Banksy’s Grannies print is an ode to punk culture and its anti-authoritarian rebelliousness: the two elderly ladies are knitting jumpers that say “Punks Not Dead” and “Thug For Life”, looking back on the movement affectionately. They may be performing their own small act of rebellion by knitting these jumpers or passing down the message to the younger generation.
The slogans being knitted onto the sweaters by Bansky's Grannies are music references. In 1981, Scottish band The Exploited released an album titled Punks Not Dead, which celebrated the original punk music of the 1970s and rejected new wave and post-punk ideas, just as Banksy’s Grannies cling to their own punk history. Thug 4 Life is an iconic hip-hop track released by rapper Tupac Shakur (2Pac) in 1993.
Banksy’s Grannies has also been interpreted as the artist’s message that punk no longer exists in its true form: it has been assimilated into mainstream culture, embraced by the masses – even harmless old ladies – and turned into decorative but empty slogans.
Banksy makes a similar comment in his print Festival, in which punks, goths and hippies queue up to buy a mass-produced t-shirt bearing the slogan “Destroy capitalism” for US$30.
Banksy’s Grannies print was first released at his landmark Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles in 2006. Visitors had the chance to buy a special portfolio called Barely Legal (LA Set), which contained Grannies, Festival, Applause, Sale Ends, Trolleys and Morons. Although 500 unsigned prints of each series were made, only 100 were released for the exhibition – making the Barely Legal prints among the artist’s rarest and most sought-after editions, and even more valuable when sold as a complete set.
After Barely Legal closed, Los Angeles-based printers 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.
A year after the Barely Legal exhibition, Pictures On Walls released 150 signed prints of Grannies to join the 500 unsigned prints; there is also a very rare series of 11 hand-finished prints, which features a red background instead of the original pale pink background, and the jumpers are shaded in pink and green.
A very rare, hand-finished Grannies print sold for £226,800 (with fees) at a Banksy-exclusive auction with Sotheby's in March 2021. At the same auction, a signed Grannies print, from the standard limited edition, sold for £107,100 (with fees) – over double its high estimate and currently the top price for a regular print in the Grannies series.
Banksy’s mural Old Skool, created around 2010 on an East London garage wall, features a group of four elderly men and women posing around a boom box. Like Grannies, the artwork contrasts the pensioners’ old age with their youthful lifestyle, showing that times may change, but the desire to rebel does not.
In December 2020, Banksy unveiled a new mural of a sneezing granny on a wall at the end of a row of terraced houses in his hometown, Bristol. Thanks to an illusion created by the slope of the road, it appears as though the sneeze is so powerful that the houses have been knocked sideways. The mural, officially titled Aachoo!!, provided some light entertainment for residents during the height of the second national lockdown.
In 2012, architect and curator Lara Seixo Rodrigues set up LATA 65, a Lisbon-based graffiti workshop aimed at over 65 year olds to boost their confidence and creativity, while changing perception of graffiti (‘lata’ means ‘tin can’ in Portuguese).
The project took part in Nuart Aberdeen street art festival in 2019. Sixteen elderly ‘Graffiti Grannies’ spent three days designing their own tags before taking their artwork to the streets. “I’m hoping to be a Graffiti Granny in the future,” enthused spectator and Councillor Jenny Laing, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council. The grannies in Banksy’s Grannies would no doubt feel right at home joining them with spray can in hand!
In Grannies, Banksy reflects that there are more to people than meets the eye. The elderly ladies reveal their punk rock attitude through the jumpers they knit, much like how Banksy shows his activism through his anonymous artworks. Another print to follow this theme is Flying Copper, in which Banksy explores how misleading a smile and a uniform can be – and the sinister threat it hides.