Banksy Trend Report Q1

Laugh
Now

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Critical Review

Now synonymous with the name Banksy, the dejected, stencilled monkey of Laugh Now (2003) has become a key motif in the artist’s oeuvre. First commissioned by the Ocean Rooms nightclub on Morley Street in Brighton, it originally appeared as a six-metre long, spray painted mural, with the figure of the monkey repeated ten times in a row to form a backdrop to the Brighton bar.

In 2003 the piece was also released as 150 signed and 600 unsigned edition prints, along with 69 artist's proofs. In 2008, Ocean Rooms sold the painting at Bonham’s for what was then a record auction price of nearly half a million dollars. Today, Laugh Now is one of the most popular Banksy prints, and internationally recognised works.

Rendered in Banksy’s signature monochrome style, the forlorn monkey of Laugh Now wears only a sandwich board, bearing the words “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. The heavy board, along with the monkey’s slumped shoulders and sunken eyes suggest that he is oppressed or enslaved.

Along with the rat, the monkey is one of Banksy’s most frequently used animal characters. Satirising the nature of humankind, Banksy uses these animals as didactic figures in his critical social commentary. The catchphrase on the board is also typical of those often used by the artist to convey powerful or poignant messages to his audience. To learn more, see our guides to the Monkey and Rat in Banksy's work.

Laugh Now could also be seen as a criticism of the way that humans have been treating animals, in particular our primate cousins, throughout the course of history to this day, whether poaching or capturing them for entertainment or medical testing. The provocative text on the board is both mocking and threatening, clearly suggesting that the character is preparing for an uprising, as if Banksy is warning his viewers of an imminent revolution.

10 Facts About Banksy’s Laugh Now

Laugh Now by Banksy - MyArtBroker

Laugh Now © Banksy 2003

1. When was Banksy’s Laugh Now created?

One of Banksy’s early works, the original Laugh Now was commissioned by the Ocean Rooms nightclub in Brighton in 2002. The six-metre long stencilled mural, featuring ten monkeys in a line, was designed to form the backdrop of the bar.

Later, versions of Laugh Now appeared in Banksy’s exhibition Existentialism in Los Angeles, his first solo show, and as well as on murals in the streets, on paintings and as limited-edition screen prints.

Laugh Now by Banksy

Laugh Now © Banksy 2002

2. The Laugh Now print was released in 2003

There are 150 signed and 600 unsigned prints of Laugh Now, along with 69 artist’s proofs. The screen print depicts a monochrome chimpanzee against a brown background. While the majority of the image is in clean, stencilled lines, the primate’s feet turn into dripping paint running down the image, similar to wet ink on a spray-painted mural.

Monkey Poison by Banksy

Monkey Poison © Banksy 2004

3. What is the meaning behind Laugh Now?

“Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge” states the heavy sign strapped to the chimpanzee, suggesting the monkey is feeling oppressed but not defeated. Banksy’s message is a clear prediction that the unwanted and downtrodden will soon rise up against their tormentors – the artwork has also been read as a criticism of the way that humans have treated primates, including abusing them for entertainment or animal testing, which is a theme the artist touches upon in multiple works like Monkey Poison or Barcode.

Keep It Real by Banksy

image © Sotheby's / Keep It Real © Banksy 2003