Girl With Balloon Banksy
Girl with Ballon is undoutedly Banksy’s most famous stencil and one of his most sought-after artwork. The image is now ubiquitous, appearing everywhere on the Internet but also on postcards, mugs, bags… For all Banksy lovers, it’s definitely a must-have piece of art and was released as an unsigned and as a 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 prints.
Girl with Balloon first appeared on the side of a bridge on the South Bank in London in 2002. At first glance, the stencil seems to depict a little girl sadly watching her red heart-shaped balloon drift away. But on a closer examination, one understands that the young girl is releasing her balloon as she stands still and emotionless. The heart shape, which is the only spot of colour, stands for innocence, dreams, hopes and love. More than being just a child’s toy, the balloon here evokes fragility. The image of the young girl letting go of her balloon suggests that innocence can easily be lost. Banksy is known to mock society and he may implies through his artwork that society makes children grow old too fast. The stencil is originally accompanied by the sentence “There is always hope”, a positive message which suggests that no matter what happens there is always a hope for better days. Banksy painted a second version of the girl with a red balloon. He painted a miniature version of his famous stencil onto the cardboard backing of a cheap Ikea frame which quickly became famous as 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 off the wall and send the street art piece to auction. After 10 years hidden behind a billboard, the girl with the red balloon 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. The iconic girl was first exhibited on the occasion of the “Stealing Banksy?” show and then was sold.
In March 2014, Banksy reworked his famous stencil 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 ». The new balloon girl appeared with a headscarf to depict a Syrian refugee.
Besides Banksy, other celebrities joined forces so as to raise awareness. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Edith Bowman, Peter Gabriel and David Milliband 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 stencil also became viral on the web. Actor Idris Elba also voiced an animated video calling people to support Syrian refugees and encourage the end of the war. On March 13 the balloon girl was projected on Nelson's Column and the Eiffel Tower.
A few days later, Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber added Banksy's balloon girl to his massive collection of tattoos. He posted a picture of the tattoo to his Instagram account, captioning the image « Don't let your dreams float away », but later deleted it. The tattoo can still be visible in a photo posted by Glen Hartless, the tattoo artist who inked the singer. On the occasion of the General Election on June 8, Banksy reworked one more time his balloon girl. It was a copy of his famous stencil but the red heart-shaped balloon was instead coloured as the Union Jack. The artist announced on his website that he would send a free art 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. But risking breaking the election law as this may be considered an illegal bribe that could influence the voters, the artist eventually withdrawn his offer.
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 artwork. 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 tower and album covers for the Beatles, Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols. The poll was carried out to celebrate the launch of The Frame, a new Samsung TV, in which more than 100 pieces of art are pre-loaded.