Since his subversive rise to international acclaim, the anonymous maverick artist Banksy captured and disrupted the art world with his provocative and ‘barely legal’ work. Banksy's skills have never been confined to public walls, with masterful oil painting and printmaking underscoring his unique artistry.
Among his diverse portfolio, Banksy's hand finished prints occupy a special place, bringing viewers teasingly close to his personal touch. These prints, each distinguished by hand-applied elements that elevate them into one-of-a-kind pieces, are a perfect embodiment of Banksy's disruptive approach to art. Set apart from his regular print editions, these prints are rare artefacts of the stencil master's unique rebellion against conformity.
A hand finished print is a work of art that begins its life in much the same way as any other print, created using the printmaking method of the artist's choosing: lithography, screenprinting, etching, or digital printing. What sets a hand finished print apart, however, is the additional layer of individual attention it receives post-printing process. After the initial edition is made, the artist personally adds elements to the print; giving it a totally unique dimension. This could include - depending on the artist's creative direction - adding brushstrokes, colour variations, or collaged elements: rendering the print entirely distinct from its siblings in the same edition. This process offers an intriguing blend of reproduction and individual artistry - something particularly compelling from a totally anonymous artist like Banksy.
The appeal of a hand finished print lies in this interplay between the uniform and the unique. While an unaltered print certainly offers the allure of owning a piece by a championed artist like Banksy at a more accessible price-point, a hand finished print elevates this experience by offering a touch of the artist's hands. To an extent, a hand finished print sits on the fine line between an original and a reproduced work of art. Collectors are afforded the opportunity to own a unique piece which embodies an express connection to the artist, whilst also being part of a larger and identifiable series. Each hand finished print is a coveted piece of a larger picture, carrying a distinct narrative and identity.
World-renowned yet mysteriously anonymous, Banksy is heralded for his distinct and provocative assault on the art world, and his approach to hand finished prints is certainly no exception. Banksy's hand finishing process is often an extension of the street art techniques he employs in his in-situ murals, with hand-sprayed elements added to the print after the initial printing process.
Banksy's hand finishing techniques incorporate various elements like spray paint, stencilling, and adding unique colourways that are distinct from the regular print edition. For example, in the case of his famed Girl With Balloon series, Banksy has been known to hand finish certain prints with different coloured balloons: like his pink, purple and gold iterations of the print. Likewise, certain works from his Morons series - already a satirical snipe at the art world and market - feature an array of colours in the hand finishing process. These hand finished elements highlight the frame around the wry words “I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU MORONS ACTUALLY BUY THIS SHIT”; drawing attention to Banksy's distaste towards the money-driven art market.
These hand finished elements don't merely add colour and texture to the print - they imbue each work with the raw and unconventional spirit that has always underpinned Banksy's work. Each hand finished print from Banksy thus becomes not just a unique work of art, but a testament to the street artist's unyielding desire to provoke and challenge norms in the art world, and society at large.
Among his eclectic portfolio of prints and editions, several hand finished works have become particularly iconic staples of Banksy's oeuvre. Here are some of the most notable hand finished works from Banksy's output:
Characterised by Banksy's typically tongue-in-cheek shunning of authority, Rude Copper depicts a British policeman flipping the bird to the viewer. One of the more audacious images in Banksy's lexicon, the work well and truly undermines this traditional symbol of law and order. Approximately 20 of the total edition of 250 were spraypainted with the words “FUCK THA POLICE”; certain prints also bore the word “FILTH” and others included the anarchy symbol. Indeed, Banksy has never been one for subtlety, and this hand finished print is proof in point that he certainly likes to ‘say it how it is’.
In his Choose Your Weapon series, Banksy critiques urban violence while paying homage to the original architect of politicised street art: Keith Haring. Banksy shines a light on the disaffected youth of Britain in this series, whose aggressive dogs have become a form of weaponry. In this hand finished iteration of the work, the Haring Barking Dog is distorted even further with the addition of two red painted eyes, and drips down the composition.
Depicting a hero icon of Banksy's oeuvre, Radar Rat sees a mischievous rodent standing on its hind legs, with a tape recorder and receiver in hand. Banksy's rats have often symbolised the overlooked and the rebellious underdogs of society, and this hand finished work presents the rat as a subversive insurgent: encouraging the viewer to question the ever-watchful eye of the establishment.
Inspired by his controversial film Rebel Rocket Attack, Dumbo is a hand finished work from a small edition of 25 prints. The work reimagines a scene from the short film, with the well-known Disney character cast down by rebel militants. Reminiscent of the themes prevailing in Banksy's wider oeuvre, Dumbo is a shrewd critique of the absurdity of war and violence. The hand finished element to the print, the yellow paint applied to Dumbo's naive hat, only serves to emphasise the incongruity of the scene.
Banksy's hand finished prints have long been lauded as some of his most covetable and valuable works, primarily because of their rarity. These hand finished works emanate from much smaller editions than their main edition counterparts. Moreover, these works offer Banksy collectors a distinct opportunity to own a unique work which has received special attention from the artist himself.
As we explored in our analysis of the value of Banksy's Choose Your Weapon series, the hand finished iterations of Banksy's prints rarely appear for sale at auction. Thanks to their infrequency on the secondary market, these unique works have emerged as a ‘holy grail’ among Banksy collectors. This fact also makes Banksy's hand finished prints some of the most in demand from his portfolio; a rare opportunity to own a work which reveals Banksy's synonymously disruptive and calculated process.
Banksy's world-famous anonymity has always been a central part of his allure, contributing significantly to the intrigue and value of his artworks. The lack of personal information publicly known about Banksy paradoxically heightens his public image: his artworks have become his identity, and each hand finished print serves as an intimate connection to an artist who remains unseen.
This anonymity has undoubtedly impacted the market value of his works: from blockbuster originals to prints. The mystery surrounding his identity has created an almost mythic status around Banksy, something poignantly expressed in CUT & RUN: Banksy's first official exhibition in 14 years. Revelations like these in the enigmatic world that is Banksy's send ripples through the art market, boosting the value of his works and making these rare prints from his portfolio all the more seductive.