East Anglia has in the past week or so became home to a spectacular trove of street art that finally this afternoon was verified as genuine Banksy. Banksy has verified a grand total of 10 new pieces of street art and to put this in context, there were only 5 outdoor Banksy artworks at his own Dismaland group show in 2015!
With my son for company as navigator (who needs sat nav when you have a boy armed with a smartphone and supersized data allowance) I headed off last Tuesday 10th August to explore the Fens and surrounds, hunting down the biggest collection of Banksy seen since New York, October 2013.
The Norfolk Broads is an idyllic network of creeks and lakes which on the day we visited was looking stunning with boats gently sailing here, there and everywhere in glorious sunshine and perfect breezes. Nicholas Everitt Park sits at the inlet to Oulton Broad, a classic British daytrip destination full of playgrounds, bowling, tennis and ice cream vendors. It does its best to turn away from the sour, grubby creek that runs down its spine but Banksy hasn’t. “We’re all in the same boat” has three children in a distressed Swallows and Amazons tableau, a skipper and second in command upfront scan the horizon while, at the back a third child bails their leaking tub. The two children upfront have paper admiral’s hats suiting their privilege, the child dealing with the emergency in the bilges wears a worker’s beaney. Originally there was a decaying boat hull but that corrugated sheet of iron was hauled away as it was constricting the water course.
“We’re all in it together” our leaders promised, that was until Boris decided to throw out all the pandemic restrictions and impose on us a doctrine of “personal responsibility” despite a 3rd wave delta variant surge. Banksy’s smartly dressed captain navigates blind to signs of imminent disaster while someone else, representing the NHS perhaps, heroically struggles to stop the ship sinking. Coming the week after Boris decided that he didn’t have to isolate despite an office staffer who flew on a plane with him testing positive, Banksy mocks our political leaders’ inclination to shamelessly pick and choose which of the rules they can ignore.
In one of Lowestoft’s shopping drags, one of those that can’t decide if it is pedestrianised or not, a chubby child in a sunhat plays in the sand with a crowbar rather than a spade, the beach is the sand under paving slabs which the scowling but resourceful child has prized up. The scene embodies the famous slogan from the French student riots of ’68 “Sous les paves, la plage!”, “Under the paving stones, the beach!”
This piece places the council in a quandary we will watch with amusement… Banksy is a great tourist draw for an economy “building back” but holes in pavements are a nailed on dead cert public liability nightmare! In appearance though not meaning, this piece recalls Banksy’s 2010 Tesco sandcastle at British seaside town Hastings.
Lowestoft has more, the largest of the bunch brilliantly reproduces that seaside promenade classic – the chip stealing seagull. This is the best realised of the current collection. The simulation of a bag of chips using cut up loft insulation and a rusty skip placed in situ without permission is next level, a real classic Banksy.
We had the pleasure of chatting with a local who saw the work in progress. He recalls shrouded scaffolding, a van and a bored looking young man keeping watch. With nearly 2 decades experience of looking bored around street art, my boy could empathise with Banksy’s lookout. Our local observer explained the building was owned by an absent owner in London who let it to council-guaranteed temporary residents and that it had been subject of complaints in the past few years about the accumulation of crap in the front hard-standing. So locals were not in the least bit surprised at what looked like contractors carrying out maintenance though they were puzzled that the work required insulation.
The size of the painting and the installation of the rusty skip give this enterprise a degree of planning that few apart from Banksy have the skill to pull off without permission. It will be interesting to see what happens to that skip when the chips have been stolen, as they inevitably will be.
Outside Lowestoft we found a chilled rat reclining on a beach chair, sheltered under a parasol while enjoying a cocktail whose mix includes the drip from an adjacent outfall pipe. The rat is staring directly at the pipe in anticipation of the next top up.
It’s nice to see a Banksy rat again, in this case the black colour is predominantly freehand painted over a stencilled white layer which is unusual but Banksy has used the technique in the past, despite what a particular high profile Banksy street art acquirer/remover said. See for example the Basquiat tribute piece at the Barbican centre in 2017, though that is one that the art chiseller failed to acquire.
“Au revoir Lowestoft, it was lovely visiting you” and “Hello” to Gorleston Beach with its newly decorated beach shelter now sporting an arcade grab machine claw. By the time of our visit, this piece had been opportunistically added to by local artist Raphiel Astoria, who signs their art Emo. Among the additions are a number of stencilled bears, a statement proclaiming this to be a collaboration between Banksy and Emo and most provocatively, a stencilled Banksy tag.
The photo released on Banksy’s website shows the arcade claw before any additional artwork so the suggestion of collaborative intent on Banksy’s part can be dismissed. Robbo and Danny Minnick have made far superior interactions with Banksy street art in the past.
The additional bears look like the kind of bait prizes that never drop into the hopper of the arcade game. According to local news sources, experts apparently think the enhancements mean the Banksy piece “Makes more sense now”. What Emo has done dramatically changes our point of view, our relationship with the artwork. Stencilling the bears on the wall means we are now looking from the outside at a selection of prizes, which of course includes any poseur sitting on the bench, inside an arcade game. What Banksy painted actually gamified the whole world. We were all, the whole world, inside the game and the claw was selecting “winners”, the allegorical touch was a nod to life as a game that confers privilege on a select few while the rest of us flounder unwanted. From that perspective this was until the additions probably the most conceptually accomplished Banksy of the whole East Anglia collection. It still makes a great Instagram photo opportunity though.
