Tuesday 17 September 2019

Banksy claims artwork referencing steelworks in Port Talbot

Local residents have called on the council to protect the street art which appeared on a garage in the Taibach area overnight.

By Alastair Reid and Adam Hale, Press Association

World-famous street artist Banksy has claimed responsibility for a new artwork in Port Talbot, Wales.

A video posted to his official Instagram account on Wednesday afternoon shows close-ups of the finished piece which appeared on the outside of a garage overnight.

The artwork is Banksy’s first to appear in Wales and is believed to be a comment on the town’s industrial heritage and pollution linked to its steel plant.

Soundtracked by the children’s song Little Snowflake, the camera focuses on the painting, which shows a child dressed for snow playing in the falling ash and smoke from a fire in a skip, before ascending to show the nearby steelworks which loom over the town.

“They’ve not dropped a Banksy on us have they?” asks a man, apparently a local resident, at the end of the video.

The video was captioned with the simple message: “Season’s greetings.”

The owner of the garage, Ian Lewis, 55, a steelworker for the town’s Tata Steel steelworks, said he first saw the artwork when images began to spread on Facebook on Tuesday evening, and had been guarding it ever since.

The father-of-one said: “At first I didn’t really think much of it. I didn’t even know if it was my garage. But then I had a look and saw it was.

“I thought it was good, but I didn’t think it was a Banksy. It’s now gone viral, and there’s just been an explosion (in interest).

“I didn’t know much about Banksy up until about last year. A friend visited Bristol and she showed me some photographs she’d taken of his work.”

After Banksy confirmed the work was his, Mr Lewis said it was like “Christmas had come early” for the industrial town.

He said: “I’m a bit shocked to be honest. I don’t really know what to make of it all. I’m still overwhelmed and I don’t really know where this is going.

View this post on Instagram

. . . . Season’s greetings . . .

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on

“I’m just happy. It’s nice and like an early Christmas present for the town, and it’s nice to see everybody happy.

“Of course, we’d like to thank Banksy. It’s a great thing for the town.

“There’s a lot of rumours going around that I’ve been offered money but there’s nothing like that that’s come around. I’m just enjoying it at the moment.”

Mr Lewis said he thought his hometown was chosen for the artwork due to headlines over air pollution due to the steelworks.

In May, the World Heath Organisation (WHO) had to apologise after it admitted figures identifying Port Talbot as the most polluted town in the UK were wrong.

The global body said Port Talbot’s air pollution was measured at 9.6853 micrograms, just under half of the figure it had originally given the town, and below WHO national guideline of 10 micrograms.

Mr Lewis said he had “no idea” what his plans were with regards to the artwork.

On Wednesday afternoon workers for Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council erected metal fencing around the garage wall.

“It’s amazing, an incredible addition to Port Talbot,” said Rachel Honey-Jones, 33, who lives in The Mumbles on the other side of Swansea Bay.

“Everything about it is political messaging, the way the boy has been drawn, the positioning near the steelworks, the fact it was done just after the (Severn Bridge) tolls went down.”

The secretive street artist, believed to be based in Bristol, also confirmed the work was his by posting an image of it on his website.

Black dust from the town’s steelworks covered houses, cars and pets in the area in July, a possible inspiration for the artwork.

Residents on social media have been cheered by the addition to their neighbourhood, but Ms Honey-Jones warned the artwork should be protected by the council.

“People have already taken sledgehammers to it and tried to throw paint on it,” she said, referencing an artist friend who was tipped off to the location overnight and stayed to keep guard.

“It will bring visitors and trade and tourism to the county so it really does need to be protected,” said Ms Honey-Jones.

In January Hull City Council put a protective screen over a new Banksy work after it was defaced just days after appearing on a disused raised bridge.

It was then put into storage with a view to being returned to the site once work to the bridge is completed early next year.

In Liverpool a Banksy mural of a rat was taken down from the side of a pub by its owners in 2013, and was sold before reappearing in June this year inside the Rat Bar in Lambeth, London.

In November American artist Ron English paid 730,000 dollars (£561,000) for a mural painted by Banksy on the side of a Poundland in Wood Green, London, before vowing to destroy the piece in protest.

A spokesman for Neath Port Talbot Council said it would be taking advice from other local authorities who have experience of dealing with Banksy artworks.

Anthony Taylor, deputy leader of Neath Port Talbot Council and councillor for Taibach said: “The council has been liaising with the property owner throughout the day and has put in place fencing to assist in protecting this artwork whilst they consider what their next steps might be.

“We have also been in contact with other local authorities who have previously had Banksy artworks within their area, to take advice.”

The artwork’s appearance comes in the same week the Government scrapped the Severn toll on crossings between England and Wales.

In a statement given to ITV News, a spokeswoman for Banksy said: “Just how tight is Bxxxx?

“What is believed to be the graffiti artist’s first foray into Wales has coincided with the scrapping of the Severn Bridge toll. Was the £5 charge all that was stopping him? Will we see lots more in the future?”

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