Heavy Weaponry Banksy
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Heavy Weaponry is a well-known canvas by British street artist Banksy released in 2002 by Pictures on Walls, Banksy UK’s print house. It is a simple canvas made using black spray paint and stencils. Heavy Weaponry depicts a singular elephant made in Banksy’s recognisable stencil style with a rocket strapped to its back, hence the double-entendre in the witty title. The entire composition consists of a minimally depicted animal simply strolling forward, heavy with irony. The artist’s signature is visible in the bottom right-hand corner rendered in light grey stenciled capital letters.
The image of the elephant bearing a rocket on its back carries various interpretations; presumably the general message is anti-military, in line with Banksy’s other works using similar imagery. Using the elephant as a symbol resonates with other famous Banksy works featuring various animals that represent ordinary people or the ‘masses’ vis-a-vis the establishment and the military-industrialist complex.
An example of this in other work is Laugh Now depicting a sombre monkey. The Heavy Weaponry image was reproduced in various editions and formats. In 2002, a unique version was created on cardboard showing the elephant over a red spiral – the same used in Banksy's Radar Rat – with the addition of the artist's signature tag over a red barcode stencil. Heavy Weaponry was re-edited on canvas in 2003 and 2004 with the slight difference of the elephant facing the other direction and the signature tag which is no longer visible but appears on the overlap.
Banksy also donated a copy of Heavy Weaponry on wood reading ‘Fragile’ and ‘Protect from All Elements’ to the film star and philanthropist Leonardo DiCaprio in order to raise money for his foundation. Works by 33 well-known painters were auctioned in 2013 at Christie's in New York and raised over $39 million for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation – Banksy's Heavy Weaponry ‘Protect from All Elements’ realised US$315,000.
Why is Heavy Weaponry important?
Banksy's Heavy Weaponry is among his earlier artworks and is a brilliant example of his more minimal, simple yet punchy compositions with a more ambiguous meaning. In this it’s similar to Mosquito. The graffiti originally appeared in the streets of Bristol. The famous elephant with its rocket was reused for 10 unique and rare paintings where the pachyderm appears on a grey background with the inscriptions ‘London’, ‘New York’ crossed out and ‘Bristol’. This 2000 edition was exhibited the same year at the artist's first solo show held at the Severnshed restaurant, behind the docks in Bristol. 18 canvas by Banksy were on display, among them famous works like Love is in the Air, Weston Super Mare, Monkey Detonator as well as a self portrait of the artist.
While the first copies of Heavy Weaponry sold for very little, they have more recently fetched astronomical sums. Today Heavy Weaponry is among Banksy's most recognised works. Even Robin Williams owned a copy of ‘that rocket elephant’.
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