News that Banksy may have been in East Anglia first started appearing around Friday 6th August 2021 with several pieces very much in his style turning up unexpectedly in seaside locations. Over a week later a synchronised posting of images on his website and an Instagram video revealed they were were part of his ‘Spraycation’. Like many people this year it appears that the artist had spent some time at home in the UK rather than travelling abroad.
All but two of the pieces were quickly found and attributed and every artwork has its own story. The elusive couple of interventions that escaped attention were both victims of the local council’s cleaning teams and so the only photos of these are those provided by Banksy himself. Here’s a run down of each piece and what happened after they were installed.
Banksy Bus Stop Dancers – Great Yarmouth
A couple dance on top of a bus stop shelter in Admiralty Road, Great Yarmouth to a tune provided by an accordion player sitting perched on the edge of the roof. The location of the piece has, as ever, been very carefully chosen. The high wall close to the back of the bus shelter provides the canvas for the dancers so that when viewed from the other side of the road the figures appear to be on the roof of the shelter. Viewed from other angles this trick no longer works and gaps appear. Nearby a grade II listed Victorian gas tower structure looms over the scene. This coupled with the age of the house the work is painted on and the dress styles of the stencilled participants give the whole piece an early 20th Century feel of good times and simple pleasures.
Since the work was revealed as being by Banksy the council have introduced several measures to protect the art. First the bus stop was closed off and temporarily moved with barriers erected both in front of it and on the other side of the road. Secondly the entire piece has been perspexed but it remains visible and in excellent condition although the clear views have been spoiled. This addition of protective measures has now been applied to all of the remaining pieces. It’s a double edged sword – it both ruins their aesthetic but also means that the pieces longevity is likely to be increased. Especially true when considering what happened to the next piece.
Banksy: Cocktail rat, North Beach, Lowestoft
One of Banksy’s trademark motifs throughout the years has been the use of rats in his images. From early stencilled works to freehand pieces he’s used them to convey messages in locations around the world. ‘Spraycation’ featured just one rat, located on the side of the Links Road sea wall by the North Beach car park in Lowestoft. Banksy’s video shows him walking away from the artwork with a rolled up wind break which explains how he could have carried out this work in broad daylight. The image looks largely freehand and has the rat reclining in a chair with a cocktail glass raised to capture any liquid emerging from the overflow pipe located just above.
Like all the other pieces since it was revealed as being by Banksy it saw a constant stream of visitors taking pictures and selfies next to it until one evening it was reportedly painted over with gloss white paint. The local council were dismayed and somewhat ironically are working with the Police on investigating the vandalism. The motive behind its defacement seems to be purely to obliterate the artwork which seems a petty and selfish act when you consider just how many people were clearly enjoying it. The council have nonetheless since perspexed the piece while they consider options for its restoration. In July 2022 it was still under perspex in its barely recognisable damaged state.
Banksy: Child building a sandcastle, Lowestoft Town Centre
In Lowestoft town centre at the junction of the town’s main shopping street and Regent Road a child can be found constructing a sandcastle by the side of a vacant shop. Looking a little more closely it becomes apparent that instead of using a spade they are wielding a crowbar which they have used to jemmy up the paving slabs to access the building sand beneath. Banksy’s accompanying video actually shows him breaking the paving to construct the artwork and his technique to create a more stylised painting rather than only using a stencil.
A widely articulated view is that this work references the situationist slogan “sous les pavés, la plage!” from the 1968 student uprising in Paris. This translates as “Under the paving stones, the beach” and refers to the observation that when students dug up pavers to use in their protest they found sand underneath the veneer of the slabs.
In November 2021 the entire piece was finally removed with reports suggesting that it was to be sent for auction in the USA. It has since been prepared for presentation and is due to be part of a paid for street art exhibition in 2023.
The sandcastle, like all sandcastles, was destroyed in no time at all – in fact Banksy may be the only one with a photo of it intact. It has since been recreated at least once with a different bucket.
The owner of the building has quickly realised the potential value of the artwork on its side and its been taken off the market while he considers his options. In the meantime its been covered in UV resistant clear perspex sheeting to protect it. Sadly it is maybe the most likely artwork to end up cut out and sold to a private buyer.
This turned out to be the case in late 2021 when the artwork was removed from the wall so it could be put up for sale in the United States. A copy has now been re-created in situ by local artist ‘Greater Than’.
