Banksy’s “A Great British Spraycation”: Commodification or Cover-Up?

Banksy seems never far from the headlines these days. The world’s most loved anonymous street artist was back in the news over the summer for “A Great British Spraycation” featuring nine works in East Anglian coastal towns. 

The new works feature Banksy’s characteristic hard-hitting social commentary like the cluster of hermit crabs at Cromer, one of which holds a placard proclaiming “LUXURY RENTALS ONLY”. There’s also a healthy dose of his heartwarming quirkiness in the pair of life-size figures dancing on a Great Yarmouth bus stop and a giant seagull swooping down on polystyrene “chips” discarded in a Lowestoft skip.

The most unusual work in the collection, though, has to be the tiny model stable the artist discreetly inserted into a medieval model village in Great Yarmouth. It wasn’t until a visitor noticed it a couple of days later that staff began to suspect they may have gained a precious artwork complete with one of Banksy’s signature rats standing on a cartwheel. 

This flurry of new Banksy activity has reopened old debates about street art ownership and commodification. Several of the works, including one of a rat reclining in a deckchair on the beach, have already been damaged and potentially destroyed. In some cases the culprits are vandals, but in others local councils have taken action to remove insensitive or potentially dangerous works. A mural featuring children flying up in an inflatable boat was painted over out of respect for the accidental death of a child on an inflatable trampoline in 2018, while a piece of corrugated metal signifying a boat was removed from ‘We’re All in the Same Boat’ in Oulton Broad.

More uncertain is what will happen to the remaining works which are on a mixture of privately-owned and public buildings and structures. John Brandler, the gallery owner responsible for removing Nottingham’s Banksy mural of a hula-hooping girl, has become the surprising champion of creating a street art museum in Lowestoft to keep the works on public display. Brandler indicated that the murals ‘need to be in a seaside town’ and that the need to preserve Banksy’s work “gives the council a golden opportunity”.

Brandler also added that the mural of a boy holding a crowbar would most likely achieve a ‘low six-figure fee’, although “it is difficult to price because the location is significant to the piece”.

Local councils have yet to make a decision on the future of Banksy’s Spraycation works, despite expressing hope that they can help rejuvenate their struggling seaside towns. “We are looking at all options for the future of these artworks, which are being enjoyed by our communities and are attracting visitors from across the country, showcasing our wonderful part of the world. Whilst no decisions have yet been made, we would hope that these pieces will remain in situ, as they were intended, for the benefit of our residents.

For more information about the Banksy works Red Eight Gallery currently has for sale, please contact us directly.