Girl With Balloon Banksy
Balloon Girl, or Girl With Balloon, is one of Banksy’s most notable works, demonstrating the graffiti stencil technique Banksy has become renowned for the world over. The work was released as an unsigned and signed print in 2004/2005; its relatively low edition size contributes to its desirability, there are just 150 Girl With Balloon signed prints, and 600 unsigned. It is perhaps the most sought-after image for Banksy collectors, old and new.
The work depicts a young girl, whose hair and dress are blowing in the wind, reaching for, or releasing, a red, heart-shaped balloon that has slipped from her grasp, flying out of reach. The red balloon is an archetypal symbol many of us connect with, as the only spot of colour in the work, more than a child’s toy, the red balloon evokes fragility of what it stands for: innocence, dreams, hope and love. Whether you see the girl as losing the balloon, or about to catch it, the meaning can be interpreted as a loss of innocence, or the arrival of hope and love.
This work, which was accompanied by a quotation that read, ‘there is always hope’ originally appeared in London’s Southbank; though the city council ordered the work to be painted over. Girl With Balloon has grown to become one of Banksy’s most iconic works, as such Banksy produced it again in a new context – a miniature version appeared on the cardboard backing of a cheap Ikea frame which quickly made its mark on the art market when it realised £73,250 at a sale at Bonhams in 2012.
Another version of the stencil painted in Shoreditch, near Liverpool Street station, sparked outrage when the owners of a shop proposed to peel it off the wall and send the work straight to auction. After 10 years hidden behind a billboard, it was removed in February 2014 by the Sincura Group who were responsible for the removal of Banksy’s mural Slave Labour in North London a year before. It was exhibited at the exhibition, “Stealing Banksy?” and then sold.
In March 2014, Banksy reworked the, by then, extremely high profile work to mark the third anniversary of the civil war in Syria. The redesigned image was used to promote #withsyria, a campaign to raise awareness and rally support for the victims of the three-year-long conflict. The campaign denounces ‘years of brutality and bloodshed that have turned Syria into the epicentre of a massive humanitarian crisis’. In this version the Girl With Balloon appeared with a headscarf to depict a Syrian refugee.
Besides Banksy, other celebrities joined forces in the campaign to raise awareness, among them Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Edith Bowman, Peter Gabriel and David Milliband, all who posted pictures of themselves holding a red balloon on their Twitter or Instagram accounts. Photographs of Syrian children holding red balloons in the style of Banksy's famous balloon girl also became viral on the web. Actor, Idris Elba voiced an animated video calling people to support Syrian refugees and encourage the end of the war. As part of the same campaign, the refugee girl with a balloon was projected on Nelson's Column and the Eiffel Tower.
On the occasion of the General Election on June 8 in 2017, Banksy reworked his balloon girl one more time. It was a copy of his famous stencil but the red heart-shaped balloon was instead coloured as the Union Jack. The artist announced he would send a free print of his new work to anyone who could prove they voted against the Conservatives. Banksy announced that the artwork would be released the day after the election. However, the artist withdrew his offer when advised by the Electoral Commission that the free print offer would invalidate the election result.
In July 2017, a Samsung poll of 2,000 people from UK asked participants about their favourite British piece of art. The poll's results ranked Banksy's Girl with Balloon number one favourite. Banksy's iconic stencil was chosen above the likes of famous painters like Constable, JMW Turner, Thomas Gainsborough or John Everett Millais, but also above Antony Gormley's sculpture The Angel of the North, Anish Kapoor's ArcelorMittal Orbit and album covers for the Beatles, Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols.
A year later Girl with a Balloon became the subject of the most talked about public art stunt in history, when a signed canvas of the work self-destructed in front of the entire saleroom, as the hammer came down on the final £1.4 million bid at Sotheby's Evening Sale. Banksy posted an image of the work shredding itself on his own Instagram feed the same day, with the caption: 'Going, going, gone … '.
Pest Control, Banksy’s only authentication body, gave the work a new title, Love is in the Bin. The buyer of the work, a female European collector, proceeded with her purchase, commenting, “When the hammer came down last week and the work was shredded, I was at first shocked, but gradually I began to realise that I would end up with my own piece of art history.”
Perfectly reflected in the work's enduring appeal with both high end collectors, and the general public, it seems Girl with a Balloon resonates across the board. Even Justin Bieber got a tattoo on his right arm, seemingly meant to replicate the work. When Bieber posted his new ink, the work of tattoo artist, Glen Hartless, on his social media account Banksy’s fans quickly called for it to be 'amputated under copyright law', the comment received over 2,500 ‘likes’.