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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 recognizable, its enduring success lies within the ease with which it has been disseminated 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.

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.

In 2018, Bansky added another layer to the mystifying aura of Girl with Balloon in a viral stunt at Sotheby’s auction. A variation on Girl with Balloon suddenly shredded itself, which the street artist renamed, Love is in the Bin. Banksy posted this stunt on social media with a quote from Pablo Picasso: The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.

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 now-vanished, Girl with Balloon from 2002 has left a legacy that totally eclipses our hearts. Beloved for her strong simple composition, she is an all-embracing symbol. She was voted Britain's favorite artwork, and in 2015, she became immortal after Banksy created a new Girl with Balloon, to remember the Syrian Conflict. The updated version featured the title #WithSyria, which Banksy simultaneously released with an animated version narrated by actor Idris Elba. Her message has touched our hearts and it remains timeless.

Banksy in Amsterdam at Moco Museum. Laugh Now exhibition