Turf War was Banksy’s first major exhibition, held in a warehouse in East London in 2003. There, a series of cardboard cut-out Flying Coppers hung from the ceiling, surrounding Banksy’s punk portrait of Winston Churchill (also titled Turf War). The exhibition introduced other now-iconic Banksy works and motifs – including Toxic Mary and spray-painted animals, which he would feature in his infamous Barely Legal exhibition in 2006.
Interpretations of Banksy's Flying Copper‘s smiley face are threefold. The yellow smiley face evokes the nostalgic happiness, simplicity, and innocence of childhood – a recurring theme in many of Banksy’s works. It is also a motif associated with the acid house music scene of the 1990s, and the heady, perhaps less innocent pleasure associated with illegal raves. Thirdly, as the cheerful face appears in complete contrast with the riot officer’s heavy armour and machine gun, it is used to disarm and unsettle the viewer – this sinister juxtaposition positions the officer as the arbiter between the nostalgia for rave's heyday, and the darker, repressed status of the subculture.
Banksy also features the yellow smiley face in his print Have A Nice Day.
Flying Copper shows Banksy’s distrust of authority: the riot officer’s wings may look angelic, but they are small and useless compared to the oppressive machine gun and riot gear. The office hides behind a smiling face and façade of benevolence but is, in reality, a dangerous threat – a reference to police brutality that is as relevant now as it was back in 2003.
Soon after the Turf War exhibition, Banksy created Flying Copper murals in Vienna, London and Berlin. Some featured the artist’s red signature tag, while others had red blood-like paint splatters, which added a greater sense of violence and threat to the already subversive image.
After Banksy installed a row of Flying Coppers on the railway bridge in Shoreditch, East London, a part of the artwork was soon stolen. The incident was included in the 2012 documentary 'How to Sell a Banksy'.
Of course, the irony is that a stolen Banksy mural is difficult to sell on, especially if it was removed with profit in mind. Banksy’s authentication body Pest Control does not issue certificates of authenticity for murals, in order to dissuade people from stealing the artist’s work from the streets.
To Discover London’s Top 12 Banksy Murals, see our article.
Back in 2003, when Flying Copper prints were first released, Banksy and his then-agent Steve Lazarides sold them out of the back of Lazarides’ car for just £40 a print. They can now sell for up to £110,500 at auction.
At 70 x 100cm, it is also one of Banksy’s easiest prints to frame, as it fits into a standard-size poster frame available in many shops. Banksy’s other prints are smaller: for example, Girl With Balloon measures 50 x 70cm.
On the back of Banksy’s book Wall And Piece, he included a statement from a Metropolitan Police Spokesperson: “There’s no way you’re going to get a quote from us to use on your book cover.” “My main problem with cops is that they do what they’re told. They say, ‘Sorry mate, I’m just doing my job’ all the fucking time,” Banksy wrote in his 2001 book Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall.
Banksy was first inspired to use stencils while hiding from the police on a night out tagging, and he has used them as the subject of satire and social commentary ever since. Stop And Search references the controversial ‘stop and search’ legislation and the police force’s prejudice against ethnic minorities, while Rude Copper turns the idea of the kind-hearted British bobby on its head as the policeman gives the viewer the middle finger.
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