Radar Rat Banksy
Radar Rat is one of the most coveted works by Banksy due to its small edition size of 75 signed prints, each hand finished by the artist himself. The work was originally known as ‘Sonic Rat’ and was first released by Banksy’s print publisher Pictures on Walls (POW) at the artist’s Santa’s Ghetto pop-up shop for £300.
Banksy’s Radar Rat can also be seen on a few walls in the streets of London, including the King’s Road, and was later reproduced on canvas in 2004 as well as on the cover of Dirty Funker’s ‘Future’ album in 2008.
Spray-stencilled in Banksy’s signature style, the Radar Rat is shown standing on its hind legs, wearing headphones and holding a tape recorder in one hand and a sonic radar in the other. Behind him is a hand-painted red (or sometimes orange) spiral. He appears to be listening intently to the world around him, in what seems to be a comment on the ever increasing presence of surveillance equipment in cities such as London.
Rats play an important part in Banksy’s iconography and are said to be emblematic of street art itself. In his 2005 autobiographical book Wall and Piece – which features over 30 different representations of rats from the artist’s early career painted in the United Kingdom and Germany – Banksy writes, “[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.” In this way the rat can be associated with the figure of the graffiti artist who is also smart and resourceful yet unloved and chased by the authorities, forced to act under the cover of darkness.
The popularity of the rat as a symbol in street art began with the rise of Blek le Rat, a French stencil artist who initiated the urban art movement in France in the 80s. Also known as Xavier Prou, the ‘Father of stencil graffiti art’ began to spray-paint small rats in the streets of Paris and on the banks of the Seine "because rats are the only wild animals living in cities, and only rats will survive when the human race disappears and dies out. I wanted to do a rat invasion. I put thousands all over Paris." Two decades later, stencilled rats appeared in the United Kingdom and quickly became prominent in street art with artists like Banksy putting their own spin on the now iconic motif. In his book, Banksy acknowledged his debt to Blek le Rat, stating 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."