have been desensitised to the horrors that happen across the globe because of how these issues and images are presented to us. The media trivialises, and sometimes even glamourises, war. It manipulates our reactions, cueing us to applaud, laugh, or cry at the right time.
Banksy is known for being a controversial and free-speaking artist, despite his anonymity. He has never shied away from expressing his own pacifist sentiments in his work. Artworks such as Bomb Hugger, startlingly featuring a child hugging a missile, demonstrate this.
In 2003, Banksy produced a series of stencilled cardboard ‘Wrong War’ placards for people in London protesting the Iraq War. The images used were variations of Happy Choppers, Bomb Hugger, and Grin Reaper. Placards have since been sold for tens of thousands, but their legitimacy cannot be proved.
Many works by Banksy undermine authority of all kinds, particularly political authority. He has mocked figures such as Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, and, in this case, the US President. While the comedy may be dark, he highlights how dependent authority is on public approval. One painting that fits the bill perfectly is Devolved Parliament, which depicts the UK Houses of Parliament overrun by apes. The piece broke the record for auction sale of a Banksy painting in 2019 when it reached £9.9 million at Sotheby’s auction house.
When they were first released, screen prints of Applause sold for US$500 each. By the time of the second release of additional prints by Pictures On Walls, the sale price had gone up to £600 signed and £300 unsigned. Over the years, these prices have risen exponentially, and in December 2020, a signed edition sold at Bonham’s for nearly £94,000.
Unafraid of conflict, Banksy’s murals regularly crop up in difficult times and in areas that have been ravaged by violence and war. A series of stencilled works cropped up on the Palestinian side of the West Bank wall, including the iconic Flower Thrower, and Banksy even set up an art hotel in Bethlehem. Not only do his works bring beauty and art into spaces that have suffered in the name of war, but they also highlight those values that are worth fighting for: love, justice, and peace.