A street art stencil has appeared on the wall of the former Reading nick and after making us wait a little while, Banksy has just this afternoon confirmed it as his, the tease.
As usual the confirmation comes simultaneously via his website and his Instagram and for the second time in less than a year it is in the form of a video showing in gripping detail an unidentified person spraying a stencil. A well sorted stencilling strategy is so important to a successful outcome and the video contains many fascinating details about the order of operations for this particular artwork.
screengrab from “The Joy Of Painting With Bob Ross…and Banksy”, Copyright Banksy
The artwork depicts old fashioned “over the wall” flit by a prisoner and the presence of the typewriter suggests the escapee is a writer. All the coverage has inferred the art is related to Oscar Wilde’s incarceration in Reading and that seems reasonable. Lots of references to Oscar Wilde’s last published work “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” abound though many contend that the piece was written while Wilde was in Reading while literary historians say it was written post release.
Plenty of local coverage draws attention to a campaign to turn the now closed prison into an arts centre so there could be a political aspect with Banksy possibly offering support, though this would be the exact opposite of his intervention in 2010 which condemned the use of his street art as the centrepiece of a new “art-hotel”.
Three elements really raise this seemingly modest artwork quite high in the Banksy cannon. Its placement is stunning, it is by the give way lines at a major roundabout in inner Reading so the chances of the artist being spotted were very high and indeed there are reports and photographs of work in progress last Sunday.
Anonymous photographer, Reading and Berkshire News
Secondly, it has context. There is the physical context which is why you need to see the prison in the backdrop, not for nothing does Banksy’s video includes a rising birdseye view over the wall. If you don’t see the prison buildings well, it’s just a high wall isn’t it. The historical context too is important, this being where Oscar Wilde did time and so the prisoner has the old school (non graff) writer’s tools of the trade, the typewriter. The weirdly downward pointing CCTV almost directly over the spot supplements the giggles nicely.
Most importantly, while politically it is relatively mute although some are contorting themselves to see it as Banksy support for a Reading art centre, it is a brilliant cartoon. It ranks alongside the Simple Intelligence Test In Dumb Animals cartoon from Banksy’s 2001 book “Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall”
“Simple Intelligence Test In Dumb Animals”, reproduced from Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall, copyright Banksy 2001
There is a key aspect which the media hive seems to have collectively missed. The prisoner has been almost universally described as escaping from the prison using knotted blankets, even this afternoon in its umpteenth repost on the piece the BBC is STILL adhering to the idea they are bedsheets yet that is clearly not the case (Juxtapoz weirdly sees the typewriter as attached to the prisoner’s leg).
Someone has given the wily prisoner a typewriter and under the guise of a major lengthy literary masterpiece, the prisoner has surreptitiously typed an escape rope on continuous paper. This is about outsmarting your captors, just like the monkey in the intelligence test. Or, as Banksy himself put it in his punchline to that cartoon “A lot of people never use their initiative, because no-one told them to”.
Photos: Dave Stuart except where stated otherwise