Banksy's 2004 Placard Rat prints feature a rat holding a placard that reads "Get Out While You Can", quoting from a book by George Marshall. The rat acts as a symbol of the 'everyman', subject to capitalism, and encourages people to seek alternatives to wage slavery and consumerism.
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Part of Banksy’s Placard Rat screenprint trilogy, Get Out While You Can was released in 2004 and contains the now-iconic rodent motif. The inspiration behind the series comes from the book Get Out While You Can by George Marshall, which explains exactly how to 'escape the rat race'.
A number of variations of the Placard Rat were painted by Banksy in the streets of London alongside many other rats, which has led to the rodent becoming a signature motif, or even alter ego, for the artist.
Get Out While You Can depicts a rat in the artist’s famous black and white stencilled style. The work was first seen on Chiswell Street in London, accompanied by the words ‘London Doesn’t Work’. In this Banksy print, the rat, standing on its hind legs, is holding up a placard emblazoned with the words ‘Get Out While You Can’ in bright red or pink handwriting, the only splash of colour in the composition. By giving the figure of the rat a voice Banksy is speaking for those oppressed and defeated by the endless competition and consumerism of late capitalism.
The rat also wears a necklace bearing a peace sign, and his holding of the sign implies he is engaged in a form of social protest or is perhaps warning us of a danger still to come. Perhaps Banksy sees something of himself in his infamous rat character as an artist who works under the radar, operating largely at night, and who is considered by much of society to be a pest.
You can read more about Banksy's Rats in our article here.
Wall and Piece © Banksy 2005
Rats are at the heart of Banksy's art, so much so that some have speculated about the fact that 'rat' is an anagram of 'art.' While this sort of visual-verbal wordplay is certainly a key part of street art, Banksy wrote in his book, Wall and Piece: “I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said ‘that’s clever, it’s an anagram of art’ and I had to pretend I’d known that all along.”
For Banksy, each rat brings his political and social commentary to life – they present street artists, rebels, the downtrodden masses and anyone who feels rejected by society. On another page from Wall and Piece, the artist wrote:
“Rats exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilisations to their knees. If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model."
It could be significant, given this, that while we have seen Banksy rat prints, and Banksy rat grafitti, we haven't yet seen an original Banksy artwork (beyond the street setting) featuring rats. They are the embodiment of the street artist's 'plague on the state' in their dissemination as well as their design. This must be why Banksy's stencilled street rats have popped up almost everywhere that the artist has visited over for many years. Today in London, rats can still be found on Tooley Street and Chiswell Street.
Find more London Banksy murals to visit here.
Love Rat © Banksy 2004
Love Rat originally appeared as a mural on the streets of Liverpool. It was released as a print in 2004, making it the first Banksy rat for sale as a print, in 150 signed and 600 unsigned editions. At first, it appears that Love Rat was intended to spread love, but the bleeding heart may be a reminder that love can cause pain and suffering, as well as joy. Banksy even promoted this idea, suggesting a Love Rat print is “ideal for a cheating spouse”.
Gangsta Rat (AP Green) © Banksy 2004
Of Banksy's rats that have made it into print, Gangsta Rat, has the most colour variations, with 7 different versions available.
Gangsta Rat, wearing a New York Mets baseball cap, a chain necklace and a boom box, is a homage to the urban art and music scene that was fashionable in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s. The tag behind it, ‘iPOW’, references Apple’s i-products, but POW stands for Banksy’s older printers, Pictures on Walls. The artwork originally appeared as a mural in London in 2004. Later that same year, Banksy released Gangsta Rat with a red ‘iPOW’ as 150 signed and 350 unsigned prints. In 2015, he re-released the print in six additional colourways, including pink, mint green, green, orange, blue and grey for special Dismaland VIP collectors.
Radar Rat © Banksy 2004