Banksy's Filth

Year: 2000
Medium: Spray Paint
Dimensions: 44.4 x 40.5cm
Last Hammer: £40,000 (Phillips London, 2014)
Signed/Unsigned: Signed
Banksy's Filth. A spray paint work of an armed police officer with Mickey Mouse ears and angel wings behind him.Filth © Banksy 2000
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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In the provocative Filth, Banksy merges the iconography of innocence with symbols of authority, creating a disconcerting juxtaposition that challenges the viewer's perceptions. Executed in 2000, this unsigned piece portrays a riot gear-clad officer adorned with incongruous Mickey Mouse ears and angel wings against a stark ultramarine and pale green backdrop. With this work, Banksy dives into the unsettling realm where figures of control are whimsically twisted, prompting a dialogue on the nature of power and its deceptive façades.

Filth: Meaning & Analysis

Banksy’s Filth is a striking visual paradox, bringing into sharp relief the juxtaposition of innocence symbolised by Mickey Mouse ears and angel wings with the imposing figure of a police officer in riot gear. The vibrant ultramarine blue and the central strip of pale green serve as a vivid backdrop that accentuates the monochromatic subject. The stencil reveals a complex interplay of cultural symbols, crafting a narrative that questions the integrity and role of authority figures in society.

The addition of whimsical elements to the riot officer's uniform suggests a dual critique: the artist's distrust of law enforcement's overt power and the subversive use of ostensibly innocent symbols to critique larger societal structures. By employing angelic iconography, typically associated with guardianship and morality, and pairing it with the figure of a police officer, Banksy invokes a sense of ironic sanctity. This imagery starkly contrasts with the title, a pejorative slang for police, driving home a message that is unflinching in its examination of the police force and its complicated relationship with the communities they serve.

Through Filth, Banksy communicates more than disdain; he beckons the viewer to consider the complexity behind the figures that both protect and control. The artwork posits the notion that authority, often cloaked in the guise of societal protection, can sometimes be the harbinger of conflict and oppression. The angel wings, while evoking protection, also suggest an incongruity between perception and reality – an allusion to the potential fallibility and corruption within institutions of power.

Banksy's choice of the universally recognised and commercially co-opted figure of Mickey Mouse adds a layer of commentary on consumerism and its intersection with authority. It reflects on how consumer culture often sanitises or glosses over the more disturbing aspects of control and surveillance. The playful appropriation of such motifs underscores the artist’s critique of the commercialisation and trivialisation of serious societal issues.

Filth challenges viewers to reconsider the fallibility and corruption that can exist within institutions of power, wrapped in an imagery that is whimsical yet unsettling.”

Joe Syer
Joe Syer,Co-Founder & Specialist,MYArtbroker

Reflections of Filth

Filth, with its startling fusion of riot gear and whimsical fantasy, lingers in the consciousness as an emblem of the multifaceted nature of authority and the enduring human response to it.

The figure in Filth, adorned with a halo and wings yet positioned next to symbols of control and conflict, signals a poignant paradox. It suggests the duality of the human condition: the potential for virtue and vice, protection and harm, all encompassed within a single entity. Banksy’s work invites the viewer to ponder this duality, reflecting on the roles individuals play within societal structures and the inherent contradictions that come with them.

Filth: Exhibition History

Bristol, The Seven Shed Bar and Restaurant, Severnshed, February - April 2000

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