A major new showcase of the elusive street artist’s work brings together more than 150 prints, canvases and ephemera – including pieces that have never been on public display before

Words: Jonathan Whiley

Despite his identity having never been formally revealed, street artist Banksy is far from shy and retiring. His artwork continually hits the headlines and demands attention; be it his Spy Booth mural in Cheltenham, a satirical take on surveillance close to GCHQ, to his now infamous, Love is in the Bin. The partially shredded artwork sold for a cool £18.5 million at Sotheby’s; the same auction house where the canvas of his work, Girl with Balloon, dropped through a hidden shredded in the frame immediately after it had been sold.

Every which way you cut it – if you will excuse the pan – Banksy is among the most exciting artists whose delicious mystique only enhances his worldwide appeal. A major new exhibition on Regent Street – which has so far brought the artist’s work to 1.5 million visitors across 16 cities across the world – is testament to just that.

The Art of Banksy – while not curated or authorised by the artist himself – features more than 150 pieces of his work, including prints, canvases and a selection of ephemera.  The challenge, curator of the exhibition Michel Boersma tells me, is finding “unique pieces, the one offs, which Banksy created.”

The global exclusive for the London exhibition at 84-86 Regent Street, is the first ever Flower Thrower. In 2003, Banksy unveiled the artwork – also known as Love Is in the Air – for the first time, becoming one of his most recognisable pieces.

There was, however, an earlier version created in 1997 – depicting a man throwing a bunch flowers as a Valentine’s Day gift for this then girlfriend – which has never been shown to the public until now.

“Sourcing these very special pieces is the most challenging part,” says Michel. “In London we now have hand-drawn sketches, never-before-seen artworks he created for his then-girlfriends and a large Mona Lisa he created for a well-known Hollywood actor.”

Ah yes, Mona Lisa. This signed but previously unknown work was bought directly from the artist by an A-list Hollywood star in 2003 but was returned to Banksy last year, who developed it further and created a new artwork incorporating the original. Earlier this year it was sold to a collector, who has agreed to lend it to the exhibition for a limited time.

“It’s my highlight,” says Michel. “It’s the first time it is on public display and is a very special and striking piece which we showcase with a great view of Regent Street. I love visiting Mona Lisa in the evening with the traffic in view next to her.”

Seminal artworks also feature such as Girl with Balloon – in three different colour variations – alongside various artworks acknowledging geopolitics (such as the ongoing war in Ukraine) and new for London, close associates of Banksy share their personal stories.

Valentine’s Day Mascara is another highlight that is making its London debut. Discovered as a controversial street art piece on the side of a house in Margate on February 14 this year, it will be displayed in its original form; a 3.8 ton wall had to be installed into the Regent Street gallery with a crane.

Housed in the foyer of the exhibition, it can be viewed for free without a ticket.

In a part of London better known as the home for prestigious art in a more traditional form, does Michel think there is added significance to staging an exhibition of street art by a man often regarded as an outsider?

“In my view each modern art museum should have its own Banksy collection on display,” he says. “For some strange artworld-reasonings this is not the case. Having a “Banksy Museum” in London is something that should be normal and a given. Having it in an iconic location like Regent Street shows the seriousness of the collection on display, with 150 pieces it is the largest authenticated Banksy collection in the world. It belongs there.”

The Art of Banksy runs until early 2024. Tickets priced from £17.50, artofbansky.co.uk