A man who witnessed the removal of a Banksy artwork in Peckham less than an hour after it was confirmed as a genuine installation said onlookers “watched in awe” as a man “bashed it with his hands”.
To get to the art work, the witness, who wanted to be referred to only as Alex, rode a Lime bike which was then used by a man who removed the art from the south London street.
The installation, a traffic stop sign covered with three aircraft resembling military drones, was posted to Banksy’s social media just after 12pm on Friday.
Alex, 26, said: “I opened Instagram and I saw it was posted four minutes before and I was about to go on my lunch break.
“There were about two people there when I got there. We were all sort of admiring it and taking pictures.
“This guy comes up and grabs it, we watched in awe as he bashed it.
“He put the Lime bike under the sign, stood on the Lime bike and tried to hit the sign, he hit it with his hands and it wasn’t going anywhere.
“He fell off the Lime bike at one point. He disappeared and went away and about two minutes later he reappeared with bolt cutters and just sort of tried and tried and tried while everyone was watching.
“We said, ‘what are you doing?’ but no one really knew what to do, we sort of just watched it happen.
“We were all a bit bemused; there was some honking of car horns.
“He ripped it off and ran across the road and ran away.
“He said nothing. He didn’t seem to care that much about the art itself.
“There was someone else there but I don’t know if they were together.
“I went there thinking that people want that, I wanted to see it before something happened to it.”
Another witness told the PA news agency that onlookers had shouted at the man while he tried to take the art piece down with the help of another.
They said: “As soon as it (the art piece) went up online a few people cycled down to it to see it straight away and just sort of hung around.
“When he started trying to knock it off, a few people were shouting for him to stop but he just carried on and that’s when he realised he couldn’t get it off with just his hands and had to get some bolt cutters.”
Another witness, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I was surprised to see it, I took a picture of the sign, but I didn’t want to take a picture of the guy.
“It is strange, these pieces of art are nice, it would be nice if it had stayed there for a while.”
The art installation had been posted to Banksy’s Instagram page shortly after midday.
About half an hour afterwards, two men were seen taking down the sign at the intersection of Southampton Way and Commercial Way.
Photos from the scene show a man wearing a red and black jacket using a Lime bike to prop himself up, with one foot placed on the saddle and the other on the handle bars, while the bike is held steady by another man.
A further image shows the man in red and black running in front of a white van with the stop sign after successfully managing to remove it.
It is understood that Banksy is not behind the removal and this is not the first time the artists’ work has been removed shortly after its installation.
A mural weighing 3.8 tonnes called Valentine’s Day Mascara appeared on the side of a house in Margate, Kent, on Valentine’s Day this year and was dismantled some hours later after Banksy had shared a series of photos of it online.
The mural depicted a 1950s’ housewife with a swollen eye and missing tooth, wearing an apron and yellow washing-up gloves, and throwing a man into a chest freezer.
At the time, the resident of the property where the painting was created, who asked not to be named, told the PA news agency the freezer and other items including a broken garden chair used for the artwork had been removed “very quickly” and put into a truck.
In September, the mural was placed in the foyer of The Art of Banksy exhibition in Regent Street, central London, where it can be viewed for free.
The exhibition features pieces including Girl With Balloon, Flower Thrower and Rude Copper and also focuses on Banksy’s Dismaland, The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem and recent works acknowledging the ongoing war in Ukraine.
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