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Girl With a Balloon by Banksy: Meaning Behind the Graffiti Art

Updated on October 14, 2015
Banksy's Girl With a Balloon
Banksy's Girl With a Balloon | Source

What Is the Meaning of the Girl with Balloon Painting by Banksy?

Banksy is arguably the most well-known street artist in the world. Some pieces of his urban graffiti art, with its distinctive stencil style, have sold at auction for as much as $500,000.

And while price does not always determine good art, Banksy's name, style, and brand of urban anti-war, anti-establishment urban-art rhetoric have earned him a place in the hearts of many.

The two primary reasons that Banksy's street art stands out from the multitude of other graffiti we see every day is that, first and foremost, Banksy is a genuine artist and, probably more importantly, his art actually says something to us.

On the Surface

Much of what Banksy paints has a simple surface meaning, and it is this obvious and straightforward message that possibly attracts the majority of his admirers. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is obvious that Banksy intends for his surface message to have a great deal of weight and importance. After all, as he himself has said, his art is often first viewed from a speeding car, which means that Banksy's art must be bold and simple so that it can be understood at a glance. And that first, fleeting glance is what attracts viewers to his message in the first place.

But it is the deeper meanings behind his art that ultimately capture our imaginations and causes us to look at his work with something akin to awe, the same feeling of awe that the work of almost every great artist evokes.

"There Is Always Hope"

"There is always hope"
"There is always hope" | Source

The Meaning Beneath the Meaning

What is the deeper meaning of Banksys Girl with Balloon, for example? On the surface, at first glance, this is simply a charming painting of a small child (in black and white) reaching for her lost heart-shaped balloon, with the balloon being the one and only bright spot of color in the work. Viewed simply on that level, this is a wonderful, evocative piece of street art. But perhaps there is more to it. Perhaps Banksy has a deeper message here.

It is possible to look at this piece of urban art and see nothing more than what is there on the surface. Even if that is the case, nothing is really lost because as a simple, charming piece of art, Girl With Balloon stands alone.

It's possible, however, that the meaning of Banksy's Girl With Balloon is much deeper than simply a cute and somewhat evocative painting. What if we see the balloon, the only spot of color in the work, drawing the viewer's eye and attention as something more than simply a child's toy? A balloon can be more than a balloon. A balloon can be symbolic. And this balloon is heart-shaped. It can stand for our dreams, our aspirations, or even our innocence or love.

When looked at in that way, what is Banksy really saying with his simple, almost cartoon-like piece of art? Before we can answer that, it is necessary to ask some fundamental questions. First, has the balloon escaped, or has the child released it? Does the balloon represent something lost, or does it represent a gift bestowed on the world?

Is the child trying to reclaim her lost innocence, her lost childhood, a lost love, or has she released the balloon, asking the world to accept those things as her innocent gift?

The artist does not answer these questions. Any answers must come from the person viewing the art.

The Words on the Wall

Left out of the equation so far are the words stenciled onto an adjoining wall by Banksy: There is always hope. These words are separated by space from the image of the girl and the balloon, but the words are still a part of the overall image.

So regardless of how the viewer interprets the image itself—as a visual representation of loss or the hope of new redemption—Banksy gives us all hope with four simple words: There is always hope. Hope is the opposite of despair. Hope is the opiate of the common person.

Banksy on Banksy

"If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal."
"If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal." | Source

Banksy himself seems to dismiss any idea that he is an important or meaningful artist. Street art, according to Banksy, is merely a way for the underclass to get its revenge on the privileged class. That may be. But Banksy seems to get more than simple revenge. He mocks and ridicules those in authority. He attempts to illustrate that the emperor indeed has no clothes, and he does it quite well.

The meaning of Banksy's Girl With Balloon may be almost as elusive as the balloon Banksy has drawn, and yet there is something so basic about this illustration that we are continually drawn back to it again and again. Even if we were in a car, speeding past this image at 60 miles per hour, there is something about it that would cause us to slam on the brakes. And that is what makes a Banksy a Banksy.

