Toxic Mary Banksy
Banksy’s Toxic Mary first appeared as a painting at ‘Turf War’, the street artist’s first major show which took place in an East London warehouse in Dalston in July 2003. The screen print, in Banksy’s characteristic stencilled style, shows a woman cloaked in drapery feeding her infant son, and draws many parallels with classic Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child. However this bold and controversial artwork – some have even called it blasphemous – breaks firmly with tradition; here the Virgin Mary is feeding her baby with a bottle, and one marked with the ancient symbol for poison – the skull and crossbones – no less.
It is interesting to note that the work varies formally from Banksy’s usual stye, with the clean lines of the stencil swapped for what looks like dripping paint that runs past the frame of the main image in a striking trompe l’oeil effect. However the print does share a similar theme and style with his later work Christ with Shopping Bags made in 2004 which also uses religious iconography to criticise mass consumerism and capitalism, and denounces the perversion of Christian values, especially the celebration of Christmas. Here it seems the target of Banksy’s criticism is religion itself, represented as a toxic ideology passed from parents to children from a young age – an interpretation which has inevitably offended a number of christians. On the other hand the work could also be a comment on the general toxicity of family relationships, in which outdated ideas and traditions repeat themselves endlessly, or even a riposte to the capitalist society that promotes Big Pharma baby formula over natural breast milk.
With its dull colours brought into relief by the yellow of the toxic bottle and the drips that seem to show the scene melting before our eyes, the print is undoubtedly one of Banksy’s darker works, evoking a sense of despair without any of the usual humour he employs to lift a bleak attack on society to witty satire.
An early screenprint by the artist, Toxic Mary was produced in 2003 by Pictures on Walls of London as an edition of 50 Toxic Mary signed prints and 600 unsigned prints. A few artist proofs were also made available in red, pink and blue.