Art,  English,  Scandal of the month

Shelley’s Art Scandal: Banksy has been Monkeying Around


“Devolved Parliament” 2009 Banksy

“Devolved Parliament” 2009 Banksy

I don’t think that it has escaped anyone’s attention that currently British politics is in a state of complete and utter mayhem.  I can honestly say, being English I have never been so dismayed at those who are leading our country or watched a completely shambolic display from those who are supposed to be the voice of the people and acting on their behalf, disregard the best for their country, over their own agenda.

With this in mind, it is a completely topical sale that has thrown Banksy’s seemingly prophetic painting “Devolved Parliament” into the limelight.  There have been varying reactions to this sale, which makes it all the more intriguing as rather than looking at the quality of the work, and the underlying intent, some critics have backlashed against Banksy, calling him “a hack”.

People who haven’t seen this painting before, could be confused on a couple of levels.  Firstly, it is unusual to see such a fully formed painting by Banksy, as generally, and if you are not a Banksy follower, you will probably only associate him with the stencilled graffiti which regularly hits the news, and not his more formulated paintings and sculptures; Secondly, you could be forgiven in thinking that this painting was specifically created as a piece to show the artists thoughts on the current Brexit fiasco.

In reality, this was painted in 2009, for the exhibition “Banksy Vs Bristol Museum”, although there have been some small but possibly dramatic changes.  This is an oil on canvas and is 2.5m by 4.3m, making this an imposing and room dominating the piece.

The original painting was called “Question Time” shows parliament in session, large lamps beaming over a meeting of Chimpanzees in the place of political leaders.  A few of the chimps are stood, showing agitation at what is happening, while others sit around, looking bored at the events unfolding.  If you have ever had the displeasure of watching the real thing on TV, you will have seen those who we entrust to make decisions for the UK dozing off and looking thoroughly disinterested, or the whole room erupting into what looks like a schoolyard rumble.

The reworked piece which was released on March 2019 shows almost exactly the same image, but the lamps no longer work.  There have been some other smaller changes in the way a banana is held and the woodwork on the benches have changed, but what nearly every article you will read that has been issued in the last month has ignored is that the whole colour palette has been reworked.

Above “Question Time” 2009.  Below “Devolved Parliament” 2019.

The change in colour palette really gives a very different and more dower tone to the piece.  Almost as though parliament has now been put in to darkness.  We all know that no one likes to be kept in the dark, but with the heavy political infighting that Brexit has caused, this is a nod to even those on the same bench not really having a clear vision of what will happen next.

This painting sold to a private collector in 2011, and then resurfaced in its reworked form in March, as it was set to be a comment on the Brexit day, which was delayed.  On the 3rd October, Sotheby’s sold the work at a staggering £9.9 million, which was way above the estimated price of £1.5-£2 million and making this the most expensive piece sold.  This comes just a year after “Love is in the Bin” sold and caused a stir as it went through a shredder in the frame.  Banksy wouldn’t have received equity from this sale as the piece was no longer in his ownership, but this didn’t stop him making comment around art no longer being for the public but for the highest bidder.

I read many things about this piece before writing my views, and I was particularly intrigued by the article that “The Telegraph” issued by Cal Revely-Calder, calling Banksy a hack, treating his audience like fools and presenting “satire for tiny tots”.  As I read this, it occurred to me that Mr. Revely-Calder really had no true concept of how Banksy presents his images or perhaps what satire is.

Banksy’s works rely on a slow build of multiple pieces or modified art.  “Devolved Parliament” is the outcome of “Question Time”, but this canvas echoes earlier works…specifically the 6-foot line of stencilled apes wearing aprons with the message “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”.

It may have also helped to have known that there is an obvious plan for a further work as “Devolved Parliament” has the tag line “Laugh now, but one day no one will be in charge”.

Banksy’s political opposition to current affairs has never been a secret, he readily displays his thoughts through his work, as many other artists do, but his satire is more of a slow burner that you really need to have followed the throughput to fully engage in the outturns.

What Cal Revely-Calder has missed in this, as he rants about satire supposed to demonstrate the failing of the topic and a potential solution, is that Banksy evolves his works to present the satire as a living and growing story, rather than it being a static artwork at a point in time.  This simply goes to show that you can’t please all of the people all of the time… not that I think Banksy cares about was an art critic for “The Telegraph” thinks.

I do also think that many could easily miss the link between the symbolism of the chimp being that of humanesque at a base level, but closer to nature and more ready to break out into aggressive ways to resolve conflict (just think about if you have ever seen a documentary about chimpanzees and how the males will rip the weakest one to shreds to resolve a situation).  The banana in the chimp’s hand in the forefront now downturned like a gun rather than upturned in the previous iteration of this painting (think of other works where bananas have been used in replacement for guns).

Let’s not also forget the outcome of “Planet of the Apes”…

This also comes as Banksy announced his plans for the European Flag that he had painted on the side of a building in Dover, which

had been white washed over…

Banksy never one to disappoint commented…

I wait with great anticipation to see Banksy’s next move, in his display of political aggravation, and I hope that the satire is not so easily lost for those who feel that his intent is “schoolboyish” in the future.


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