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Mixed Media, 2019
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Banksy collaborated with Spanish artist Escif for his Banksy's Axe, a polymer resin sculpture of an axe in a wood stump, released through Banksy's 2019 Gross Domestic Product shop. The piece comments on the readymade tradition with a satirical, inverse twist, remaking a common object from scratch.
Working mainly in Valencia, street artist Escif is known for his clean style of graffiti which almost borders on illustration, as well as the striking messages his pieces hold. Commenting often on the damage done by the state, capitalism and technology, the artist seems to align perfectly with Banksy’s outlook. In this striking piece, the two artists have collaborated to create a tongue in cheek sculpture that appears almost cartoon like in its simplicity and wit. At first glance it seems to be an axe stuck into a piece of wood and yet on closer inspection we can see that the axe itself is growing a flower out of its handle, which, while smooth near the blade, becomes rough and more ‘natural’ towards the base. Rendered in polymer resin the work becomes resolutely ‘unusable’ and enters the realm of sculpture. Here the work makes a clever comment on the tradition of the readymade; whilst appearing to be a found object like Duchamp’s wine rack or urinal, the work has in fact been made from scratch, presenting a doubling of an existing object which has been given an ironic punchline by these two artists who are known for their satirical wit.
The work could also be read as conveying a message of pacifism by referencing Bernie Boston’s famous photograph of a man inserting a flower into the barrel of a soldier’s gun at a Vietnam war protest, entitled Flower Power, as well as early works by Banksy such as Love Is In The Air (Flower Thrower) in which the artist shows a man with a bandana over his face frozen in the act of throwing not a brick or a molotov cocktail, but a bunch of flowers at an unseen target. Similarly the axe and the flower could be promoting an environmentalist message, asking us to consider the value of our trees, especially in light of the ongoing climate crisis.
As an artist who tends to work alone, this collaboration is significant in Banksy’s body of work. While he is open about his appropriation of work by other artists – such as Blek le Rat or Basquiat – he is not known for working with other artists.
The piece was first sold as part of Gross Domestic Product, a new ‘homewares brand’ launched by Banksy in October 2019 in response to the threat of a greeting card company claiming the rights to his name in order to sell products based on his designs. As a result the Banksy name became accompanied by the trademark symbol and a new line of products/artworks was released, much of them in the same vein as the present work, offering witty takes on some of the darker or more desperate corners of contemporary society.
'Made in collaboration with Spanish artist Escif this hand made tool with a happy ending makes a fine decorative companion to fireside or radiator. Made from polymer resin so not much good for actually chopping wood.' —Gross Domestic Product.
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