'This image has been the jewel in the crown of every Banksy bootlegger for the past 15 years, now the first official version comes with an actual jewel on it. Screen print on guilt-free fair trade tee with pendant.' – GrossDomesticProduct.
Banksy’s heart shaped balloon made a reappearance in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 2018 where it became part of a ‘Vote to leave’ poster - the kind that was ubiquitous in the UK just before the EU referendum of 2016, carefully placed in order to change the message to ‘Vote to Love’. This time however, the balloon looked bruised and broken, covered in bandages and struggling to stay inflated and aloft. This piece also relates closely to another work in the shop, the Banksy™ Shredded Tee which shows the girl and balloon from the above mentioned painting printed on a plain white tee shirt which has had its bottom shredded in a reference to Banksy’s notorious auction stunt.
With this piece Banksy has made his most famous works of art into a wearable product. The original listing on the artist’s ‘homewares’ website, Gross Domestic Product, stated that ‘This image has been the jewel in the crown of every Banksy bootlegger for the past 15 years, now the first official version comes with an actual jewel on it.’
Just one of many witty and provocative pieces in Gross Domestic Product’s original lineup, this work is an important part of Banksy’s oeuvre. The shop itself is also an important step in the evolution of Banksy as an artist, representing an ingenious solution to the threat of legal appropriation of his name by a greeting card company as well as control over the sale of his work. When it launched in October 2019 the shop – and showroom that displayed its products in Croydon, South London – was a great success.
Girl With Balloon began life as a mural on London’s Southbank before becoming a viral sensation, reproduced all over the world on greeting cards, tee shirts, mugs and posters as well as unauthorised prints – much to the artist’s dismay. In 2018 the work appeared at Sotheby’s in the form of a painting and quickly became headline news as when the hammer came down on the final bid, the work self-destructed. The painting spontaneously fell from its frame only to be shredded through the lower part, as the audience looked on in horror and amusement. The artist later made a video revealing how he had installed a shredding device into the work ‘in case it was ever put up for auction.’
Both the original mural and the painting show the stencilled figure of a young girl reaching out a hand for a heart shaped balloon that is slipping away from her, pulled upwards by the wind, in a gesture that represents the familiar feeling of failing to grasp your hopes and dreams before it’s too late. With the present piece the balloon has been replaced by a heart pendant allowing the wearer to become the – somewhat sadistic – force that is pulling the girl’s desire just out of reach.
This emphasis on the gap between desire and realisation is something Banksy has explored before in his extensive oeuvre which frequently unpacks ideas of consumerism and our constant need for more – more money, more attention, more stuff. While usually it is the fat cats and the police he is poking fun at, with this work, Banksy chooses a more vulnerable figure in order to show a mirror to the kind of society in which a simple plastic balloon can easily become a symbol for wider problems of consumption and neglect.
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