Banksy’s Turf War print shows Winston Churchill in a familiar pose, leaning out toward the viewer and making strong eye contact. It is this stance that contributed to Churchill earning the nickname ‘The British Bulldog’ during the Second World War.

Turf War by Banksy

Banksy’s Turf War

 

1. What does Banksy’s Turf War depict?

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

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

The expression ‘Turf War’ relates to a battle over territory, with 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 prime minister for much of the Second World War, which was in many ways a dispute over ownership of land, and a defensive battle on the part of the allies to preserve what was their ‘turf’.

3. What is the message behind Turf War?

The title of this artwork and the turf Mohican on Churchill’s head call into question Churchill’s power and authority. This is by no means a tribute to the late Prime Minister. Banksy here denounces 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”.

4. Where else has Banksy created anti-war images?

Anti-war messages have remained prominent throughout Banksy’s career. In May 2001, Banksy held an unofficial exhibition of his work in a tunnel on Rivington Street, London, following a bet with a group of friends. He produced 12 stencils for the show, each one with an anti-war message, including monkeys with guns, bombs over Big Ben, army tanks next to playing children, and a version of the now-famous Love is in the Air (Flower-Thrower).

Love Is In The Air by Banksy

Banksy’s Love Is In The Air (flower thrower)

5. Where did the original image of Churchill come from?

Banksy’s Turf War is based on a photograph of Winston Churchill, known as The Roaring Lion. The image was captured by American-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1941, shortly after Churchill had made a speech about World War Two at the House of Commons in the Canadian Parliament in Ottowa. Churchill’s expression and posture have been said to represent the resilience and persistence of the British during the war, but moments before the photograph was taken Karsh had whipped a smoking cigar out of Churchill’s hand. In reality, the scowl had been directed at the photographer.

6. How does Banksy feel about figures of authority?

Much of Banksy’s work is highly critical of figures of authority and regimes of power. In Turf War Banksy mocks Churchill, defacing his image by changing his hair. Banksy regularly makes bold statements through his artwork, these are often political or directed at other authoritative bodies.

Donuts (strawberry) by Banksy

Banksy’s Donuts (strawberry)

7. Where else does Banksy criticise authority?

In his 2009 artwork Donuts Banksy shows a motorcade of five American police officers on motorcycles and a police van. On top of the van is an oversized doughnut –  representative of an unflattering stereotype: the lazy, coffee and doughnut guzzling police officer. The image was created soon after the financial troubles of 2007, and is thought to show the American police’s warped priorities, choosing to protect their beloved doughnut rather than fight real crime.

Similarly, in his 2003 Turf War exhibition, Banksy displayed a police van defaced with images of pigs.

Turf War Exhibition

Turf War Exhibition – ‘Dalston Banksy’ by Alan Denney. CC BY-NC-SA.

 

 

8. Where did Banksy’s Turf War first appear?

Turf War first appeared in Banksy’s 2003 exhibition of the same name. The show was held in an East London Warehouse, and remained open for just two days before being shut down by the police. Other artworks shown in the exhibition included the Queen as a chimpanzee, and The Virgin Mary feeding an infant Jesus from a bottle marked poison. The original painting was hung from the ceiling, surrounded by the artist’s well known Flying Coppers – the image of a figure in police uniform, with wings and a yellow ‘smiley’ for a face – sprayed onto cardboard.

 

 

Turf War Exhibition

Turf War Exhibition –  ‘Dalston Banksy’ by Alan Denney. CC BY-NC-SA.

 

9. How many versions of Turf War did Banksy produce as a limited edition print?

 

Banksy released Turf War as a limited edition of just 150 signed screen prints, and 600 unsigned prints.

 

10. What is the highest price paid for an edition of Turf War?

In October 2020 a signed edition of Turf War sold for £112,560.

 

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