Love Rat Banksy
Love Rat first appeared as a spray-paint graffiti tag on the streets of Liverpool, before being reproduced in 2004 as a highly sought after limited edition of just 150 signed and 600 unsigned prints. The rat itself is executed in the artist’s signature monochromatic stencil style, shown brandishing a large paint brush in his paws. The rat has seemingly just finished painting the outline of a bright red heart on a wall, providing the only touch of colour to the print.
At first glance, it would seem that the image was intended to spread love on the streets where it was painted. However the blood red paint drip painting, a popular Street Art technique, implies that the heart is in fact bleeding. Banksy even promoted this work on his website, pitching it jokingly as “ideal for a cheating spouse”. In fact then, Love Rat serves to remind us of love’s potential to induce pain and suffering.
Rats are one of Banksy’s greatest sources of inspiration and one of the most prolific subjects in his work. An anagram of “art”, the rat, along with the monkey, is an allegorical tool used by Banksy in his criticism of the human race. His animals are frequently anthropomorphised, having been granted human characteristics and positioned in unusual or comical situations revealing human vices and flaws.
The rat is also closely associated with the Bansky himself. Hunted down by the authorities, they also tend to appear by night under the cover of darkness. Love Rat was the first of Banksy’s rats to make it into print form, but in his autobiographical book Wall and Piece from 2005 we are told that there are no less than 32 different representations of rats from Banksy’s early career painted in U.K. and Germany. In this book, the artist tells his readers that rats “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. If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model.”
Banksy's appreciation of rats has often been attributed to the French stencil artist Blek le Rat, otherwise known as Xavier Prou, who was the first to initiate urban art in France back in 1981. Blek le Rat's spray-painted stencils of rats first appeared in Paris, on the banks of the Seine, when Banksy was still a child. In Wall and Piece Banksy explains that "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."