A Rare Rediscovered Banksy Heads to Auction

Graffiti painting of helicopters on stone block
Banksy, Happy Choppers, (2006). Courtesy Anderson & Garland

A rare work by Banksy, the elusive British artist famed for his humorous and at times political street art, is heading to auction years after it was rediscovered and rescued by a team of restoration specialists.

In 2008, the owner of an office building in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood was flipping through a book dedicated to Banksy’s local work when he recognized his own property in one of the images. After racing down to the building, he found the art had been painted over—but not entirely. A small section of a helicopter propeller from the original work was still visible at the top.

“We were astounded to discover that our newly purchased office building was the canvas for an artwork of this significance,” said the owner, who has chosen to remain anonymous, in a statement.

The work was originally painted by Banksy in 2006, as documented by his former manager Steve Lazarides in BANKSY CAPTURED (Volume 1). Entitled Happy Chopper, its depiction of helicopters is a regular motif used by Banksy, who has included the aircraft in past works like his 2003 Wrong War placards. The painting was considered to be a security risk by the building’s former owner, who subsequently covered the work in black paint and neglected to mention its existence when selling the property.

A complicated restoration process

Upon discovering that he was now in possession of a Banksy, the building’s current owner enlisted the Fine Art Restoration Company, a London-based company which had previously restored Banksy works. The restoration process was a complicated one—for starters, Happy Choppers couldn’t be removed as one piece for fear of it breaking apart, and instead was removed from the building in sections. “To our knowledge, no one had attempted to rescue a fragile work of high-profile street art like this before,” said the owner.

Banksy’s medium of spray paint also presented challenges. “As these murals do not use a medium traditionally found in art, our conservators investigated the chemistry of the original pigments and developed new techniques suitable for the safe treatment of aerosol art,” said Chris Bull, director of the Fine Art Restoration Company, in a statement. The year-long process included cleaning pollutants, city air and pests that had contaminated the work’s surface and removing overpaint and local graffiti that had been added on top of the work.

Now, the fully restored painting is ready for a new home. It will hit the auction block later this month when it highlights the Spring Fine Art Auction for Anderson & Garland, an auction house based in Newcastle. Happy Choppers, which contains an estimate of between £500,000 ($633,000) and £700,000 ($886,000), will be on view in the auctioneer’s saleroom ahead of its March 20 sale.

“Previously gracing the side of an office block, it has been painstakingly restored and professionally adapted to domestic proportions,” said Fred Wyrley-Birch, director of Anderson & Garland, in a statement. “We are hoping that institutions will be interested in this important piece so that enthusiasts of Banksy’s work can enjoy it for years to come.”

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