Welcome To Hell (Placard Rat) Banksy
Welcome to Hell by street artist Banksy is part of the 2004 « Placard Rat » series, a trilogy of three screenprints featuring rats holding up a placard with three 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 famous figures as it appeared several times in the streets of London. One of them showing the message I Love London was vandalised by Banksy’s well-known rival graffiti artist Robbo.
Welcome to Hell shows a rat painted in Banksy’s iconic black and white stencilled style. The rat is standing up on two feet, like a man, and is holding up a placard reading « Welcome to Hell» handwritten in bright red or pink. The pessimistic message aims at being catchy as it represents the only spot of colour of the composition. Although the rat is wearing a necklace bearing a peace sign, he seems to be quite engaged and vehement. Leaning towards the viewer, the rat seems to warn the people that life is not easy and is sometimes unfair. It doesn’t clearly express why life is considered as hell but Banksy’s position against law enforcement, militarism, capitalism and consumerism is known to be clearly expressed in his art. In any case « Welcome to Hell » is a statement denouncing the flaws of today’s society and is perhaps encouraging us to go back to a saner way of life.
Rats are one of Banksy’s most prolific subjects and were a very common motif in the artist’s early works. Some 20% of Banksy’s street pieces feature rats. There was an intense rat-period, especially in London’s streets, between 2000 and 2005, from a multitude of very small and discreet rats to iconic giant rats as in London, Liverpool and New York City for instance. Banksy’s rats are generally used to criticise the human race as rats are often presented like humans with human flaws and vices. Banksy used them to embody different type of everyday men like for example a painter, a photographer, a robber, a protester or an anarchist. Twenty years before Banksy made his very first graffiti, French street artist Blek le Rat spray-painted stencils of rats in the streets of Paris and on the banks of Seine. Banksy’s influence and appreciation for rats are often attributed to Blek le Rat, also known as Xavier Prou, who is considered as the « Father of stencil graffiti » and initiated urban art in France in 1881.