An artwork claimed to have been created by the Liverpudlian artist Silent Bill seems to have been mistaken for a Banksy on a TV show auction. Supposedly selling for £250,000 on the show, it had previously been ‘authenticated’ by a number of ‘experts’. This despite been widely known in street art circles to have been a piece created as a tribute to him in 2013.
Featuring on Channel 4’s ‘The Greatest Auction’. The piece, is a parody of an original Banksy artwork which appeared in Liverpool during 2004 at the time of the Liverpool Biennial. That original work showed the iconic Banksy rat holding a paintbrush. Next to it was written ‘Never liked the Beatles’. Painted onto the side of the former Community College Catering School. It didn’t last long, having been removed after only a few days.
In 2013 Silent Bill, an artist known for his tributes and parodies of Banksy’s work, created his own version. Positioned underneath another Banksy artwork in the city called the ‘Love Plane’. It was an almost exact replica of that 2004 piece. However this time the phrase said ‘Never Liked this Banksy’, referring to the artwork above.
The Love Plane
Created in 2011 the Love Plane was a popular piece of public art. Originally painted onto the wall of a car park on Rumford Street in the city. It featured a bi-plane which had created a love heart in the air with it’s smoke trails. Despite being a much loved piece locally, the plane section of the piece was removed in 2016. Cut out from the render of the wall a sign was then placed in the now vacant space from the ‘Sincura Group’. The sign read ‘Dear Liverpool, the Banksy Love Plane has been removed. It is being restored and will return to Liverpool to feature in a new street art museum. For more details visit www.thesincuragroup.com/loveplane‘. The logos of the Sincura Group and the developers North Point Global were prominent on the sign.
Street Art Museum
As of yet, no street art museum has ever been created in Liverpool. An ITV investigation in 2017 looked into the development which had stalled. The piece reported that there had been growing public concern about it. They were told that Brexit, amongst a number of other factors, had resulted in the street art museum not being able to happen. That is at least not without an injection of more cash! The report alleged that a number of investors in the initial scheme were left out of pocket as a result.
Despite the lack of progress on the supposed gallery, the Love Plane was never replaced. At the time of writing it can however still be viewed on the Sincura Group website. It is joined with a number of other Banksy artworks. All of which were also taken from walls in Liverpool and from across the UK. They include the giant ‘Liverpool Rat’ (removed 2013) which once adorned the old White Horse Pub on Berry Street and the original ‘Never Liked the Beatles’.
Never Liked This Banksy
Another piece that appears on the Sincura website is the ‘Never Liked this Banksy’ work. Removed at the same time as the ‘Love Plane’, it is this piece that would come up for auction. Interestingly however the website itself does not claim that the piece is an original Banksy. In fact it says quite the opposite…
At the heart of all this is Silent Bill. A Liverpool based artist he is well known for his parodies and work which have been inspired by Banksy. The now infamous ‘Never Liked This Banksy’ piece was one such tribute. “I just thought in my unfunny wisdom that it would be funny” he said. “I never imagined that it would be inadvertently be embroiled within the whole channel 4 sale”.
Respect for Banksy is also something that he holds within his work. Bill feels that Banksy made art accessible to the average person. “It made people who wouldn’t consider themselves liking art, getting into art. He isn’t the UK’s favourite artist for nothing”.
Mistaken for Banksy
Silent Bill also claims that it’s not the first time his work has been mistaken for a real Banksy. On one occasion he says that a rat painted by himself was removed from a wall, despite there being a real Banksy just next to it. That work, painted on a now demolished breeze block wall on Bolton Street was a text based piece saying ‘Key to Making Great Art is All in the Composition’. The joke being that the word ‘composition’ would invariably never fit properly. The wall would go on to be demolished despite the Banksy still being on it. It is currently unknown where Silent Bill’s replica rat is.
In August 2017, Silent Bill and another artist, the Bristol based John D’oh, created a series of Banksy inspired works across Liverpool. This was as a protest against what the artists described as the ‘asset stripping’ of artworks from the street. Speaking to the Guardian he said “Street art pieces are, as intended by its name, for the street. When Banksy comes to Liverpool and gifts the city a piece it’s for the people of the city. It’s not for concierge and lifestyle services to cut from walls”.
Those works also appeared as part of the ITV investigation into the failure of the proposed gallery development. Both Silent Bill and John D’oh are artists who are known as being able to create work in Banksy’s style. Their resultant pieces caused a bit of a stir with John D’oh in particular going on to create many more in the area. Many of the artworks created can on the surface easily look as though they were painted by Banksy himself.
The Greatest Auction
So back to Channel 4 and ‘The Greatest Auction’. In episode one of this programme a man by the name of Justin is trying to sell the piece on behalf of an anonymous seller. Despite acknowledging that the piece had not been authenticated by Banksy. The show went on to invite four ‘experts’ to judge it’s authenticity. The problem being that Pest Control, the authentication service set up by Banksy, does not authenticate or even generally comment on pieces that have been removed from the street.
