On the Stencil Trail: Following Banksy Around the US

Culture/History, Travel News — By Lauren Quinn on May 27, 2010 at 7:00 am

Most travelers leave a destination with souvenirs. But one US traveler has been leaving his own.

Banksy, the world’s most well-known and elusive street artist, has been road-tripping around the US for the last few weeks. The Bristol native has been announcing his presence and leaving his mark in conjunction with the release of his documentary film Exit Through the Gift Shop. And while we can’t be sure of every pit stop along his route, we can trace his path through several cities by the stenciled trail he’s left behind.

But Banksy’s recent US work has been more than a cross-country guerilla bombing of urban landscapes. Each city along Banksy’s trail has had its own unique reaction to its role as host to the international street art superstar. Works have been photographed, celebrated, defaced, condemned, even physically removed for posterity and prosperity. As Wooster Collective‘s Marc Schiller tweeted, reactions to Banksy’s recent works have revealed much about the cities in which they appeared.

Want a glimpse into the psyche of seven North American cities? Just read the writing on the wall…

Image: Lord Jim/Flickr

Los Angeles: Whatever

As the first discernible stop on Banksy’s whirlwind US tour, how did LA respond? With newscameras and excited buzz? Try indifference. Unlike the city’s celebrity-studded, media-frenzied response to the artist’s 2006 Barely Legal exhibition, the appearance of Banksy’s new work didn’t stir much commotion in the City of Angeles. Works were discovered in mid-April, and received little attention outside of hyperlocal blogs, such as laist. Even the forcible removal of the above-shown piece by a commercial art gallery (for the rumored purpose of selling the work) elicited little response outside of the art blogs like Jetset Graffiti.

“Yeah, Banksy, we’ve seen him before,” LA seemed to say. “What are the Kardashians doing?”

Image: WarholianPics/Flickr

San Francisco: Stoked

Banksy’s next stop was a quick mosey up the California coast into San Francisco, where he literally painted the town with 10-some pieces. As one might expect, the ultra-artsy city responded with enthusiasm. First reported on local art blog Warholian in late April, news spread to media outlets including prominent newspapers and TV networks, and locals took to the streets on a scavenger hunt to find all the works.


Perennially grateful to its visitors, San Francisco celebrated Banksy’s work as an affirmation of the city itself. Even defacement exhibited civic pride, as a Native American stencil was rendered into a tribute to local celebrity Frank Chu.

Toronto: Score!

It’s hard to plot Banksy’s exact next move. Within days of each other, pieces were spotted in various Midwest and East Coast cities. But no city was more abuzz than Toronto.

Image: hragv/Flickr

Vivacious, cosmopolitan and seemingly forever in the shadow of bigger, glittery-er cities, Toronto took Banksy’s visit as a kind of validation—“yes, we can attract an artist as big as Banksy.” As reported by the The Star, the works were the first ever Banksys to appear on Canadian soil (take that, Montreal!). The city exploded with excitement, with most of the pieces not surviving. Survey what’s left by following torontoist’s guide.

Image: Señor Codo/Flickr

Chicago: Wait, what?

Tucked into the heart of the huge country, the US’s third largest city is often called its most American city. And in typical American fashion, Chicago responded to the appearance of the international art celebrity’s work with, well, vague recognition. It was as though the Windy City hadn’t ever heard of Banksy and wasn’t quite sure why they should be concerned. It was a little like Ronaldo Cristiano walking through a shopping mall—“Isn’t he famous in some other country?”

Originally reported on chicagoist, coverage of Banksy’s Chicago pieces came largely from art and culture blogs such as Fake Shore Drive. Only a week later did the works receive mention from a major media outlet.


Detroit: I Have Something To Say!

One of the most site-specific and stirring works on his US/North American tour, Banksy’s “I Remember When All This Was Trees” piece in Detroit was nothing short of brilliant. What happened to the piece was nothing short of controversial.

Local 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios excavated the piece (covered, among many news outlets, by Detroit Free Press), and a raging public controversy ensued. Thievery? Safe-keeping? An attempt to garner attention and fame? Opinions ran the gamut, but everyone seemed to have one.

While the piece is now preserved, its power was certainly diminished by having been removed from its original site. The piece itself, which spoke to the industrial heart of Motor City, ended up also speaking to the heart of street art: does the work exist off the street? And who does it belong to once the artist has created it? No answers were arrived at, but plenty of debate was inspired.

