Banksy street art hidden for many years has been brought out of limbo in Shoreditch, visible at last to the millions of street art fans new to Banksy’s art since it last doused itself under East London rain. Two images, a huge rat and a TV being chucked rock star style out of a window have lain out of sight under protective wooden sheeting for 12 years though they are perhaps among the more “storied” of Banksy’s street artworks.
Banksy frequented the legendary Shoreditch art and drinking establishment The Foundry, pincered between Great Eastern St and Old St and was a good friend of the hosts Tracey and Jonathan Moberly. Tracey told Graffoto that from around 2002 Banksy was very active inside, outside and around the Foundry, in that period he painted genuine masterpieces such as the Have A Nice Day helicopter above the chip shop opposite Foundry and the earliest of the Pulp Fiction pieces that faced the Foundry from the tube station building 100 yards away.
The Foundry was an amazing melting pot bringing together creative, cultural and cool people and stimulated all kinds of interactions. Courier cyclists were a specific sub-species who made a base at the Foundry and some evenings (particularly warm ones!) the pavement outside the foundry would be a crush of grimy bike couriers. It was a group of cyclists who organised the festival in the unlicensed car park to the rear of the Foundry for which Banksy painted the rat and the TV.
In 2010, Hackney Council had a pretty hostile attitude to graffiti and was equally intolerant of street art, as the Moberlys witnessed with the council’s repeated buffing of great art that appeared legally with permission outside the Foundry. The council then turned round and made the preservation of the TV and the rat a condition of the planning consent for the demolition of the existing building and its replacement by what was to be an 18 storey hotel but now has permission for 22 storeys. Should these Banksys have been elevated to heritage status?
The TV out the window stencil, a brilliant rock and roll cliché, looked like it was made for that wall, it’s an image that has to be on the side of a windowless building that looks like it ought to have windows. The image wouldn’t work on say a garden wall or a bridge support.
Inside the Foundry all kinds of crazy things went on and prominent in the bar was a array of flickering TVs, a TV flying out the window from the Foundry seemed entirely plausible.
The TV out the window makes an appearance in Banksy’s 2005 book Wall and Piece but is not the Foundry one, the one in the book was up by Angel and by the time I located it the TV had been buffed (higher up the wall above this image) but Banksy’s tag was still visible and Shepard Fairey had visited.
Not only is the Foundry TV nicely placed and well executed, it has a Banksy tag next to it and they are increasingly rare out in the wild. In fact including this one I can only think of 3 surviving outdoors in London and we must fear for the existence of one of the other two as there is an artist’s impression of a development which shows the surface the tag is on is earmarked to disappear.
The rat has always been a bit unsatisfactory, the reasons Graffoto criticised the council’s decision to preserve that rat are as valid today as they were back in 2010. It has never been clear what this rat is about, it rejoices in the nickname “Eat the rich” and is often described as a rat with a knife and fork but if you look carefully that is actually a jigsaw blade not a knife and the fork is more like a harpoon or a pitchfork, forks don’t neck down from the handle then widen into the prongs. We don’t know what the rat is doing, why it belongs at this location nor what the red ring around the eye is about and the technique is a bit sloppy. The things that look like fins are probably meant to be bedraggled fur, at least that’s what they look like on other Banksy rats but on this one it looks like a weird dorsal fin or the conning tower on a submarine.
However Banksy’s street art isn’t diminished by poor execution, they were never meant to be superb specimens of perfectly executed art and indeed evidence of haste is perhaps part of the essence of the way Banksy has to create his street art. Banksy’s relationship with the Foundry and the use by the Foundry of that car park to stage events suggests this rat probably wasn’t subject to the usual tensions of illegality, perhaps it could have been better executed, maybe like the ones in Cargo.
More significantly, Banksy hated the rat! Tracey whispered to Graffoto last year that Banksy thought the rat was a piece of shit. Furthermore, when asked to comment on the closure of the Foundry in a 2010 BBC news broadcast, Banksy contributed via one of his classic emails saying
There you have it, the artist Banksy does not wish the art to be preserved so the council’s 2010 decision is morally dubious to say the least. Note also the explicit confirmation that the artwork is a genuine Banksy, assuming of course that the BBC weren’t being spoofed.
Preservation of these Banksy pieces began before the planning decision though. The protective sheeting enclosing the TV and rat was erected in 2007, perhaps the idea of incorporating the Banksys on the Foundry site into the new hotel had already formed in the owners’ and operator’s minds at that time. An early painting of that slanting façade was by Burning Candy members Sweet Toof and Cyclops, wittily captioning their creation Rat Trap.
The immediate future for the rat and the TV is that metal frames are going to be constructed around them and after separating the wall from the rest of the building structure and dismantling the walls above the art by hand, a massive crane is going to be used to lift the two wall segments separately over the building where they will be stored covered up at the front of the building site. The developers have not made their ultimate intention clear, their obligation is to provide free viewing access to the public of these two Banksys either within the hotel or somewhere else within the Borough. The developer is known to have planned to include 6 other Banksys from the Foundry building within the so-called Art’otel development but none of the other 6 survive.
A few weeks ago Graffoto got an exclusive opportunity to watch the sheeting came down and the TV and rat were seen again for the first time in 12 years. As the sheets came off the first thing that appeared was the top parts of the old fire extinguisher ATG tag and it was immediately apparent that he paint had survived in pretty good condition.
After barely an hour of watching other people do real work, the TV and the rat were revealed in all their glory
For the meantime, make the most of the brief period visibility of those two Banksys before they lose whatever sense of context they may have had in their original location and ponder the puzzle of why the council decided to preserve this rubbishy rat against the artist’s own wishes yet remain oblivious to some real masterpieces that appeared on the Foundry building before and since.
2010: Hackney Council insists on rat/TV preservation Graffoto post
2018: Foundry/Red Gallery Building closes Graffoto post
All photos: Dave Stuart except Jonathan Moberly where noted