Originally sold for £40 from a carboot, Banksy’s now famous Flying Copper evidences how far he has come in the art world. Showing a policeman with an acid-house smiley face pasted over his own, the prints bear a coded, rebellious message, and have been offered in numerous editions, various colourways, and rare artist proofs.
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Flying Copper is an iconic example of Banksy's early work, where a heavily armed British police officer dons angel wings and a yellow smiley face.
On a flat coloured backdrop, sky blue or pink depending on the edition, Flying Copper depicts a strange and paradoxical character: the policeman, fully equipped with machine-gun, helmet, walkie-talkie and handcuffs, but topped with a striking, stick-on face and a pair of small angel-like wings. The smiley is both a nod to 1990s acid house culture and the innocence of childhood, depending on your interpretation.
These Banksy prints were released in 2003 as 150 signed and 600 unsigned editions, all featuring the yellow acid-house smiley face. There are also a select few rare Artist's Proofs with a pink smiley instead.
Flying Copper was Banksy's first print release in collaboration with Steve Lazarides and was originally sold for £40 each from the back of Lazarides' car. It first appeared under a number of giant cut-out paintings suspended on cardboard from the ceiling at Turf War, Banksy’s first major exhibition in a warehouse in East London in 2003.
Flying Copper murals were then spotted on the streets of Vienna, London and Berlin. Some appeared with a distinct red Banksy tag through the middle, others had a red, blood-like splatter. A railway bridge in Shoreditch also once featured a row of Flying Coppers, but unfortunately, part of this installation was stolen and subsequently featured in a 2012 documentary entitled How to sell a Banksy.
Flying Copper (AP pink face) © Banksy 2003
Turf War was Banksy’s first major exhibition, held in a warehouse in East London in 2003. There, a series of cardboard cut-out Flying Coppers hung from the ceiling, surrounding Banksy’s punk portrait of Winston Churchill (also titled Turf War). The exhibition introduced other now-iconic Banksy works and motifs – including Toxic Mary and spray-painted animals, which he would feature in his infamous Barely Legal exhibition in 2006.
Have A Nice Day © Banksy 2003
Interpretations of Banksy's Flying Copper‘s smiley face are threefold. The yellow smiley face evokes the nostalgic happiness, simplicity, and innocence of childhood – a recurring theme in many of Banksy’s works. It is also a motif associated with the acid house music scene of the 1990s, and the heady, perhaps less innocent pleasure associated with illegal raves. Thirdly, as the cheerful face appears in complete contrast with the riot officer’s heavy armour and machine gun, it is used to disarm and unsettle the viewer – this sinister juxtaposition positions the officer as the arbiter between the nostalgia for rave's heyday, and the darker, repressed status of the subculture.
Banksy also features the yellow smiley face in his print Have A Nice Day.
Stop And Search © Banksy 2007
Flying Copper shows Banksy’s distrust of authority: the riot officer’s wings may look angelic, but they are small and useless compared to the oppressive machine gun and riot gear. The office hides behind a smiling face and façade of benevolence but is, in reality, a dangerous threat – a reference to police brutality that is as relevant now as it was back in 2003.
Flying Copper (Blue) © Banksy 2003