Welcome To Hell (Placard Rat) Banksy
Welcome to Hell is part of Banksy’s 2004 Placard Rat series, a trilogy of three screen prints featuring rats holding up a placard with different messages. The other two are titled Get Out While You Can and Because I’m Worthless, and were released in similar edition sizes. The whole series contains only 75 signed prints and 175 unsigned prints, each with red or pink colourways.
The placard rat is among Banksy’s most recognisable characters, appearing several times in murals on the streets of London. Welcome to Hell shows a rat painted in Banksy’s iconic black and white stencilled style. The rat is standing up on its hind legs and holds up a placard with the words ‘Welcome to Hell’ handwritten in bright red splattered paint that inevitably reminds the viewer of blood. The violence of the message is contrasted by the peace sign around the rat’s neck in a complex double entendre that is characteristic of Banksy’s work. The artist’s position on law enforcement, militarism, capitalism and consumerism is well known and this work seems to encapsulate those beliefs with a clear warning against modern life in the over-surveilled city.
Rats feature heavily in Banksy’s iconography, thanks in part to the influence of prolific French street artist Blek le Rat who began spray painting the animals on the streets of Paris in the 80s, sparking a whole urban art movement in France. Banksy has acknowledged the influence of Xavier Prou – as Blek is also known – in his 2005 book Wall and Piece in which he wrote, “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.”
His adoption of the rat as a symbol suggests parallels between the rodents and graffiti artists who are both seen as pests with which the city is engaged in a seemingly eternal and pointless battle to eradicate or at least control. Throughout his oeuvre Banksy uses rats to represent humans of all kinds, good and bad, from the anarchist protester, the painter or photographer to a thief, or, in this case, your local high street doomsayer. Between 2000 and 2005 Banksy painted a number of these rats – from very small to monumental in scale – on the streets of not just London but also New York and Liverpool. Here we see one of his most iconic designs presented as a striking screen print that is highly in demand for its small edition size.