CCTV footage outside a youth club in Bristol may well have captured the elusive and anonymous artist in the early hours of Sunday morning. His identity is safe though. The pictures are far too indistinct to cause a threat to blowing his cover. The cameras show a white van pulling up, and two men, both in workman’s fluorescent jackets, unloading various pieces of kit. At one point, a very large screen is angled back inside the van. On Monday, the newest Banksy, Mobile Lovers, was found at the site.
Of those two men on the camera it is highly likely that one of them must be Banksy, but apart from some clues about the hours of operation and the sheer amount of equipment he needs, there is no imagery further defining him. Ironically, the CCTv was put in to deter graffiti on the walls of the youth club.
Mobile Lovers, which was painted on a wooden board screwed to a wall just outside the gates of the Broad Plain and Riverside Youth Project, depicts a man and a woman in an embrace. They are not looking into each other’s eyes. Each is fixated on their own phone which they are reading over the lover’s shoulder.
David Stinchcombe, 58, the leader of the youth club, took swift action when he saw the mural. Grabbing a crowbar he took it off the wall and inside the building for protection. His actions have quickly earned him condemnation, even death threats, but he is unfazed. He suggests anyone issuing a death threat should come down and have it out with him in the boxing ring.
As Stinchcombe sees it, Banksy, a Bristol boy, has given the youth club an unexpected and wonderful bequest. By selling on the artwork, he can keep the place open, where otherwise, he would struggle to meet the costs of running it.
Visitors attracted to Clements Street in Bristol by the news of the new piece are invited to come into the youth club for a viewing, and to leave a donation if they choose. One visitor today was Mrs Dorothy Messanger, aged 90, and she said she was pleased her donation would go to a good cause. As to the Banksy, she thought it was “very good.”
Stinchcombe said he acted quickly, as to risk leaving the Banksy in situ was to invite vandalism or theft. A screen print has been installed in place of the original in the doorway where the wood was nailed. The fact that it was screwed to the wall does suggest that it was designed to be a portable object. The Police are not viewing it as an offense but they have cautioned Mr Stinchcombe that he may need advice before proceeding to sell.
It costs £120,000 a year to run the club and the youth leader says if he keeps just one kid off the streets it saves the local council £146,000 – the counter-cost of locking up young offenders. He hopes the sale of Mobile Lovers will keep the centre open. If its does, he says, “Banksy, you’ve done an amazing job” and calls him “a gem.” Kids from the centre will be keeping watch over the Easter weekend as the artwork is kept secure at the location until further notice.
A Local MP said he was delighted to see that Banksy was back and active in his home town. Stephen Williams is hoping that the sale of this piece will raise much-needed funds for the club, and feels that Banksy would love to see the kids benefit from his work in this way.
Banksy has certainly been busy in recent days and nights. Only this week his mural commenting on government surveillance practices appeared on a house wall in Cheltenham close to GCHQ the base of British intelligence. Unlike the Bristol artwork, this one was painted over an entire wall. His website has still not officially confirmed it as his, although it bears all his hallmarks.
Many are thrilled that Banksy is back in the UK and active again, after an almost two-year break, the last part of it spent in New York.
Banksy may have been caught on CCTV, but his identity is still a closely guarded secret, known only to a very few close friends.
Opinion by Kate Henderson