As the rat is his signature stencil, the girl with the red balloon is Banksy’s most popular art piece. A balloon, in the most literal sense, is lightweight, low in cost, and is an inflatable, flexible bag filled with gas – helium, hydrogen, air, etc. The balloon is most often used for special occasions – birthdays, Christmas, Valentines – to celebrate and are often connected to clowns which denote the period of a children’s innocence. Clowns are known to create life with balloons – animals, hat, sword – although lifeless and inanimate, they become something real to the child’s imagination. In Pixar’s movie UP uses balloons as an expression of youth, which are used to uproot a house and chase a dream of his late wife.
The most salient object in this piece is the red, heart-shaped balloon that is flying away from the little girl. The little girl, in a play dress, is watching her balloon get carried away by the wind with one arm outstretched. Similar to the situation in UP, her dream, the heart balloon, is flying away. Since she is little, her present dream might be to run along the field with her red, heart-shaped balloon. Because Banksy’s art is so open to interpretation, an adult might read it as love lost. However, to the right of the stencil is a simple saying anchors the art: THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE. Similar to labels attached to art in a museum setup, the text offers a “wider context for the object or images on display” (Rose, 2007). The balloon and the text are of the same height, both equally important. The connection between the stencil and the text can be made as one whole art piece.
This graffiti can be found in the South Bank of London. Since Banksy works in mysterious ways, the origin of this piece besides the physical location is left unknown. He uses a wall that is part of a stairway adjacent to the sidewalk, often used by pedestrians as a pathway. Walking from right to left, the reader makes contact with the words first and then the picture. From left to right, the reader sees the balloon, the girl, and then the words. The volumes within the image are connected in a way that is readable regardless of the direction the audience chooses to read the text (Rose, 2007). The reader’s freedom allows for a wide range of interpretation. The space in which the volumes are placed “suggests thinking about width, depth, interval, and distance (Rose, 2007). The perspective is taken into account in the spatial organization of the Girl with the Red Balloon. This is a simple sketch art that is eye level to readers and because of location, allows up-close examination of the art. History is taken into account here. The wall is weathered because the colors are dimmed. Yet, is it natural or manipulated?
The wall is worn, dirty, and stained. There is a dual nature of the wall that is also used as Banksy’s canvass. The wall serves as part of a working building that provides privacy and a clear boundary of the outside vs. inside working-world. Without the wall, the building is left with an open space. Banksy uses the wall as a gallery in which he paints art, allowing others to peruse freely. In this case, readers are allowed to interact with his art, unlike in a museum. The pavement is unkempt, seen by the unleveled sidewalk and littered cigarette buds. Where the sidewalk meets the wall, there is grass that Banksy incorporates in his drawing having the girl stand on nature as opposed to man-made cement. These are all reminders of the socially accepted ways in which man creates the use of space. Why is a man-made toxic power plant considered ok, yet man-made graffiti considered vandalism? Are they not both created by a person or group of persons? Are they not used in interaction of daily life? We use a building, we walk past a building; however, when walk past art, we become a part of the art. Is that not as important?
Banksy buffed the wall where the girl is stenciled in so that her dark silhouette contrasts the cleaned, whiteness of the wall. On the right where the writing stands, Banksy uses white lettering against the natural grime of the wall. The two stencils are separated by an intentional crack in that gives way to a power socket. Despite the integration of the art, the power socket pulls back imagination into the reality. We, as readers, are grounded in rules and laws in which we abide because they power society.
Although divided, the stencil can be read singularly or as whole. Punctum gives meaning to the placement by interrupting a “distanced/distancing mode of interpretation with a moment of intense feeling that feels/is beyond representation, whose effect is certain but inlocatable” (Bednar, 2009). Why do readers care about this graffiti so much so that it has become widely acclaimed? Similar to a fortuneteller reading a person’s palm, everything said about the person can somehow be related to their past, present, and future. The reader has a way of finding truth and creating meaning from what is seen. Hope is a relative; it is to desire a favorable outcome. The heart draws forth imagery of the literal, love, youth and the girl is a reminder of innocence and simplicity. The images are relatable to all, making Girl with A Balloon identifiable and a commodity. Just as the original is framed a certain way, the photograph of Banksy’s art attempts to mirror the original by capturing truthfulness in film.
The use of photography has expanded Banksy’s popularity. His art has been replicated in number of ways: tattoos, clothes, and through advertisement. Since the art cannot be taken out of the wall, it has been duplicated via photography, which is a visual technology “designed either to be looked at or to enhance natural vision (Rose, 2007)." For those not in the vicinity of the actual art, photography allows for a wider audience. Banksy’s graffiti, massed produced and distributed, is chosen for the purpose because of its mass appeal. Tattoos are an expression of the self that is permanently marked on the body. By taking a concept that was meant for walls and displacing it on skin blurs the line of art and shows how Banksy has left his mark on society, despite being a deviant. When art becomes a part of life, such as in advertisements, clothing, and tattoos, it becomes acceptable. Thus, Banksy’s art is no longer vandalism.
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