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Lifted from Quentin Tarantino’s eponymous film, Banksy’s Pulp Fiction gives us Travolta and Jackson wielding bright yellow bananas rather than guns. Rendered here in white stencil on a black background, Pulp Fiction first appeared in 2002 as a stencilled composition in the streets of London, near Old Street tube station.
It was visible until 2007, when Transport for London painted over the wall, on the grounds that the work lent an atmosphere of social decay and neglect in the capital, despite the well-known image drawing art fans and tourists to the area. When the mural was covered, a local artist sprayed-painted the words “Come Back” in its place, addressed to Banksy. Banksy then, of course, re-tagged his original Pulp Fiction in exactly the same place, but this time the characters were holding real pistols and wearing banana costumes instead.
In January 2007, the late graffiti artist Ozone wrote over the new piece with the words “If it's better next time I'll leave it”. The 19-year-old artist tragically passed away a few days later, along with fellow artist Wants, after both were hit by an underground train in Barking, East London.
Banksy created another piece over his original Pulp Fiction mural in tribute to the two young graffiti artists, depicting an angel wearing a bulletproof vest and holding a skull in his right hand. He also posted a note on his website that read “When we lost Ozone we lost a fearless graffiti writer and as it turns out a pretty perceptive art critic. Ozone – rest in peace”. The tribute mural was quickly referred to as “Ozone's Angel”. Subsequently, Banksy's original Pulp Fiction mural became even more popular, and was mass-reproduced on commercial merchandise.
"banksy-graffiti-street-art-pulp-fiction" © Bruce'sArtCollection / Pulp Fiction © Banksy 2002
Banksy’s Pulp Fiction first appeared near London’s Old Street underground station in 2002. It was one of his earliest stencil murals. Previously, Banksy preferred working freehand, but an incident hiding from the police made him realise “I had to cut my painting time in half or give up altogether. I was staring straight up at the stencilled plate on the bottom of a fuel tank when I realised I could just copy that style,” he wrote in his book Wall and Piece.
Banksy’s Pulp Fiction depicts an iconic scene from American director Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film of the same name. The movie still shows the lead characters, played by actors Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, pointing firearms at an off-screen character. Banky’s adaptation shows the characters pointing bright yellow bananas.
Perhaps the most obvious other cultural reference is the Monty Python skit, titled “Self-Defence Against Fresh Fruit”, from the comedy troupe’s TV show Monty Python’s Flying Circus as well as their film And Now For Something Completely Different. The scene features a character, played by John Cleese, teaching a class how to defend themselves against a “man armed with a banana”. At the end of the scene, the student posing as the attacker is shot by Cleese using a real gun.
The comparison between the Pulp Fiction movie and the Monty Python banana skit in Banksy’s artwork highlights the ridiculousness of unnecessary violence, and how accustomed we have become to seeing it on television and cinema.
“the velvet underground & nico 1967” © oddsock / The Velvet Underground & Nico Cover © Andy Warhol 1966
Warhol’s stencil-like silkscreen technique, and his banana for The Velvet Underground & Nico album cover in 1966, could have both been an inspiration for Banksy. But the banana in Pulp Fiction might also have been Banksy’s reference to his own work, as he often uses monkeys to shine a light on human folly.
Pulp Fiction © Banksy 2004
In 2007, Transport For London painted over Banksy’s original Pulp Fiction mural, citing that graffiti “an atmosphere of social decay”. This is an ironic stance given that Banksy has replaced the original guns with fruit. Despite the artwork being painted over, the image can still be seen through Banksy’s print series of the same name – not to mention the numerous t-shirts and merchandise created by bootleggers.
The mural’s removal triggered a reaction from a local artist, who spray-painted the words “Come Back” in the space where Pulp Fiction had been. Banksy responded to the artist (and perhaps Transport for London too) by painting a second version of Pulp Fiction on top. This time, the image showed Tarantino’s characters wearing banana suits and pointing real guns.
“Banksy – OZONE’s Angel” by vandalog / OZONE's Angel @ Banksy
Not long after Pulp Fiction (version 2) appeared, graffiti artist Ozone tagged his name on top of Banksy’s work, along with the words “If it’s better next time I’ll leave it”. Tragically, just two days later, Ozone was killed by a London Underground train. Banksy painted over his Pulp Fiction mural with a tribute to Ozone, showing an angel wearing a bulletproof vest, holding a skull wearing a cap. He said: “When we lost Ozone we lost a fearless graffiti writer and as it turns out a pretty perceptive art critic.”
The current auction record price for Banksy’s Pulp Fiction is £159,900 (including fees), paid for a signed edition of the print in March 2021. In 2012, the original stencil for Pulp Fiction sold for £10,600.
Love Is In The Air (flower thrower) © Banksy 2003
Banksy made anti-violence statements in his later murals and prints, including Love Is In The Air (flower thrower), in 2003 in Bethlehem, shortly after the West Bank Wall was constructed. The image shows a man poised to throw a grenade but, as with Pulp Fiction, the weapon is replaced with a non-violent object – in this case, a bunch of flowers.