Vandal cut through plexiglass, sprayed ‘Team Robbo’ in red paint
One of the few remaining New Orleans paintings by the street art superstar Banksy was defaced with red paint over Christmas. A vandal cut through part of the plexiglass barrier protecting the 12-year-old artwork, near the intersection of Clio and Carondelet streets, to apply a scarlet graffiti tag.
Restaurateur Greg Surrey, who owns the property, said he last saw the painting undisturbed on Christmas Eve. Julie Posner, office manager for Surrey’s restaurants, said that as she was leaving the building Saturday, she noticed something was wrong.
“I said, ‘What is that red?’” she recalled. “What made my heart sink was the permanence of this. It’s just so selfish.”
The red tag might be a reference to King Robbo, the late English graffiti writer who is said to have feuded with Banksy. The hole cut in the plastic barrier could be construed to suggest the shape of a tombstone.
Surrey said he plans to try to remove the tag and replace the plastic barrier.
The painting, popularly known as the “Gray Ghost,” is one of about 15 stencil works that appeared without notice around New Orleans in late August 2008. As Hurricane Gustav prompted the evacuation of New Orleans, the secretive Banksy and assistants circulated through the streets creating art on buildings from the Lower 9th Ward to Uptown.
Surrey said he gave Banksy permission in 2008 to paint a mural on his building, though he has little else to say about his meeting with the clandestine art star.
“Gray Ghost” depicts a graffiti eradicator blotting out a painting of a sunflower, illustrating the conflict between street artists and authorities. That makes it unusual because many of the 2008 paintings poetically addressed the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought three years earlier. The works were a sensation.
Almost as soon as they appeared, however, Banksy’s New Orleans paintings began to be ruined. Two were painted over by building owners; others were marred by taggers.
To avoid a similar outcome, Surrey protected the Banksy on his building with a plastic barrier, which allowed graffiti to be safely removed. He said that to this day, Banksy fans make pilgrimages to the location to lay eyes on the artwork, although the coronavirus pandemic has cut down on the visits.
A time or two, Surrey said, he’s considered having the painting cut from the wall and removed. It would cost at least $20,000 to do so, he said. But the painting could sell for 10 times that much at auction.
So far though, he’s left it in place. He laughingly said he figured that someday, “I’ll just sell the Banksy and throw in the building.”
Because of the underground nature of street art, some question the authorship and authenticity of Banksy paintings. But the stencil paintings that appeared in New Orleans in 2008 are broadly attributed to the internationally renowned artist.
Three other paintings from the 2008 series can still be seen publicly:
- One rescued and restored painting commonly called “The Looters” is on display in the lobby of the International House Hotel at 221 Camp St.
- The iconic “Umbrella Girl” painting still stands at 1034 N. Rampart despite an attempt to steal it in 2014.
- Traces of a second graffiti eradicator painting can be seen near the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Rousseau Street.