The Wild West
To be fair the unauthenticated Banksy market is a bit like the wild west. People are willing to take chances as there is real money to be made. Many small rat pieces were painted by Banksy across the world but equally there are likely to be many fakes. Herein lies the challenge! How do you know which one is authentic when Banksy himself doesn’t acknowledge them. This is made extra hard when other artists are capable of such high quality replicas. By getting ‘experts’ in to review, it’s a way to try and add some legitimacy to a work whose provenance is never likely to be acknowledged by the actual artist.
But of course the ‘experts’ can only give their opinion. Out of the four on the TV show, only one, Andy Link, gave a view that the writing on the piece didn’t seem to be in Banksy’s normal style. He also said that “it hadn’t been restored as well as what we thought”. Given that piece had been taken off the wall to be restored and protected for inclusion into a museum, he had a point. Another dealer, John Brandler, voiced the question as to whether “it was Banksy doing this or someone else”. A valid question to ask as Banksy is not an artist known to revisit over old ground. He went on to say that he wasn’t 1000% convinced either way.
Cat and Mouse
Two other ‘experts’ were more certain that it was a genuine Banksy. One, Robin Barton stating on the show that “my reputation as a dealer is almost entirely based on Banksy”. Also known as ‘Bankrobber’, he went on to say “for the past 15 years I’ve been playing a cat and mouse game with Banksy. He puts the works out on the street. I remove them and drag them around the globe trying to sell them. So I’m a thief”. It would be Barton, who in addition to being an invited expert, would go on to buy the piece on the show.
Authenticated or Not
So what happened to give such confidence that such an unauthenticated piece could be a real Banksy? Robin Barton notes in the show that even though Banksy hadn’t claimed authorship of it, no one else had either which he said was “interesting”. The problem is that it had been claimed! This might not have been obvious at the time to the people in the room but it certainly had been claimed. Firstly it’s authorship was revealed by Silent Bill in a 2017 self published book. Then in 2018 another book, ‘Street Art & Graffiti‘ written by John D’oh and published by Tangent Press, also stated that Bill had created the piece. Finally the Sincura Group, who actually removed the piece from the wall, actually state on their website that the piece was indeed “painted by another artist”.
Despite this the piece supposedly sold for £250,000. The price was reached in a tense stand off with two bidders. One on the phone and one in the room both trying to win the prize. The huge price and the desire of the bidders certainly indicated that they genuinely believed the artwork to be real. With such evidence to the contrary, that in itself must call into question the validity of authenticating artworks such as this.
From Street to Private Buyer
The whole episode also raises questions around the initial intention behind removing this street art. Originally it was claimed to have been taken off the wall with the intention of been put into a museum. If that was indeed the original plan, why has it now been made available for a private buyer? How has it ended up as an asset to be sold on the Greatest Auction TV show?
Replica on Replica
In another quirky twist to this story. It’s as if the artist John Doh had a sixth sense that this issue might come up again some day. At the launch for his book ‘street art and graffiti’ in 2018. He actually showed just how easy it was to replicate Banksy’s work. Creating his own version of the Silent Bill tribute piece and even displaying it at the exhibition. This all came the year after Doh and Silent Bill had made their protest artworks across Liverpool.
Channel 4 and the production company Curve Media now seem to be facing questions. Particularly about why the issues of provenance were not more widely covered. In an investigation by the Guardian they claim that another art collector, Jeff Salmon, had actually informed the programme makers of the Sincura Group website. This of course is the same website on which it is stated that the work wasn’t “a genuine Banksy”. Speaking to LADbible Channel 4 did say that this had been looked into. Stating “the information from Jeff was passed on to the production team who again looked into the work’s provenance but were unable to find anything beyond this small mention on that particular website”.
Ultimately it will be for the buyer of the piece, Robin Barton, to decide what he wants to do next. Speaking again to the Guardian he told them that he had not known about the claims on the Sincura website. However he also is quoted as saying “I believe there is enough doubt thrown on it that it is makes me nervous but I stand by the fact that until someone proves it is not Banksy it remains Banksy”.
Regardless as to what happens with this piece it will have gone down as yet another bit of Banksy lore. As a case in point it does raise some real concerns. It questions the morality of taking a piece of public art off the street only to somehow end up in a private collection to then be sold at auction. It also questions the attempt to create legitimacy despite a lack of provenance. Using ‘experts’ to authenticate a work that the artist has never acknowledged and where contemporary sources can be found which state that it is a copy. Despite all this and not to be forgotten is that, at the very least, it’s still a great piece of street art. A work that because of this, has it’s own piece of history. It might not be a Banksy, but that would mean it’s still an original Silent Bill. Many people would still be very pleased to have that on their wall.
‘The Greatest Auction’ is a television show made by Curve Media. It was broadcast on Channel 4 on 9 May 2023 and is available via ‘More 4’.