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Donuts was first released in 2009, in the now iconic ‘Strawberry’ flavour where a comically large pink iced donut is strapped to the top of an American police van, surrounded by police escorts.
Unlike most of Banksy prints Donuts was never painted in the street, and soon after the canvas was released, so 299 signed Strawberry Donuts screenprints and 299 signed Chocolate Donuts versions were too. The number of prints released – 299 for each flavour – is said to be a reference to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts’ financial troubles in 2007, when it closed down 299 stores.
Despite the ridiculousness of the situation depicted by Banksy here, the policemen have grave expressions. The assumption is, in this largely monochromatic composition, that the donut is being protected by the police. The convoy with motorbikes evokes the motorcade that traditionally escorts and protects American heads of state and also makes reference to Kennedy’s embarrassing blunder when he said: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ in a speech during a visit to Berlin – which literally translates to, ‘I am a donut’.
A number of interpretations and references can be read in this humorous composition: the fast food icon of the sugary donut is synonymous with the American cop portrayed on TV and in cinema. The artwork parodies this theme, calling into question the ethics and values of the authorities, seemingly protecting what they hold most dear, and perhaps communicating a further comment over the safety of the people under the protection of these greedy officials wasting time on trivial matters.
The donut also symbolises American commercialism – the police clearly appear to be protecting this icon of Western society’s consumerism. It also refers to the American Dream: a flawless, appealing sugar-coated façade, but one with a big hole in it which needs to be protected from any form of attack.
As with many of his works, Banksy pokes fun at the value society places on commercialism and government in Donuts. Other works that reference this central theme in Banksy’s work include Because I'm Worthless, Applause, Bomb Hugger, Happy Choppers and Have a Nice Day.
Though the composition seems light-hearted at first glance, a closer examination reveals Banksy’s more complex statement about the American police and the authorities in general. Ridiculing the police and the military is a central theme in the work of Banksy, who is famous for conveying powerful socio political messages through his art.
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Donuts (strawberry) © Banksy 2009
Banksy’s Donuts first appeared on canvas in 2009 in the pink colourway; the artwork shows a procession of five American police officers on motorcycles, escorting a police van holding an oversized, iced doughnut on top. Banksy is known for his high-profile street art but, unusually for the artist, Donuts never appeared as a mural and has only existed as paintings or screenprints.
Donuts (strawberry) © Banksy 2009
Later in 2009, Banksy created editioned screenprints of Donuts in two colourways. Donuts (strawberry), featuring pink icing, was released in 299 signed editions, while Donuts (chocolate), featuring brown icing, was likewise released in 299 signed editions. Banksy also added pops of yellow, red and blue for the police motorbikes’ headlights, but the rest of the stencilled artwork is largely monochrome.
image © Sotheby's / Donuts (strawberry) © Banksy 2009
Two years earlier, in 2007, American doughnut company Krispy Kreme closed down 299 stores following financial troubles. Banksy’s 299 signed editions for Donuts (strawberry) and Donuts (chocolate) is a reference to this embarrassing event.
Happy Choppers © Banksy 2003