Street art in Karon praised as Banksy creation

Kenny, who believes he met Banksy nine years earlier, took a look at the man, stencil in hand, and asked flat out if he was indeed the Bristol-born, controversial street artist whose work has been seen across the globe.

After some hemming and hawing, Kenny said the man told him he was one of 12 people scouting locations for potential Bansky art pieces in Karon. After Kenny pointed to a wall near the road, a gaggle of customers arrived at the bar. After tending to them, Kenny turned around and saw that the man was gone.

“He said his rules were, it’s got to be viewable by the road, and he listed quite a few other rules,” he added.

“[But] amongst all the people, he wandered off the road.”

Kenny’s brush with the mystery man was brief, but he did gather some intel on the street artist’s potential plans in Phuket. Either way, Kenny’s wall was left empty.

But the wall of his neighbour Robin Gautami was about to see a new showpiece.

A STROKE OF ART

Nestled between a clothing shop and a small cafe in a quiet alley just off Patak Rd, a piece of street art shows a child in a peacoat riding off on top of a turtle. Most of the piece is black and white, save for the turtle’s taxi-yellow shell. A pole rises up from the back of the turtle, with a flag that reads ‘taxi’.

The art piece is clearly stenciled, with beautiful detail and highlighted shading. Was the mystery man actually Banksy? And did he stencil this piece?

“I don’t know [Banksy]. But when I was sitting in the front of the store, he [asked] ‘Can I pen in there?’,” said Robin, owner of the building where the piece is displayed.

“I was worried when he asked me, it was the first time anyone asked [to do this]. I was worried [about] what he was going to do, but he showed me the picture before, and I said yes,” he continued.

In his 18 years of owning the shop building, Robin has never had anyone ask him to spray paint his building. But there’s a reason he’s keeping it there.

“I like it, of course, that’s why I keep it there. I like the detail, it looks simple, but there is more detail. If we see [closely], we can see more detail there,” he continued, adding that it took the artist no more than 10-15 minutes to finish the piece.

“It was raining too, and he brought a hat to put on because of the rain. I didn’t know he was going to do it that quickly,” he said.

BANKSY AND THAILAND

Phuket is full of a hodge-podge collection of street art all over the island, no more so than in Phuket Town.

But Karon is hardly known as a bastion of art, especially a work derived from stencils and clear layers of spray paint. One artist whose work is renowned for its stencil craftsmanship, unique locations and social commentary, such as exhibited by this piece, is Banksy.

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The English-born artist, from Bristol, is well-known for his street art and veritable antics that even saw his famous ‘Girl with a Balloon’ shred itself moments after being sold at a Sotheby’s auction for over £1 million in 2016.

At the end of last year, Bangkok’s Museum of Contemporary Art, held a two-month exhibition of 150 pieces of art by Banksy ‒ the first time in Southeast Asia. But Phuket is no stranger to the artist, as Kenny relays.

“Well, I had a man walk in here nine years ago and ask me the exact same question. And when he said to me, ‘Do you know anything about Banksy art?’, it was like deja vu. So I think he’d been around or been coming here for some time,” Kenny says.

FOR THE PEOPLE

The wall where this new piece appears is owned by Robin Gautami, who has a tailor shop and clothing store on site. The piece is visible from the road, but Robin says tourists who walk by always notice the piece.

“Some of the tourists come and take a picture. People see it in the nighttime, lots of people take a photo in there and ask questions,” he said.

Robin added that the mystery artist had told him he was planning on doing several pieces in the area, some in restaurants as well, and even in nearby Kata Beach. Kenny was told the same thing, that four pieces of Banksy street art would come to Karon.

“But he said he had a small window to get them done and it was raining that day as well so…. Yeah, I’m looking,” Kenny said.

Banksy’s art is filled with meaning and social commentary, and while this piece is now different, there’s an ambiguity that can make one think.

“I’m still trying to work out the political viewpoint,” Kenny said. “Are the taxi’s that slow like riding a turtle? Or another agenda. I mean every piece of his art has an agenda or a political viewpoint.

“He might’ve just got a slow taxi,” Kenny said with a laugh.

Both Kenny’s and Robin’s conversations with the mystery street artist touched on topics of the COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand, and how locals had grappled ‒ and are still grappling ‒ with the recovery.

That’s why Kenny believes the artist chose this part of the island.

“A lot of hotels as you can see are still recovering from COVID, a lot of hotels aren’t finished rebuilding yet [in Karon]. Perhaps he’s trying to help everyone. In the recovery of rebuilding everything, let’s have it bring some people into the area to have a look,” Kenny said

“It’s a blessing,” he said.


The Phuket News has contacted Pest Control, the only organisation legally empowered to authenticate original Banksy works of art. At time of press, The Phuket News had not received any response from Pest Control, not even a denial that the Karon stencil is a Banksy original

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