British neighborhood wants its Banksy back

Mural by secretive graffiti artist removed, up for auction in Miami


LONDON — A London neighborhood wants its Banksy back.

A stencil by the famed, secretive graffiti artist of a young boy sewing Union Jack bunting on an antique sewing machine appeared on the side of a bargain store last May. Interpreted as an ironic comment on Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations — 60 years on the British throne — and it drew art-lovers to the gritty Turnpike Lane area.

Last week it vanished, leaving nothing but a rectangle of exposed brick — only to reappear on the website of a Miami auction house. Listed as “Slave Labor (Bunting Boy),” it is due to be sold Saturday with an estimated price of between $500,000 and $700,000.

The lawmaker representing Turnpike Lane, Lynne Featherstone, says she has asked the building's owner for an explanation but has yet to receive a reply. Poundland, the store that occupies the building, said it had nothing to do with the removal.

“(It's) totally unethical that something so valued should be torn without warning from its community context,” Featherstone said.

Local authorities have asked Britain's Arts Council for help in getting the artwork back.

Alan Strickland, a councilor with local Haringey Council, said the mural had become “a real symbol of local pride” in an area badly hit in England's August 2011 riots.

“The Banksy created a huge amount of excitement when it first appeared, and residents are understandably shocked and angry that it has been removed for private sale,” Strickland said. “The community feels that this artwork was given to it for free, and that it should be kept in Haringey where it belongs, not sold for a fast buck.”

Fine Art Auctions Miami could not immediately be reached for comment and Banksy's publicist did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The anonymous street artist, who refuses to reveal his real name, began his career spray-painting buildings and bridges in his home city of Bristol in southwest England. His often satirical images include two policemen kissing, armed riot police with yellow smiley faces and a chimpanzee with a sign bearing the words “Laugh now, but one day I'll be in charge.”

Original Banksy works now sell for up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and the artist has become an international celebrity. He has created sequences for “The Simpsons” and directed an Academy Award-nominated documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

But his works are still sometimes obliterated by zealous local officials, street cleaners or — as in this case — taken off buildings along with a chunk of wall for private sale.