Gangsta Rat Banksy
Banksy’s Gangsta Rat is part of a collection of signed and unsigned prints released in various colours. It was first editioned in 2004, in the red colourway with 150 Gangsta Rat signed prints and 350 unsigned prints. In 2015, the artist re-released some rare colourways. These were limited to 46 pink, 8 mint green, 20 green, 61 orange, 61 blue and 61 grey for special VIP collectors for Dismaland in Weston-super-Mare. The artist also reproduced Gangsta Rat as graffiti art in the streets of Farringdon in 2004, near Moorfield Eye Hospital in 2006 and New York City in 2013 on the occasion of the artist’s painting residency: Better Out Than In.
Gangsta Rat combines spray-paint and black and white stencilling techniques. It depicts a black and white rat wearing a New York Mets baseball cap, a chain necklace, and carrying a ghetto blaster. The character portrayed is reminiscent of the New York underground style that was prevalent across the UK in the 1980s and 90s. The rat appears to have tagged ‘iPow’ on the wall behind him in spray paint. The image is an ironic social commentary on the ubiquity of Apple products and POW is a reference to Banksy’s print publisher: Pictures on Walls.
Rats are one of Banksy’s most prolific motifs, they take on many personas in his work: a doorman, an anarchist, a protester among many others. As an anagram for ‘art’, the rat is Banksy’s most valuable artistic tool to satirise society, and to make a stand for those suffering from injustice. The rats are personified and often shown in comical situations, poking fun at human flaws. Banksy explains in his autobiographical 2005 book, Wall and Piece, “They 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.” In such an explanation we cannot but also assume he associates the rat with himself. The book itself has no fewer than 32 different representations of rats from the artist’s early career painted in UK and Germany.
Banksy's appreciation for rats are often attributed to French stencil artist Blek le Rat, also known as Xavier Prou, who is known as the ‘father of stencil graffiti’ and initiated urban art in France in 1881. Blek le Rat's spray-painted stencils of rats first appeared in Paris on the banks of Seine, at the same time Banksy would have been drawing his own first sketches as a child. Motivated by social consciousness, Blek le Rat chose to paint rats because they were ‘the only free animal in the city’. In Wall and Piece, Banksy said: ‘Every time I think I've painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well, only 20 years earlier’.