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Banksy Branches Out Into North London With Cherry Tree Mural

Banksy Branches Out Into North London With Cherry Tree Mural

The enigmatic street artist Banksy has hit the headlines again with his latest artwork, a tree mural in Finsbury Park, north London. When the anonymous mural appeared on Sunday morning, 17 March, Banksy’s name was immediately in the frame. The spray-painted green foliage with a stencilled figure of a woman beside it had all the classic hallmarks.

Now, the street artist has confirmed the work is his by posting an image on his website. Banksy’s work often makes critiques of contemporary political and social issues, and typically appears overnight on walls, the side of buildings, or bridges. 

He frequently uses stencilling and spray painting so that his artworks can be installed at speed, in order to protect his identity. The technique was also originally developed as a method of evading the authorities, because his work can be considered as an act of graffiti.

 It is believed that Banksy emerged from the Bristol underground scene during the 1990s. He is now internationally famous, despite remaining largely anonymous, although there is growing speculation about his identity.  It is thought that he gives a substantial portion of his profits away to charitable causes and NGOs. 

Despite his carefully cultivated anti-establishment ethos, Banksy’s work fetches millions of pounds at auction, and he has a paradoxical talent for self-publicity, often appearing in the mainstream media and generating debate about artistic statements and political activism.

The latest piece of artwork that has appeared on the side of a building in a north London street is no exception to this ethos. The whitewashed wall is foregrounded by a severely pruned cherry tree that has bare saw-off branches, so that the daubed green foliage behind echos what was once there, and what might have been.

Foregrounded beside the tree is a stencilled figure of a woman holding a pressure washer. The mural soon drew crowds to the Hornsey Road location, including the Islington North constituency’s MP and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

BBC News reports that Corbyn told the PA news agency he was “delighted” to see the artwork, commenting: “Banksy’s come to Finsbury Park with a bit of greenery in a place that needs a bit more greenery. We’re the most densely populated constituency in the country and I’m just delighted.” 

The owner of the building where the artwork is painted told the BBC that it is currently vacant and on the rental market. 

Businessman Alex Georgiou told the news organisation: “The question is, what do I do with it now? What am I meant to do with it now? I definitely plan on keeping it on there and letting people enjoy it, everyone’s loving it which is great, I just can’t really believe it, still, to be honest.” 

 The Guardian reports that James Peak, who created the BBC Radio 4 series The Banksy Story, said that he thought the artwork had a clear environmental message about the way that humans misuse the natural world. 

He also noted a connection with the provision of social housing in urban areas, as the tree stands in the gardens of some social housing. Peak observed to the publication that the shade of green used to represent the foliage was “exactly the same sort of virulent shade of green that Islington use for its social housing signs”.

He added: “So, when you step back, it looks like the tree has burst into life, but in a noticeably fake and synthetic way. And it’s pretty subtle for a massive tree, I’d say. It’s spring now, and this tree should be bursting forth with leaves, but Banksy must have cycled past and thought how miserable it looks.”

Lidia Guerra, a  Hornsey Road resident, told the newspaper: “The way it’s been done, with the paint spraying down, reminds me of a weeping willow, so there’s perhaps a message about the struggle of nature with the dead tree in front. It’s just great – when we read about it last night, we knew we had to come and see it as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Big Issue had another angle on the artwork, which is very close to the publication’s office buildings in Finsbury Park. Giovanna Iozzi of the Haringey Tree Protectors group said that the artwork symbolised the ‘savage’ treatment of city trees.

Iozzi commented: “This is very harsh pollarding. A cherry tree should not be treated like this… it’s a horror show. Savage pruning is basically chopping at a tree’s lifeblood, this tree should be blossoming and bursting into fruit at this year.”

She added: “Pollarding can be poorly, savagely done. You’re cutting off all of the tree’s biodiversity potential. If it was in flower, it would support insects and birds this time of year.”

“I think he’s trying to highlight the issue – this is a microcosmic example of what we’re doing to nature and trees on a macro global level. I think he’s just making a really brilliant statement about how urban trees are really being abused. The image says it all, really.”

However, Islington Council, who are responsible for managing the tree, defended their treatment of the cherry tree, which is thought to be 40 or 50 years old and suffering from fungal decay. The branches were overhanging the street, posing a risk that they might break off and injure a passerby. 

By pollarding, a method of removing the upper branches, a tree can be made stronger and more stable. Although about 10,000 trees are felled in London every year, the city is estimated to have about 8.4 million trees, a much higher than average number for a major urban centre.

Islington North Council claim that they have planted almost 900 trees last year, and recognise the important role they play in supporting the health of the environment.