Girl with Balloon
Understanding Banksy’s Art.
Banksy’s Girl with Balloon, from 2003 is without a doubt one of the most iconic images of the twenty-first century. Instantly recognisable, its enduring success lies within the ease with which it has been disseminate and reproduced online by a new, tech-savvy generation of art lovers. Despite this, it’s earliest renditions on the streets of London no longer survives and the present series of canvasses from 2003 and the subsequent prints are released the following year are the only concrete testimony to the work’s appeal
The artworks popularity is huge. Last year it was voted Britain’s favourite artwork beating historical heavyweights as John Constable’s The Hay Wain and William Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire. How has the work of an upstart graffiti artist from Bristol, proudly operating outside the system, managed to upstage some of the most important treasures housed in Britain’s collection?
Like many of the artists best works, its success lies within its stark simplicity rendered in black and red against a white canvas. The image possesses a visual immediacy that is key to its popularity. Here we have stencils of the familiar little girl staged central to the composition with her hand stretched out, reaching for the heart shaped balloon that only moments earlier escaped her fingers. Yet besides this immediacy there is also an enigmatic quality to the work, which makes the literal meaning difficult to decipher.
Whether the work is concerned with freedom, release, poignancy, loss, temporality or hope depends entirely on the viewer, although what is clear, is its timeless appeal. The artist returned to the image again in March 2015, reworking it with a version entitled #WithSyria marking the three year anniversary of the Syrian conflict, whilst at the same time releasing an animated version narrated by actor Idris Elba, with the aim of contributing to the efforts to stem the crisis.