Image: Richard Cocks/Flickr

Boston: …

Really? Boston?

You might not have heard anything about Banksy’s arrival in Boston—especially if you’re in Boston. Most coverage was reported on blogs based outside of the city, including Wooster Collective and High Snobiety. One local photojournalist managed to stumble upon the work while on a street art adventure. Reaction: “wicked awesome.”

What this says about Boston, we’re not sure…

Image: break.things/Flickr

New York City: Well, finally…

Banksy has arrived in New York City in his on-going North America tour.” Read between the lines: the Big Apple is a little miffed that it was so low on the hit-list. And within hours of reportage, the works were tagged over, turf marked and respect denied. “Thanks a lot, Brit boy,” NYC seems to say, “but we’ve got the graffiti thing covered.”

Photographs, defacement, theft, adoration and ignorance: it’s a travelogue worth its weight in paint. And we can be pretty sure that the US has gotten just as much out of Banksy’s trip as he has—maybe more.

Tags: banksy, big apple, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco


  • BeckyMinx says:

    Banksy if definitely hard to, but well worth following

  • S says:

    Bansky is a dumb leftie commie. Anti-capitalism is Anti-American.

  • luxie says:

    “Anti-capitalism is Anti-American.” stupid americans.

  • kapshure says:

    here is a link to my Banksy photos. Mainly shots from his 2008 NOLA visit, and here in SF for 2010:


  • Morons says:

    “Stupid Americans” is redundant. Americans are born stupid.

  • Jo Dean says:

    Wow ,that dude is simply amazing. Wow.


  • Nick says:

    Lol.. It’s Cristiano Ronaldo – but still a funny joke.

  • trace says:

    “anti-capitalism is anti-american” good christ . . .

    get me out of this country, please. for all the people sneaking in, it can’t be THAT hard to sneak out . . . right?

    banksy is awesome.

  • ... says:

    “Morons says:
    May 29, 2010 at 9:43 am
    “Stupid Americans” is redundant. Americans are born stupid.

    cuz we totaly dont have one of the most powerful economies, some of the richest/most famous people in the world, the best universities, advanced scientific institutions (has anyone from your country ever landed on the moon? no? didn’t think so) …. just jealous because we can nuke your shithole

  • What Haveyou says:

    You knew some dumb-ass was going to post a VIDEO of these still images. And to top it off, the link doesn’t work.


  • Jordan says:

    I’d say “Luxie” and “Morons” are a bit racist. Thanks for offending 310 million people in one fell swoop. I won’t sink to your mentality level by saying anything offending to either of you or your country(ies). I wouldn’t want to be associated with your kind of thinking.

  • critical says:

    The ever inflating American ego never fails to entertain me.

    “…. just jealous because we can nuke your shithole”.

    Thanks for that, keep going your only further increasing your “amazing” countries reputation.


  • Darren says:

    You are welcome to paint on my building anytime. I’m next to I-95 !

  • T.C. says:

    Just because America has far left and far right dumbasses who know nothing about politics and yell “BRAGH SOCIALISM COMMUNIST BS LAWL NUKE FTW! OMG WHAT IS SATIRE?!” doesn’t mean that all of us are as such. Unfortunately, people like that are the only ones that seem to post anything on websites and forums. I’m a US Marine and have to deal with idiots like this on a daily basis, but I see a lot of intelligence in America and even in the military. You just have to dig deep and get past all the extreme generalizations. As far as Banksy goes, I’ve followed him since the Israel/Palestine wall art, and he’s an amazing artist. Definitely one of the best of our generation.

  • ian says:

    ““Stupid Americans” is redundant. Americans are born stupid.”

    ^^ I must say that, for being a Stupid American, I show no ignorance.

    So what is your excuse?

  • The Red Pencil says:

    Banksy is amazing, no doubt. Too bad the internet is abound with ignorance.

    Mr. “:..”, if you are going to make sweeping claims about US superiority and intelligence please try to do so using proper capitalization and grammar. Remember, ellipses are used to imply that text is abridged, not to indicate a long pause! As for the threat of nuclear attack, keep in mind there are somewhere around 15 other nations known to posses nuclear weapons, and seven others known to have a sizable arsenal as well as the ability to manufacture warheads. Most of these nations are able to nuke our shithole right back and I for one do not want my shithole nuked.

  • Ben says:

    I thought this forum was supposed to be about Banksy.

