From Park Street to Primary School: Touring Bristol through the works of Banksy

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All it takes is to watch such influential movies as John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever or Walter Hill’s The Warriors to consider just how vibrant the subway of New York was with graffiti in the 1970s. Indeed, the modern history of street art can be traced back to the underground world of New York City in the late 20th century, where tags painted the city and gave it a style that would become synonymous with the Big Apple.

With the rise in popularity, such icons as Cornbread and TAKI 183 rose to prominence, with their work lighting up the streets of Philadelphia and New York, respectively. Inevitably, this led to a global appreciation of the organic art form, especially as the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring would raise the bar of the medium throughout the same decade.

Across the Atlantic, European artists took note, with Jef Aérosol and Blek le Rat gaining popularity alongside another British graffiti artist that would soon take the world by storm. Painting their first mural, The Mild Mild West, on the highstreet of Stokes Croft, Bristol, in 1997, Banksy sparked a phenomenal career that would lead to multi-million pound auctions, a feature film and a meticulously designed theme park.

Having remained anonymous throughout their entire career, although Bansky’s identity remains a secret, it is common knowledge that he grew up in Easton, Bristol, explaining the abundance of their art hidden across the city.

Touring Bristol through the works of Banksy:

You don’t need planning permission to build castles in the sky – 41 Lower Lamb Street

Pack a big bottle of water, a sandwich of your choice and one of those cagoules that you can squeeze down to the size of an orange, and begin your tour through Bristol and the works of Bansky at 41 Lower Lamb Street. Situated just by Bristol Cathedral, you’ll find Banksy’s simple You don’t need planning permission to build castles in the sky arranged between two air vents, making the piece look like a giant smiley face.

Found behind Central Library, the 2011 piece is one of their simplest works, and while briefly amusing, you’ll probably want to launch yourself down the steep pavements of Park Street to find the next stop.

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Well Hung Lover – 7 Park Street

One of Banksy’s greatest and most well-known pieces can be found right at the bottom of Park Street. Painted in 2006, Well Hung Lover depicts a naked man precariously hanging out a window while another suited man searches for him, and (presumably) his wife, wearing lingerie, stands beside him. Up there with one of their greatest pieces of work, Well Hung Lover can be best seen on the bridge at the bottom of Park Street.

Annoyingly, the stencil was defaced with a paintball gun in 2009 and again with spray paint in 2018, yet efforts were made to restore it and it still holds pride of place in Bristol city centre.

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The Grim Reaper – M-Shed Museum

It takes a bit of walking to get to the next location, with The Grim Reaper, which was one sprayed onto the hull of the famous Thekla ship and nightclub, now located in the M-Shed Museum on Wapping Road. Now on loan from the owners of Thekla, who only removed it due to its gradual deterioration from the water, the piece depicts the Grim Reaper in a rowing boat that once perched perfectly above the water in the docks.

Now, the piece can be found in the M-Shed alongside a host of other iconic city artefacts, including the Colston statue that was toppled in June 2020 amid the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred the world over.

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The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum – Hanover Place and Sydney Row

Just a short walk from the M-Shed along the harbourside is the next stop on the tour, The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum, located on Hanover Place and Sydney Row. Located in the kind of place that could be quite easily missed, Banky’s play on the iconic painting Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer sees the same titular figure be depicted but is given a burglar alarm for jewellery rather than a pearl.

In 2020, a blue face mask was added to the piece during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Banksy has never confirmed whether this was their doing or not.

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Mild Mild West – 80 Stokes Croft (BS1 3QY)

You’ll have to double back and enjoy a 30-minute walk to get to the next location on the vibrant pavements of Stokes Croft, with Mild Mild West appearing on the wall just above The Canteen bar and terrace. The first piece of art Banksy ever created, this large stencil shares the same caption as its title, depicting a teddy bear tossing a Molotov Cocktail at a bunch of police in riot gear.

A protest at the increase in police activity in regard to illegal raves during the late 1990s, the piece is now cherished in the heart of Bristol, with many considering it to represent the centre of Stokes Croft, especially as it’s situated directly opposite the iconic Turbo Island.

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Rose Trap – Thomas Street North

A short walk up Stokes Croft and away from the city centre, you’ll find Rose Trap, one of Banksy’s smallest works. Located on Thomas Street North, the monochrome piece depicts a rose caught in a mousetrap and is thought to be among their earliest works of street art. Sprayed onto the side of a house, these days, it’s difficult to miss the piece as it has been given a large frame to prevent vandals from harming it.

Although merely a humble piece, there’s something about the simplicity of Rose Trap that makes it a must-see for any Banksy lover, especially as it will also take you to a picturesque part of the city in the process.

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Cat and Dog – 18 Robertson Road

Seeing as Take the Money and Run is sadly no longer on St. Andrew’s Road, it’s time for you to hop on a Voi or a bike and make your way over to 18 Robertson Road in Easton. Once there, you’ll see Cat and Dog, a large piece of art that depicts two dogs walking over to approach a spray-painting cat with snarling snouts, created by the artist when they were affiliated with the DryBreadZ crew.

Next to the piece is a message that reads: “There are crimes that become innocent or even glorious through their splendour, number, and excess.” Painted in Banksy’s childhood community, it is no doubt one of their most personal.

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Valentine’s Day – Marsh Lane

Head south from Easton and towards Netham Park, near the smell of popcorn wafting over from Showcase Avonmeads, and you’ll discover Valentine’s Day on Marsh Lane. Created shortly before Valentine’s Day 2020, the piece shows a young girl using a slingshot to shoot a firework of red flowers against the wall. Incorporating physical props, Banksy used real flowers that spilt out onto the street instead of paint.

These days, in an effort to protect the piece, Valentine’s Day looks much different, with protective glass lying over the roses while the young girl is completely covered. More recently, a stencilled man was painted beside the piece depicted trying to prise the covering open.

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The Girl with the Stick – Bridge Farm Primary School

The final piece most certainly needs saving till last, with The Girl with the Stick being located way out in the sticks in Bridge Farm Primary School. Created as a gift to the children who named one of their inter-school houses after the street artist, the piece depicts a girl using a stick to hit a burning tyre along the floor, mimicking the popular hoop rolling game of the early 20th century.

Leaving a note with the school’s janitor, Bansky wrote: “Dear Bridge Farm, thanks for your letter and naming a house after me. Please have a picture. If you don’t like it, feel free to add stuff – I’m sure the teachers won’t mind. Remember – it’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission. With love, Banksy.”

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