Banksy: Gull taking chips, Katwijk Way, Lowestoft
Around Lowestoft there are several large artworks of birds that maybe rarely visit the town centre – owls, kingfishers and more. The towns most ubitiquous resident and that of pretty much any coastal resort in the UK does not feature which Banksy has addressed in his largest scale Spraycation artwork. A gull is depicted swooping down towards a tray of chips (which is in fact a skip full of cladding pieces, installed as part of the piece). Seagulls are notorious for this kind of behaviour and are often considered the rats of the seafront so it is of little surprise Banksy has decided to depict them in this humorous way. It’s not known if there is any further significance to the use of cladding / insulation material in this piece other than to represent chips.
Since it’s installation this has been one of the favourite artworks for visitors to interact with. Over time the number of chips has gradually been reducing so fencing now protects the remainder. The gull itself is now fully covered in perspex. Suffolk Live reported it still in good condition in July 2022.
Banksy: We’re All In The Same Boat, Nicholas Everitt Park, Oulton Broad
Just outside Lowestoft, in one of the first pieces to be found, are three children in a boat on the side of a bridge over a stream. Above them is the slogan ‘We’re all in the same boat’. At the front of the boat a child scans the horizon through a telescope while at the rear the third child is bailing out water using a bucket.The boat itself is actually a repurposed piece of corrugated iron with a piece of wood attached to represent the bow.
The ‘boat’ was quickly removed by the local council, apparently because it could interfere with the flow of water. It has several fingers stencilled on the side which in early photos and the one on Banksy’s website do not line up with any of the children’s hands on the boat. Perhaps like the bus stop dancers the piece was constructed to be viewed from a particular angle.
After the boat was removed the figures were quickly covered in perspex. It’s location in a popular park, full of children enjoying themselves, means the work is being frequently visited by people easing their way down the muddy banks to get a better view. The council originally stated that they wished to reunite the boat with the piece at some point but it’s hard to see how this will be accomplished. Since then council chair Sandra Keller from the Oulton Broad Parish Council, a charitable trust responsible for the park, has said “It can’t go back because it’s too big, and we can’t cut it down because of what it is. Obviously the metal sheet’s got a hand painted on it, so it’s still a Banksy and it’s a godsend for the area,”. It certainly has increased visitor numbers already and it may well end up housed in the Lowestoft Museum where it could do the same. In July 2022 the painting on the bridge itself was still in place but it’s gradually fading and is being attacked by the moss growing on the structure.
Banksy: Arcade Claw, Gorleston Beach shelter
Further North up the coast, between Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth sits the sandy Gorleston beach. at the rear of this, embedded into a hill, a wide shelter overlooks the bay. Here, as part of Spraycation, Banksy has installed an arcade machine claw above a bench of the kind that you find in machines full of children toys which often get picked up in its pincers but rarely get delivered to the operator.
Banksy has often utilised seaside imagery in his work. A version of the arcade claw appeared in one of his earliest stencils, one of his first prints depicted a saw blade menacing pensioners on Weston Super Mare and of course, the epic Dismaland took over the that town for several weeks.
An artist going by the name of Emo quickly modified the piece to make it seem like a one way collaboration by adding a teddy bear under the claw and bunch of bears at the bottom. Whilst this fits the arcade theme it has somewhat ruined the way the passers by interact with the claw by sitting underneath its jaws. The piece has since been perspexed and the name Emo replaced with the word Ego.
Council leader Carl Smith has praised the works as “an extremely exciting occurrence, creating a whirlwind of interest and drawing visitors from far and wide”.
“We are determined to ensure that they are preserved so that they can continue to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, and that they will act as a catalyst to encourage others, and particularly our young people, to get involved in some form of artistic or cultural activity themselves,” he said.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council later commented: “Banksy is always welcome in Great Yarmouth. The council worked quickly to put in place protection for the artworks and make sure people could visit them safely, and they provided lots of joy to residents and brought in hundreds of visitors.
“We took the decision to cover one of the artworks in response to local sensitivities (the inflatable dinghy as described below). We hope in time to put this back on show in a new location, and we are working with a specialist art firm on the best way to do this.”
Banksy: Inflatable dinghy, Gorleston Beach pool
One of the two pieces no one had identified before it was revealed in the Spraycation video this one only appeared for a day or so. In a very simple stencil it depicted a two children drifting skywards in an overinflated boat, one inside and the other hanging on underneath. On the ground a figure continues to pump air into the hose whilst drinking, oblivious to the children’s peril.
The piece was painted on the side of a pool on the beach front and was quickly painted over in grey. The reason given was its no doubt unintentional and accidental connection to a real life tragedy that involved a young girl on the nearby beach front.
Banksy has subsequently removed the image from his website and I’ve decided not to reproduce it here.