Girl With Balloon was painted on a gray wall in a London suburb. The painting only lasted for a short while before the local city council ordered the wall painted over. Apparently, some people believe that a featureless gray wall says more than an illustration of a young girl with her red, heart-shaped balloon, a young girl reaching for—what?

Was the city council in that London suburb right when it ordered this work of art destroyed? Some would say no. In fact, when a copy of Girl with Balloon went on sale at auction in England, it brought in almost £40,000. That is an awful lot of money to be paid for a work of art that was apparently desecrating a plain gray wall.

Today, copies of this iconic Banksy work of art are readily available online and even through some brick-and-mortar retailers in a wide range of sizes. This work is possibly best viewed on a large wall in a modern room or in a room with muted colors that will not detract from the red balloon just out of the little girl's reach. Larger sizes are the most impressive.

Post Your Comments, Insights, and Questions Below

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      bobbyleighjarvis 21 months ago

      why did banksy this work for kids for the school

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      maureen gillespie 20 months ago

      I first saw banksy work on a visit to bristol completely overawed by the tender thought that had gone into his work. Beautifully inteterputated this picture never left my thoughts its so good to be able to the fully compliment this truly amazing man i hope he will somehow someday see this and realize the effect he has had on me thanks maureen n ireland

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      atoms 20 months ago

      You can tell that the girl is RELEASING the balloon - not reaching for it - by several clues. Her hair blows forward, as does her dress, showing that there is enough of a stiff breeze to do that. The balloon has left her hand in the breeze, and is just beginning it's journey.

      Her posture shows her standing solidly still - legs together - not reaching or stretching forward. If she were reaching, I'd expect a different posture with her feet, as well as her hand that rests by her side. I think it's a symbol of hope for love to spread around the world. Jimi Hendrix = When the power of love overcomes the love of power, only then will the world know peace. There is always hope.....

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      atoms 20 months ago

      Another piece of evidence that backs up RELEASING the balloon rather than REACHING for it, is the direction of the string, and the tilt of the balloon. If you follow the breeze that is blowing her dress and hair, you can tell that a free floating balloon would not have a string that points INTO the wind. But the string clearly points in the direction UP wind, which would be consistent with her JUST having released the balloon. And the balloon has a tilt as if it's also being blown in the wind, AFTER having just been released from the girl's hand.

      And, her body is too relaxed and stationary for her to be trying to grasp the string of a balloon blowing freely in a stiff breeze, when the balloon is already beyond her grasp. Her face shows no panic or desperation in attempting to grasp the balloon (love). Instead, she appears innocent - yet strong in stance and posture, and (as I see it) expressing a hope for the world to be more motivated and inspired by love, compassion, and empathy. May we all release our "love balloons" with the world! There is always hope...that the power of love will someday overcome the love of power!

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      banksy got it 14 months ago

      Banksy once said 'if you leave out the art in earth, there is nothing but eh'. Same here: the word heart contains the word art.

      The little innocent girl, standing still, has lost her heart balloon. This is a metaphore for art losing its innocence.

      Banksy made this in 2002, a period when prices for paintings went skyhigh and everyone tried to jump on that train.

      The wall of the building belongs to a school where children learn about words and get to know the world.

      The words, there is always hope, refers to new children, new chances.

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      banksy got it 14 months ago

      Please disregard my previous remark about a school, as it originally was located at South Bank's stairwell near Tate Modern in London.

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      Rick 5 months ago

      A lot of symbolism, depending on how you see it the girl is either letting go of the balloon (and whetever it may represent) or she lost it. For me it's somewhere in between; her right arm is dark and reaching for the balloon, but her left arm is lighter and seems to be holding back. For me, it is how you feel when you let something go which you love, there's a part of you that wants to take it back even though you know this would not be for the best. It's beautiful.

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