As part of Banksy's broader Placard Rat series, a rat holds up a sign that reads "WELCOME TO HELL!" Intriguing, because here his hell-raising rat wears a peace sign necklace, Banksy, as ever, uses his rat character to preach that protest can take many forms and share many messages.
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Part of the 2004 Placard Rat print series, Welcome to Hell shows Banksy’s iconic stencilled rat character, clutching a protest placard. Said rat, painted in Banksy’s typical black and white stencilled style, stands up on its hind legs holding a placard complete with the words ‘Welcome To Hell’. Handwritten in bright red splattered paint, the text is reminiscent of blood.
In a complex double entendre characteristic of Banksy’s print-based works, the violence of the print's handwritten message contrasts with the peace sign, or CND symbol, held around the rat’s neck. The artist’s well-known, fiercely-critical stances towards law enforcement, militarism, capitalism and consumerism are palpable here. Indeed, this work seems to encapsulate the artist's anti-establishment beliefs, whilst taking aim at modern life in the over-surveilled city.
The other two works in the series, titled Get Out While You Can and Because I’m Worthless, were released in similarly-sized editions. The whole series comprises 75 signed prints and 175 unsigned prints in red and pink colourways. The placard rat is among Banksy’s most recognisable motifs, appearing time and time again in in situ murals on the streets of London, and around the world.
Rats feature heavily in Banksy’s iconography, thanks in part to the influence of prolific French street artist, Blek le Rat. Blek le Rat began using stencils to spraypaint rats onto the streets of Paris as early as the late '70s, bringing the urban Street Art movement to France for the first time. To learn 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