Merrivale Model Village is a self-effacing Great Yarmouth beach front gem completely drowned out by the garish competition. Even the slush puppy concession outside is a bigger eye magnet. Inside is a different story – it’s big, it’s delightful and it’s brilliantly British in a classic wholesome way.
A clandestine Banksy addition to the model collection is a defaced stable in classic gingerbread vernacular style placed in a quaint village in front of a medieval castle. The vandalism inflicted on this fairytale scene is a Banksy fire extinguisher tag and a Banksy rat who has written “Go big or go home”, a very witty slogan to put up on the side of a miniature house. The rat defacing the property has been caught literally red-handed, like the “If Graffiti changed anything” rat in London in 2011.
The Banksy tag is a model scale version of the fire extinguisher tagging hugely approved of by hard-core graffiti writers, reproducing the fire extinguisher effect at model scale is very impressive. Banksy has previous with fire extinguisher graffiti have sprayed the word “BORING” on the side of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank in 2004. For purists concerned that Banksy doesn’t sign his street art these days, the Banksy tag here is not an artist signing their artwork, the tag IS the art which is a completely different thing.
Things get a bit complex at this point, the model is only on display between 1pm and 3pm. We had a lovely conversation with the son of the owner who told us that since word got out people were stepping onto the model village to get close up photos, so for the time the Banksy model could only be displayed for limited supervised hours. On Tuesday we did not know that! However the owner kindly showed us behind the scenes and let us view the stable close up, so what you see here is the empty space where Banksy left the model and a close up of the model photographed in another location.
UPDATE – it appears that the owners under advice have actually completely withdrawn the model from display.
UPDATE 2 – it seems that they may now display the model under perspex (plexiglass). Perhaps it is best to contact them before travelling!
Frank Newsome (Jr), son of the owner, told us was that it took them several days to spot the intrusion, an alert guest asked them if the Banksy defaced model was genuine and it took them a while to figure out what the guest meant. Their minds went back to an incident a few days earlier where a female guest had been particularly fascinated in the model making process and ended up backstage on a personal tour while simultaneously a drone intruded into the airspace surrounding the model village so they scrambled their air defences and knocked the drone out of the sky with a net. Management believes these activities were a deliberate distraction for the staff to facilitate the surreptitious placement of the new construction. Banksy’s Instagram account includes drone footage of the model village installation so the story truly deserves to become part of the Banksy legend and the model village folklore.
Banksy’s additions are an amusing comment on the ubiquitous intrusion of the modern form of graffiti into this idyllic setting, nowhere is safe. This is a companion to the Banksy humour seen in modified oil paintings such as “Tox Cottage”.
Close by the model village a stencilled dancing duo on top of a bus shelter trip the light fantastic accompanied by an accordion player. All the characters look like familiar Banksy cast but the most impressive aspect of this somewhat routine Banksy is its placement, it is a clever interaction with the street furniture and you have to admire Banksy for executing this on top of a council bus stop without being caught.
Two aspects of the Banksy artwork that has appeared in Cromer that might deter those of a less completist nature are that it is a bugger to find and the schlepp from the others to this one piece is an hour through the flattest English landscape imaginable. Don’t be put off though as this is certainly the most detailed and colourful of the set. A hermit crab with three empty shells is refusing access to three naked and needy hermit crabs, a social commentary piece touching on privilege, property ladder manipulation and social exclusion.
The arrangement and the placard device contain stylistic similarities with the 2014 “Migrants Not Welcome” piece in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.
So all told this is a very impressive and above all enjoyable collection of street art. The blending of political cynicism with humour is pure Banksy and above all, the execution bears Banksy hallmarks particularly the use of the scaffolding reported for the chip snatching seagull. The distraction strategy reported for the Merrivale Model Village installation may be new but it feels consistent with the degree of planning that characterises Banksy’s illegal street art.
Interestingly two of the pieces in particular involved vandalism and dumping on public land, each of which could result in council jobsworths waving invoices for repairs to the pavement and removal of an abandoned skip in Lowestoft.
Banksy’s big reveal on instagram included two pieces which no one knew existed, they had not been spotted. The first one is a small one colour stencil image of kids by a paddling pool in peril from an inflatable dinghy. Banksy Spraycation Dinghy close up – photo Banksy.co.uk
By chance I happened to photograph the pool where that stencil was placed right next to the bench with the seated couple at the edge of the paddling pool. It had already been buffed by my visit on Tuesday and it seems probable it had gone the weekend before.
The council has stated that its contractors removed that one quickly because of an unfortunate resonance with the tragic death nearby of a young child a few years ago, they stated they thought that the stencil may have been an unfortunate coincidence rather than tastelessly intentional.
The other undiscovered new Banksy was in Kings Lynn.
At time of writing there were 8 remaining and it is possible to fit in all 8 East Anglia Banksys in a day, it’s exhausting but hugely enjoyable. It was a real pleasure that the pieces were not totally mobbed by crowds as is always the case for a new Banksy in London and also, other than the unfortunate augmentation of the arcade grab piece and the loss of the boat hull on another it was great to find them in pristine condition.
Links: Banksy instagram “The Great Bristish Spraycation”
Merrivale Model Village Website
All photos: Dave Stuart except where stated