Banksy: Modified statue, Kings Lynn
Kings Lynn’s only Banksy also lasted a very short time after its first appearance around the 4th of August. A statue of a previous mayor of the town and a steam engineer in his own right – Frederick Savage – was given a facelift by Banksy after being in place for a 100 years. A drooling tongue was added along with a section of a traffic cone filled with expanding foam to resemble an ice cream. Similar to other Banksy interventions with statues it has turned a prominent but often ignored artwork into a talking point once again.
Banksy’s work was removed by the council following complaints from local people. The cone has since been located again but the whereabouts of the tongue hasn’t been resolved. The council were said to be exploring options for redisplaying the cone now they know the artist behind it.
In July 2022 West Norfolk Council said “We still have it but have no current plans to do anything with it unless Banksy’s representatives, Pest Control, authorise us to do so – and they have already told us they won’t”.
Banksy: Tagged stable, Merrivale Model Village, Great Yarmouth seafront
It took a while for the newest model to be added to Merrivale Model Village to be noticed. The seafront attraction had originally missed the addition until a visitor pointed out the name ‘Banksy’ spray painted on the front of the stable and the slogan ‘Go Big Or Go Home’ on the side. It was several days later that they received the confirmation from the artist that it was indeed his work when it appeared in his Spraycation video. This led to them reviewing an incident around the time the model was installed. It seems their staff were distracted by awkward visitors as it was sneaked into place and drone footage was captured.
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster since. The model was initially on display but once it was confirmed it was only put out between the hours of 1 to 3pm. Even this proved awkward with the fencing around the path through the village being ignored by enthusiastic visitors trying to get the perfect picture and it was withdrawn altogether. The stable has since reappeared but under a clear plastic box covering.
The owners of the Model Village now have a decision to make. They’ve already received offers of large amounts of money for it but have also enjoyed a massive uplift in visitor numbers. Do they take a quick sale which would alleviate them of their security headache or should they keep it as it will no doubt be a significant draw for attracting visitors for years to come?
The owner of Merrivale Model Village, Mr Newsome, told the BBC that in the short-term he wanted to keep the model “as it was intended – for the public to enjoy and appreciate” adding “But in the long-term we’ve got to make the right decision, we don’t want to jump into anything. We are a family business and we will need to sit down together about it.”
In December 2021 the model village was loaned to Peterborough Museum as part of a street art exhibition. It’s inclusion generated enough visitor numbers for the museum to declare that despite Covid it was their “most successful Christmas and new year period ever”. The owners of the piece, however, have decided to send if for auction, citing fears of it being stolen. They intend to create a replica to be placed back in its original location. Frances Newsome, who has run the model village since 2017 with her partner Frank told the North East News Chronicle “The Banksy has been a life-saver for us as we’ve had to close so much due to the pandemic. We hope the sale will safeguard the future of the village”
In January 2022 the model was sold at auction for around £1m including fees – a significant sum for an item that reportedly had no certificate of authenticity but had been ‘verified’ by Banksy on his Instagram account.
Banksy: ‘Luxury Rentals Only’ crab homes, Cromer Beach
The most northerly of the Spraycation pieces depicts a bunch of homeless hermit crabs arriving to be met with a sign declaring ‘Luxury Rentals Only’. It’s located in Cromer, a fishing town famous for the Cromer Crab but the piece seems to be addressing the lack of available affordable homes.
North Norfolk District Council were originally of the opinion that it should be left to naturally decay but since it has been confirmed by Banksy they’ve arranged for it to be protected by perspex covering. Like many of the other pieces this will help in its preservation but ruins the effect. This has been compounded by the fact that the level of the stones in front of the piece has been dropping so it now appears the crabs are hovering in the air. It’s also been hit with an offensive painted slogan above it (since removed) which referenced a conspiracy theory.
In December the BBC reported that North Norfolk District Council had spent £720.01 in protecting the artwork with a clear sealant coating as it is covered at least twice a day by high tides.
The council said the cost “represents a very efficient and justifiable outlay to protect a work of substantial cultural significance, by a world famous artist, which happened to appear in a very popular but exposed location on our coast. Thousands of people have visited the site since it appeared last summer. Their enjoyment and the additional tourism income their visits have generated more than justify the cost of the works undertook to protect it from the elements for a period of time, until the sea and the weather naturally and inevitably remove it.
Finally it’s worth mentioning the interaction these pieces have enjoyed since being revealed. Here’s some shots of the public enjoying Banksy’s new additions from his Spraycation….
In December it was revealed that the three councils have spent £19,600 between them in protecting Banksy’s artworks arguing that the cost was justified due to the interest they created. The costs included specialist patrols and protective coverings being put in place.