Banksy's Love Rat is a wry reminder that love can be painful too: the image shows a rat painting a red love heart that looks suspiciously like it is daubed in blood. Indeed, all is not roses, the prints were initially released with the ironic selling point: "ideal for a cheating spouse".
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Banksy’s Love Rat first appeared as a mural in Liverpool in 2004, before being reproduced as a limited edition print that same year. The rat itself is executed in the artist's signature monochromatic stencil style. It is shown brandishing a large paint brush in his paws, seemingly having just finished painting the outline of a bright red heart on a wall.
At first glance, it would seem that this Banksy print was intended to spread love on the streets where it was painted. However, the blood-red paint dripping, a popular Street Art technique, implies that the heart is in fact bleeding. Banksy even promoted this work on his website, pitching it jokingly as “ideal for a cheating spouse”. In fact, then, Love Rat serves to remind us of love's potential to induce pain and suffering, as well as joy and pleasure.
Rats are one of Banksy's greatest sources of inspiration and one of the most prolific subjects of his work. An anagram of “art”, the rat, along with the monkey, is an allegorical tool used by Banksy in his criticism of the human race. His animals are frequently anthropomorphised, having been granted human characteristics and positioned in unusual or comical situations that reveal human vices and flaws.
To read more about Banksy's Rats, see our guide 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