What happened to Banksy’s graffiti portrait of the Gray Ghost?

The British street art superstar Banksy paid a secretive visit to New Orleans in 2008, leaving behind 14 paintings on walls around the city from the Lower Ninth Ward to Uptown. Most have been destroyed or removed.

One of the few remaining artworks, a portrait of an anti-graffiti activist known as the Gray Ghost, could be found on the wall of a townhouse at Clio and Carondelet streets. Until recently.

The painting, which depicted a shadowy figure in painter’s coveralls applying a patch of gray paint to the wall, is gone. On a visit Saturday, the site of the painting had been neatly covered with panels and painted pink to blend with the building’s first-story façade.


The British superstar street artist Banksy’s 2008 painting of Fred ‘The Gray Ghost’ Radtke has been removed from the wall that held it for 16 years. The stencil painting used to be on the side of this townhouse at the corner of Clio and Carondelet Streets

A 2,000-pound painting

Happily, the Banksy is safe, and if all goes as planned, will return to its original location. Michael Heyne, the owner of the building where the Banksy was painted 16 years ago, said that, with the oversight of preservationist and architect Mark Rabinowitz, it was carefully removed, packed up and shipped off to New York.

There, it is being professionally restored by Evergreene Architectural Arts. The 6-by-8-foot painting, which is still affixed to plaster and cinder blocks, weighs one ton. 

Banksy, whose identity remains a carefully guarded secret, is the world’s most famous living artist. His graffiti paintings are sometimes cut from the walls where they were created to be carted off to auction houses, where they can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.


The British superstar street artist Banksy’s 2008 painting of Fred ‘The Gray Ghost’ Radtke has been removed from the wall that held it for 16 years. The stencil painting used to be on the side of this townhouse at the corner of Clio and Carondelet Streets

Not for sale

But Heyne said he’s not planning to sell the valuable artwork. Instead, he will place it behind a large window where it can be viewed at its original location. The painting will be mounted on a huge, hinged frame, like a “vault door,” Heyne said, so it can be pivoted for inside or outside viewing.

Many of Banksy’s New Orleans artworks symbolized the city’s struggle to recover after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But according to a 2008 statement from the artist, two were meant to express scorn for the late Fred “The Gray Ghost” Radtke, a zealous foe of graffiti, tagging and all unauthorized painting. In a way, the painting was a tribute to Radtke, whose New Orleans exploits had provoked the ire of an international artworld giant.

Restaurateur Greg Surrey, previous owner of the Carondelet Street townhouse, said he gave Banksy permission to paint on his property in 2008. As other Banksys were destroyed, Surrey protected the Gray Ghost portrait with clear plastic sheeting, allowing it to be viewed as intended, but sparing it the worst of the weather and graffiti taggers. Untold numbers of Banksy fans made pilgrimages to the location to lay eyes on the artwork.

Clio Street Banksy painting 2008

An early version of Banksy’s 2008 Clio Street painting, featured a full sunflower, being blotted by a graffiti eradicator.  

From vandals to mildew

Over the years, the Gray Ghost portrait remained in remarkably good condition, despite being attacked at Christmastime 2020. Vandals cut a tombstone-shaped hole in the plastic sheet and sprayed the words “Team Robbo” on the artwork, a reference to a late English graffiti writer who is said to have feuded with Banksy. But Surrey soon repaired the damage and replaced the protective plastic.

Surrey sold the property to Heyne in February 2023 for $700,000. Heyne said that “the Banksy played a major role in our interest in the building.” 

Heyne said that while the Plexiglas over the painting shielded it from taggers and weather, it also concentrated moisture in the underlying masonry, fostering mildew and deteriorating the artwork. The new display strategy will eliminate that problem while also better protecting the iconic piece from vandals.

“It’s too special to be exposed,” he said.

Rare New Orleans Banksy painting tagged .jpg

Taggers cut through a plastic barrier to deface a 2008 painting by street art superstar Banksy. 

A graffiti-inspired speakeasy?

Heyne said his plans for the townhouse at 1140 Carondelet St., where the Banksy painting survived for so long, are still “a work in progress.” Ideally, he said, the ground floor will become a bakery. Upstairs, there may be a discreet cocktail bar.

“I think The Gray Ghost is a cool name for a little speakeasy,” he said.

Currently, only two Banksys remain in the locations they were painted, his so-called “Umbrella Girl” on Kerlerec Street at St. Claude Avenue, and the faintest remnants of a sun-bleached second portrait of the Gray Ghost on Jackson Avenue. Two other Banksys that were removed from their original locations are on display, in the lobby of the International House Hotel on Camp Street and the Habana Outpost restaurant on Esplanade Avenue.

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Fred Radtke, who conducted a quarter-century-long fight against graffiti in New Orleans, died on Aug. 24 of natural causes, according to a dea…

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