The little-known Banksy in Bristol that ‘time hasn’t been kind to’
As the city’s most secretive and arguably most famous artist, Banksy’s work has been known to sell for millions to private collectors. But some of his original work remains visible on the streets, although some have been painted over or removed over time.
Some of Banksy’s remaining artworks around Bristol are less well-known than others, however, including ‘You don’t need planning permission to build castles in the sky’ in the city centre. ‘It appeared on Lower Lamb Street in 2011, on a wall behind the library and Cathedral Primary School.
The words were arranged to combine with two air vents to depict a smiley face. But when the building was being revamped in 2015, the wall was broken to create a loading zone, which resulted in a roll door right in the middle of the artwork.
It was restored with writing across the new garage door – although who restored it remains something of a mystery. Bristol City Council said the case officer at that time has since retired and the planning officer’s report and documentation at that time make no reference to it. Cathedral Schools Trust, which runs the nearby primary school and had carried out some building works, also had no available information on the art piece.
Banksy fans have left reviews online about the updated artwork, with mixed opinions. One visitor wrote on Google last year: “An iconic early example of street artist Banky’s work, located in a not so obvious, unassuming walkway behind some retail/light industrial units.
“Unfortunately time has not been kind to this particular piece of artwork and a loading bay and entrance has been built through the work itself, though attempts have been made to reconstruct parts. Nonetheless this is a nice, early example of one of Bristol’s most celebrated, modern artists.”
Another added: “It had obviously been repaired. Such a shame.” Banksy fans often visit Bristol to see where it all started or take up walking tours of his work.
From his early pieces such as ‘Mild Mild West’, which appeared on a residential building in Stokes Croft in the early 90s, to his more recent Valentine’s Day artwork in 2020, there is an impressive list of street art on buildings around Bristol. Luke Sargeant, who runs Blackbeard to Banksy Walking Tours, said he doesn’t include the Lower Lamb Street artwork on his tour.
He said his favourite Banksy is the Well-Hung Lover on Park Street which depicts an adulterous couple trying to hide an affair. Banksy’s art first appeared in the 80s and late 90s when he was still drawing freehand but he soon switched to his distinctive stencil style. He once wrote that he had been painting a train with a group of mates when they had to escape when police appeared.
Lying under a train with oil dripping onto him, he found himself staring at the stencilled plate on the bottom of a fuel tank. He wrote: “I was staring straight up at the stencilled plate on the bottom of the fuel tank when I realised I could just copy that style and make each letter three feet high.”
One of his earliest works in Stokes Croft ‘Mild Mild West’ appeared in the 90s and depicts a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at a squad of riot police and is said to be commentary on police cracking down on illegal raves at that time. The famous Grim Reaper hangs in M Shed and was originally stencilled on to the Thekla floating nightclub in 2003 before being cut out in order to preserve it.
In Hanover Place and Sydney Row, Banksy’s ‘The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum’ on the side of the Albion Docks on the harbourside appeared in 2014. It was said to be a parody of Vermeer’s artwork ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ with the earring being a security alarm. A mask was added in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, although it is not known who added it.
While some claim to know the identity of the enigmatic Banksy, who has left his art on walls and in tunnels around the world over the last 30 years, his identity remains unknown except to a few. He does have a website and Instagram page, which he uses to confirm his new works.