Art & the Artist Style & Fashion

A Christie’s Expert on Collecting Banksy’s Street Art

Prints and multiples expert James Baskerville of Christie’s London reveals all about Banksy, the world’s most mysterious exponent of street art

In July 2019, the anonymous graffiti artist beat Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Monet to be crowned Britain’s favorite artist of all time, according to a poll by YouGov for Homes & Antiques magazine. Although his identity is a secret, Banksy’s stencils are some of the most recognizable works of contemporary art. He first “bombed” (sprayed) the walls of Bristol in South West England in the early 1990s, but his fame grew when he moved to London in the early 2000s. He has since left his mark on cities around the world, from Los Angeles to Barcelona.

Banksy rat stencil in Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California
Banksy traveled far and wide to create artworks such as this stencil in Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, California. Banner image: A Christie's employee poses with Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (Gold) that led the recent “Banksy: I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t" sale at Christie’s in September 2019. Images: Alamy

Today Banksy’s most iconic images fetch the highest prices and his most sought-after editions, canvases, and sculptures are often directly inspired by his graffiti art. Girl with Balloon, for example, was originally a series of stenciled murals first sprayed in London in 2002. While the screenprinted version with the red balloon is the most recognizable, there are other variations in gold, purple, blue, and pink, although these are extremely rare.

Banksy stencil of girl with balloon in red, London
The anonymous artist Banksy chose London as the location for his stencil mural series Girl with Balloon. Image: Alamy

One of these artist’s proofs with a gold balloon led our “Banksy: I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t” sale this September and realized £395,250/$517,777. The online auction raised £1,122,750/$1,470,802 in total (including buyer’s premium).

Close-up of Banksy's Girl with Balloon in Gold
A close-up of Banksy’s 2004 screenprint in black and gold, Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (Gold), which realized £395,250/$517,777.

Works featuring rats and chimps are also highly sought after. There are many variations of the Placard Rat series, with different slogans. Banksy’s unique pieces can command high prices: by the late 2000s, the art world had caught up with his popular appeal, and many of his public graffiti works began to be protected instead of being painted over or cleaned away by local councils.

One of Banksy's Laugh Now chimp series
A picture of a chimpanzee bearing the words “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge,” is among the most celebrated of Banksy’s works. Image: Alamy

His screenprints often come in both unsigned and signed editions. Unsigned and signed artworks are equally legitimate—a certificate from Pest Control, Banksy’s “handling service,” is the proof of authenticity that you need. Banksy set up Pest Control in 2008 to authenticate his artworks and prevent fakes from circulating on the market.

Love Rat by Banksy
Banksy’s Love Rat, a color screenprint from 2004 fetched £16,250 ($21,369) at the “Banksy: I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t" sale at Christie’s.

The service can retroactively issue certificates for works created before 2008. Pest Control is now the only channel through which you can buy new primary market works by the artist. However, as there is currently nothing available, the artist is only trading on the secondary market through auctions and galleries. When buying in this market our specialists advise dealing with a trusted source such as a big auction house or a reputable dealer. All Banksy artworks offered at Christie’s come with Pest Control certificates.

CND by Banksy
CND, Banksy’s 2005 color screenprint, realized £25,000 ($31,183) at the September 2019 sale at Christie’s.

Look after your Banksy, and it will look after you. Although Banksy’s street art is weathered, most of his commercial works are issued in pristine condition—be it on paper, canvas, cardboard, or stenciled on a wooden box. Care for them as you would any other artwork: hang canvases and prints away from direct sunlight and changing humidity. Works on paper should be framed beneath UV-protective glass. It’s just as important to look after the Pest Control certificate: you will need it if you decide to sell your work.