  • An American says:

    Please forgive my ignorant fellow American who made the comments about nukes. Unfortunately, America does have many greedy, capitalistic morons who everyone assumes are the only people in this country. This country is very young and grew very fast, and most likely will fall apart very fast as soon as the oil runs out. It’s truly sad that people from other countries feel the need to insult all Americans, especially on a website about art that is universally appreciated, regardless of nationality. It’s also sad that Americans feel the need to be just as insulting toward others. Not all Americans share the arrogance and greed that we’re made out to be, so please don’t generalize about us.

    It’s stuff like this that makes me lose faith not in just my country, but in our species as a whole.

  • A non-American says:

    @An American – unfortunately it is the outspoken and margin dwellers of any country/culture/society that the international media like to use in their ongoing struggles to get paid for pumping sensationalist cr@p down the necks of anyone who owns a TV – hence the rampant generalisations. Unfortunately, this will keep being perpetuated by the mindset made apparent above. You are right not to have faith in our species. Belief in our futures should be earnt, not held by default.

  • Céline says:

    @The Red Pencil: Your critique of the use of ellipsis by a previous poster is interesting, however only explores the historical reasons the punctuation mark(s) in question was developed and not how language and linguistic structure has moved in an organic way that allow for multiple uses of punctuation such as ellipses. I find it intriguing that you remark “Remember, ellipses are used to imply that text is abridged, not to indicate a long pause!” by the simple fact that you claim ellipses are used for a particular reason when you really mean that you think they ought to only be used for this reason. They ARE used for a number of other reasons that you don’t feel are correct. Interesting examples of ellipses used in a non-standard or historical linguistic sense can be found in the novels of Louis Ferdinand Céline where ellipses were employed to intensify the rhythm of the works and enhance the styles of speech within the works. It’s fun being a grammar nazi, isn’t it?

  • Schizophrenic says:

    In the United States most of our society regards graffiti as gang related or criminal despite how talented it may be. Europe tends to regard it a little more favorably and most of society there does regards it as art, or so I was informed on my last adventure there. I personally think Europe’s viewpoint has a lot to do with the Berlin Wall and how graffiti covered it was as a form of expression against the oppression of it. I feel Banksy art is falls in-line with the European viewpoint, (obviously), and that experience of the Wall as it is always associated with social commentary and that is something that doesn’t happen here in the States.

  • copilot says:

    I have to agree with Schizo. I spend a huge amount of time covering tags around my neighborhood and buisness. I have enjoyed Bankseys work and even followed it with interest. I was dismayed by the covering of his work by a rival artist or artist’s followers recently over some stupid turf war.

    That said, I am very conflicted. I always assume most graffitti artists, no matter how talented and interesting now, receiveded their training defacing public and private spaces without the owners permission. They commit crime, but if they are good enough at it, we applaud them.

  • matilda says:

    …i love Banksy’s Art work….and he is definitely one of the best Artist of our generation.

  • spaghetti says:

    When did Toronto become part of the US?

  • TedKord says:

    Man. I hate even reading the comments on any site I go to because it just devolves into something like that. Every country has it’s idiots who run their mouths. Every single one. Those of you who post anti-American comments are only goading them into getting angry and saying something dumb about nukes. If only we could all realize that the world is all in this together and stop separating ourselves.
    But it will never happen. Ever. Until this world is a smoldering ruin and bands of people are struggling to survive as the planet dies.
    So yeah. Feel good about squabbling on messageboards about who’s country is better, you’re helping a lot.

  • Pharaonick says:

    Er, I thought they were very pretty pictures… but, is this the right place to say that?

    (@ Celine: Loved the ellipsis lesson!)

  • Cornelia says:

    Yaaaay Banksy!!!! On an unrelated note: the anti American ranting is beating a dead horse … We get it. You don’t like us. BFD.

  • NG Lyon says:

    This is a hoot!! Just remembered seeing something in tweet land about today being the anniversary of the ‘Give Peace a Chance’ recording……sorry random connections! Great article Lauren.

  • Dustin says:

    There were other Detroit pieces, “Diamond Girl” on Van Dyke for example. The fact that some art gallery can come and take a derelict buildings wall with the Banksy art on it is pure theft, it reflects the scavenger mentality that is prevalent in Detroit right now. I got dibs on his next Detroit piece.

  • D. Ped says:

    MAY 30, 2010 AT 5:50 AM
    When did Toronto become part of the US?

    I think it was just a few minutes before 5:45 AM.
    But it’s official now, for better or for worse, only time will tell.


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