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I Fought The Law

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Critical Review

Based on footage of the 1981 failed assassination attempt on President Reagan, I fought the Law is one of Banksy’s more politically charged works. The screen prints were released by Pictures on Walls in 2004 as editions of just 150 signed and 500 unsigned. Banksy also created 32 artist’s proofs, eight each of the four colours: orange, pink, yellow and red.

Engaged in a violent struggle, this Banksy print depicts one man being pinned down by three others, whilst a fourth onlooker watches the scene from the right. The man on the ground has dropped a paintbrush, with which he has just scrawled the words ‘I Fought The Law And I Won’ in bright orange paint on the wall behind.

The four characters on the left depict the members of President Reagan’s private security team tackling John Hinckley, a delusional schizophrenic who fired five bullets at President Reagan on 30 March 1981. But with true Banksy wit, the criminal in I Fought The Law is a graffiti artist, instead of a killer.

The text references the title of the song I Fought The Law (and The Law Won) by The Clash from 1979. A second instance of the British rock band’s influence on Banksy’s work can also be seen in his mural portraying a punk smashing an office chair, appropriating the cover artwork from their 1979 album, London Calling.

Why is I Fought The Law important?

I Fought the Law is controversial and overtly anti-authoritarian, condemning the violence of the authorities and calling for acts of rebellion. It clearly suggests that street artists are considered to be serious criminals in the eyes of the law, and are treated as such. The artist arguably positions himself in the place of Hinckley on the ground, substituting his firearm for a paintbrush.

In this way, I Fought the Law also resembles Banksy's Highway Man mural in London, which presents a Robin Hood-style character armed with simply a paintbrush.

Why we love I Fought The Law "With total disregard for authority, the very act of graffiti in itself defies the law. I Fought the Law is a powerful image that serves to remind us that freedom of speech in art is a powerful weapon in its own right, a message that continues to dominate Banksy’s artistic identity." - Joe Syer

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