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Turf
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Critical Review

Turf War was first shown at Banksy’s 2006 exhibition of the same name, and depicts former prime minister Winston Churchill with a lime green mohican. The screen print was first seen in 2003 at Banksy’s Turf War solo exhibition – which took place in a warehouse on East London's Kingsland Road – where the original painting was suspended from the ceiling and surrounded by the artist’s famous Flying Coppers spray-painted on cardboard.

The Turf War screen prints were released shortly after the exhibition by Pictures on Walls as an edition of just 150 Turf War signed prints and 600 unsigned prints.

The original portrait of Churchill, known as The Roaring Lion, was taken by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh in the chamber of the Speaker of the House of Commons in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa on December 30, 1941, after Churchill delivered a speech on World War II. Considered to be one of the 20th century’s most significant political figures, Churchill is best remembered for his wartime triumphs rather than his messy dealings with colonialism, making this irreverent Banksy print all the more thought-provoking in its refusal to venerate Churchill in the way we are so used to seeing.

Why is Turf War important?

Banksy’s use of Karsh’s portrait of Churchill is a reference to the Prime Minister’s leadership during WWII and his persistence through adversity. However this is no tribute; here Banksy appears to be denouncing the constant battles for borders and territory that have come to define 20th and 21st century politics at great cost to civilian lives. As he has written in his 2005 book, Wall and Piece, ‘The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It’s people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages.’

Banksy's former printer, Pictures on Walls, has described the work as "The original thug immortalised here is the moment the turf was placed on the statue of the big man during London’s May Day riots. Arguably the best piece of vandalism this country has seen for over a decade".

Why we love Turf War "Painted in Banksy’s typical black and white stencil style on a white background, the portrait is monochromatic, like Karsh’s original photograph, apart from the green strip of hair which turns him into a wannabe punk rocker. Disconcertingly, Churchill shows the same determined smile and ferocious look as in Karsh’s photograph, which earned him the nicknames 'the British bulldog' and 'the roaring lion' "- Joe Syer.

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10 Facts About Banksy's Turf War

Turf War by Banksy - MyArtBroker

Turf War © Banksy 2003

1. What does Banksy’s Turf War depict?

Turf War is executed in Banksy’s signature stencilled style, predominantly in black and white. In place of Churchill’s hair is a lime green Mohican, which appears to be made from turfed grass. With this simple swap, Banksy transforms Churchill from a political leader into a punk rock rebel.

Have A Nice Day by Banksy

Have A Nice Day © Banksy 2003

2. What is the relevance of the title ‘Turf War’?

The expression ‘Turf War’ relates to a battle over territory, the implication being that the dispute is unlawful. The Collins English Dictionary defines ‘Turf War’ as a struggle between criminals or gangs.

Churchill was a political leader and the UK Prime Minister for much of the Second World War, which was, in many ways, a dispute over ownership of land: a defensive battle on the part of the allies to preserve what was their ‘turf’.

I Fought The Law (yellow) by Banksy

I Fought The Law (yellow) © Banksy 2003

3. What is the message behind Turf War?

The title of this artwork and the turf Mohican on Churchill’s head call into question the Prime Minister’s power and authority. Indeed, this is by no means a tribute to the late Churchill, rather a denouncement of the battles for borders and territory that characterised 20th and 21st century politics - at great cost to the lives of civilians.

Banksy‘s former printer, Pictures on Walls, has described the work as “The original thug immortalised here is the moment the turf was placed on the statue of the big man during London’s May Day riots. Arguably the best piece of vandalism this country has seen for over a decade”.

Love Is In The Air (flower thrower) by Banksy - MyArtBroker

Love Is In The Air (flower thrower) © Banksy 2003