American street artist Ron English has announced his plans to stage a modern take on Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing“ by expunging a famous Banksy mural from existence. English says the controversial decision represents a protest against the art market’s continued monetization of street art.
“We’re tired of people stealing our stuff off the streets and reselling it so I’m just going to buy everything I can get my hands on and whitewash it,” English told the United Kingdom’s Press Association, adding, “I’m going to paint over it and just include it in one of the walls in my house.”
Like Banksy, English is known for the strong political messages of his street art, which explores brand imagery and advertising. The artist has been arrested multiple times, preferring to use public spaces and billboards as his canvas.
The artist’s announcement comes roughly a month after Banksy attempted to destroy one of his own paintings, detonating a hidden shredding mechanism on “Girl with a Balloon” (2006) immediately after it sold for $1.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction.
English’s target is Banksy’s “Slave Labour (Bunting Boy)” (2012), which he recently acquired for $730,000 at Juliens Auctions in Los Angeles. The work depicts a young child crouched over a sewing machine as he produces Union Jack bunting. It was a protest against the controversial use of sweatshops to manufacture memorabilia for the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics in 2012. And while “Slave Labour” was first painted on the outside wall of a bargain shop in north London, it was mysteriously removed months later before resurfacing at an auction in Miami in February 2013. It was subsequently removed from auction after considerable appeals by residents of its hometown London suburb, Wood Green. Regardless, the mural was eventually sold at auction in the UK, fetching a price of $1.2 million at Bankrobber London.
“The painting was created as a piece of social commentary. It was transformed into a commodity without regards to the original message,” English told Hyperallergic. “I knew that if I bought the painting it would shine new light on the art and the image hopefully putting the issue of child labor back into the public dialog. If I whitewash it, the piece becomes the new ‘Erased de Kooning’ by Rauschenberg. And it gains hype and status as a commodity in the art world, which would allow me to resell it at a profit and use the profits for children’s charities, furthering the original intent.”
Throughout his career, Banksy has tried to dissuade people from capitalizing on his art. In 2008, after revealing that a large body of work attributed to him was in fact fake, he pleaded with his fans: “Graffiti art has a hard enough life as it is — with council workers wanting to remove it and kids wanting to draw mustaches on it, before you add hedgefund managers wanting to chop it out and hang it over the fireplace.”
According to the Press Association, English mentioned that his purchase and eventual destruction of the mural was “for my good pal Banksy.” However, the artist does plan to eventually sell the piece for a million dollars. “I’m crazy but I’m not stupid,” he added in a comment to the publication.
The artist’s decision to cash-in on “damaged” art is well-informed. The buyer of Banksy’s self-destructed painting ultimately decided to keep it as her “own piece of art history.” After all, some critics estimate that the destroyed artwork is now worth double its original estimate.