Protecting Banksy Murals Is a Complicated and Sometimes Costly Matter

While Banksy's latest work in London has already been vandalized, the street artist appears to have made it theft-proof.

Green graffiti painting on building that resembles foliage of barren tree
Banksy’s newest mural appeared in London on March 17. Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu via Getty Images

Earlier this week, residents of London’s Islington North area were shocked and delighted to find a mural by the elusive Banksy adorning one of their local buildings. But just two days later, the work was defaced.

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This isn’t an uncommon occurrence for the anonymous street artist’s public and occasionally political works. Despite fetching seven-figure sums at auction, Banksy’s art is typically found in vulnerable and open spaces, as opposed to being safely guarded behind museum or gallery walls.

His most recent painting, which depicts vibrant abstract foliage placed strategically behind a barren tree, was vandalized with white paint that appears to have been tossed over the mural. “There’s only one way to describe it: wanton vandalism,” Gil Ben-ari, an 80-year-old Londoner, told the Guardian.

Onlookers view green-painted building with large swaths of white paint thrown on top of it
The work was vandalized with white paint shortly after it was confirmed as a Banksy. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Banksy’s creation went up on March 17, with the artist confirming it as his own in an Instagram post the following day. Depicting a stenciled figure holding a paint sprayer, the burst of green paint matches the color used by Islington Council for local street signs. “Banksy has come to Islington!” tweeted Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour Party leader and local MP. “What wonderful artwork, proving there is hope for our natural world everywhere.”

The work, which brought an aging and over-pruned cherry tree to life, was painted on a vacant building. Islington Council quickly surrounded the work with fencing, erected cameras and posted Park Patrol officers, but these measures weren’t enough to prevent the subsequent vandalism. “We’re now discussing future solutions with the homeowner, to enable everyone to see the work while protecting it, the tree and the surrounding area,” said the council in a statement. “This is a really powerful piece, and we really hope it’s left alone so that everyone can enjoy it.”

How are Banksy murals usually protected?

Two security guards stand in front of a mural of a donkey and man
Security guards watch over Banksy’s Donkey Documents as it is displayed at the Chelsea Harbour Design Centre in 2015. Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

Due to the monetary and cultural value of his work, security measures have been introduced around several of Banksy’s pieces. After creating a series of murals across Ukraine in 2022 to showcase his support for the nation during Russia’s initial invasion, the Ukrainian government installed impact-resistant glass over the paintings to protect them from natural elements and vandalism. It also added security cameras near works to alert authorities of possible damage or theft.

Similar steps were taken by local authorities after Banksy completed his A Great British Spraycation series throughout England’s Norfolk and Suffolk coast in 2021. In addition to covering his art with clear sheets, the works were protected by security patrols and guards. One mural located on a sea wall was even covered in sealant paint to protect it from water damage. In other cases, homeowners have taken matters into their own hands—in 2013, the owner of a Brooklyn building that was “Banksied” hired his own security guards to look over the work.

Protecting Banksy murals can be expensive. When Garry and Gokean Coutts, owners of a Lowestoft building tagged by the artist as part of A Great British Spraycation, learned they’d need to pay £40,000 ($49,000) annually to maintain it, they instead paid £200,000 ($246,300) to have it taken down. According to the BBC, three local councils spent £20,000 (about $25,000) to protect other Spraycation murals, while another spent £7,610 (about $9,600) on “security patrols, guards and polycarbonate sheets.”

Despite safeguarding efforts, the very nature of Banksy’s work as a form of street art makes it susceptible to numerous damaging elements. His stencils have been occasionally painted over by local authorities looking to clean up graffiti, as was demonstrated by the 2007 covering of his Pulp Fiction painting near one of London’s train stations. Others have been mistakenly ruined. Last year, the artist documented on Instagram how his painting on a dilapidated farmhouse in Kent, U.K., was destroyed by a construction crew as it unknowingly tore down the building.

 

Man holds up bolt cutters to red stop sign
A Banksy-painted stop sign was stolen by a man with bolt cutters in London on December 22, 2023. PA Images via Getty Images

Banksy’s work is also occasionally defaced by rival graffiti artists. In 2021, for example, a mural located on a former Reading prison was defaced with “Team Robbo” in reference to the late graffiti artist who had a long-running feud with Banksy. And some works are affected by natural elements, such as the artist’s mural located along Venice’s Rio Novo canal, which has been damaged by its constant exposure to a damp environment.

As would be expected with the high sums attached to Banksy’s creations, some of the street art has been victim to theft. Banksy’s most recent work before the tree mural in Islington North appeared in December of last year when a London stop sign was adorned with three military drones. Mere hours after Banksy confirmed the work, onlookers witnessed a person taking down the sign with bolt cutters. Two men have since been arrested in connection with the theft, although the artwork itself remains at large.

While Banksy’s newest art piece has already been damaged, it’s likely safe from robbery. Its very existence points to the artist having “solved an emerging problem” of theft, said James Peak, host of BBC Radio 4 series The Banksy Story, while speaking on the broadcaster’s Today program. “I don’t think anyone is going to be able to nick this,” he said. “The painted wall is just meaningless paint without the bare branches of the tree—and how are you going to steal a tree?”

Protecting Banksy Murals Is a Complicated and Sometimes Costly Matter