Happy Choppers Banksy
Banksy’s Happy Choppers screenprint was released in 2003 as an edition of 750 pieces. There are precisely 600 unsigned prints, 150 signed prints among which 33 signed Artist proofs. Happy Choppers was created on the occasion of Santa’s Ghetto, a Christmastime art exhibition launched by Banksy in order to draw attention on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the poverty of the West Bank. Before being released as a screenprint, Happy Choppers first appeared in 2002 as a sprayed mural in Central London at the Whitecross Street Market. Banksy also used the image on canvas.
Happy Choppers depicts a squadron of armed military with a bright blue sky in the background. The sky, painted with white clouds, is quite simplistic and cartoon-like, almost reminiscent of The Simpsons opening credits. On the other hand, the helicopters are painted with more details insisting on their war equipment which accentuates the danger of the situation. The lead « chopper » (American slang for a helicopter which became popular during the Korean War) is dressed in a girly pink bow.
The composition showcases an association of typically contradictory elements, that is to say the violence of warfare and the innocence of childhood. Banksy remarkable accurate rendition of helicopters makes clear the reference to war but the use of the pink bow on the fighter aircraft mocks masculinity and militarism while it also highlights their inherent menace.
He managed to make the situation cheerful whereas it should be threatening and thus frightening. The artist makes us examine more closely their motives and acts and perhaps wants to draw attention on the corruption of governments. Banksy is an artist known for his criticism of militarism. This can be seen in his works Have a Nice Day or Golf Sale for example.
Happy Choppers print is an early example of Banksy's helicopter motif. He revisited the motif multiple times making it an iconic part of his artwork. He re-used it for example for his « Crude Oil » collection of paintings, on a canvas which depicted choppers dressed with a yellow bow and flying through an idyllic landscape. The helicopter motif was also spotted on boards in the London Anti-War protests in 2003 alongside other famous images from his artwork like for instance « Grin Reaper » or « Wrong War ». The bands Massive Attack and Blur actively supported and promoted these images during the march, which helped bring great publicity on Banksy's artwork.