Grin
Reaper

Banksy's Grin Reaper from 2005 exemplifies his signature, almost Surrealist, juxtaposition. Sitting on the clock, which shows five to midnight, his grim reaper has an acid-house inspired smiley face sticker pasted over his face, providing both the title’s pun and an unsettling ambiguity around the figure’s moral character.

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Meaning & Analysis

Banksy’s Grin Reaper, released in 2005, offsets the fear associated with the skeletal grim reaper by covering his face with an acid house smiley. It is one of the artist’s earliest and most recognisable works, originally painted on Old Street, East London in 2007.

Holding a scythe and seated casually upon a large clock face, the traditional hooded visage of Death has been disconcertingly replaced with a bright yellow smiley face in this Bansky print. Consisting of black and white stencilled forms on a monochromatic background, Grin Reaper is visually typical of Banksy's style. The clock, imitating London’s Big Ben, reads five minutes to midnight, as if the Reaper is waiting for the hour to strike before carrying out his morbid duties. The flat, yellow smiley face stands out as the only coloured element of the whole screen print.

Generally associated with the ’90s rave and acid-house culture, the smiley face presents the sinister Reaper as a pseudo-friendly character, playing with the boundaries between good and evil. In fact, this mask with its empty grimace could perhaps be seen as equally menacing.