A former Glasgow based newspaper political cartoonist has called out famed graffiti artist and social commentator Banksy for possibly ‘pinching’ her illustration work to use as the basis for some of his most well known stencils and murals.
Canadian born Cinders McLeod lived in Glasgow for four years from 1997 until 2001 and worked for The Glasgow Herald newspaper, where her illustrations featured alongside two regular articles entitled ‘Traveller’s Checks’ and ‘Word Of The Week’.
The latter was written by famed etymologist Betty Kikpatrick – who, alongside McLeod, were considered among the only political two woman duo (words and images) in UK newspapers at the time.
She believes that the world renowned graffiti artist was directly inspired by illustrations she drew for the newspaper (and perhaps the articles too) for his own stencil work, many of which feature in his popular Wall And Piece book he published back in 2005 – a book that helped him secure his status as the world’s favourite graffiti artist.
And a thorough analysis of the politically themed illustrations and articles leaves little doubt Banksy did indeed take a lot of inspiration for his own marriage of political commentary and humorous imagery directly – or indirectly – from them.
In much the same way, perhaps, as he did with his ‘rats’ stencils with the work of Blek Le Rat, or as seems the case concerning the work by West Midlands’ based artist Chris ‘Okse’ Oxbury, whose political commentary on Brexit from June 2016 (see below) is remarkably similar to Banky’s Dover mural from May the following year.
Concerning the work of illustrator Cinders McLeod, Banky’s iconic ‘Deep Sea Lovers’ work, which featured as the album artwork for Britpop act Blur’s 2003 release Think Tank, seems to be directly taken from one of McLeod’s illustrations, published alongside a ‘Traveller’s Checks’ travel piece in The Glasgow Herald on March 15, 1997.
The illustration, of two people in a romantic embrace underwater wearing diving helmets, was drawn by McLeod as a dual reference two of the travel stories in the article about a scuba-diving holiday and a wedding in Greece.
Secondly, Banksy’s ‘Bomb Middle England’ stencil – featuring three grans with bombs instead of bowling balls – bears a remarkable resemblance to an illustration Mcleod drew for the newspaper in an article on the etymology of the word ‘turf’ back in April 14, 1999, entitled’ Anarchic Granny’, which depicted an old lady bowling with a bomb instead of a bowling ball.
Interestingly here, the accompanying article details the use of the term ‘turf war’ and how it went from being an expression that few had heard of to becoming one which enjoyed a high profile in all the newspapers of the land. ‘Turf War’ was the name Banksy chose for his first major exhibition in 2003 at an East London warehouse.
A third illustration by McLeod, ‘Cupid’s Bomb’ – featuring Cupid hugging a bomb decorated with love hearts, appeared in The Herald on June 10, 2000, in a column about the etymology of the word ‘marriage’. This too also bears a remarkable similarity to Banksy’s ‘Bomb Hugger’ (or ‘Bomb Love’) stencil which features a girl with a ponytail hugging a bomb – one which first appeared as a mural in Brighton in 2003.
McLeod also believes that further illustrations (and indeed their accompanying articles within The Herald newspaper) may have inspired subsequent works by Banksy in a more indirect fashion.
Her ‘Hooded Angels’ piece, published in the newspaper on December 5, 1998 in a column about the etymology of the word ‘pester’, is similar to Banksy’s ‘Every Picture Tells A Lie’ mural he created in Berlin in 2003 as part of the Backjumps exhibition in depicting winged persons with smiley faces.
The accompanying article details the origins of the term pester and its relationship to pest and attachment to a person who is considered troublesome and/or destructive. Interestingly, in 2009, Banksy set up a handling service who act on his behalf to answer enquiries about the authenticity of his works under the name ‘Pest Control’ – the ‘pest’ in this case perhaps being the enquirer.
While the Bristol artist’s 2004 work ‘Di Faced Tenners’ – where he replaced the Queen’s head with Diana’s, harks back to McLeod’s illustration featured in The Herald on October 24, 1998 in a column on the etymology of the word ‘recession’, depicting a Scottish five pound note detailing Glasgow’s iconic comedy character Rab C Nesbitt.
Finally we have McLeod’s ‘Evolution Of A Shopper’ illustration, depicting the evolution of primates into ‘yuppies’ and lifestylists’ (clutching money and a mobile phone) which accompanied an article about the etymology of the word ‘lifestyle’ in the Herald on October 11, 1997. One which resembles Banksy’s ‘Caveman’ stencil – of a caveman figure holding a McDonalds tray of food and a bone – which appeared in 2008 in Los Angeles.
And within the article on ‘lifestyle’, mention is made of Princess Diana, who featured in Banksy’s ‘Di Faced Tenners’ work. The mention relates to a letter to the editor, which speaks of Diana’s ‘attempts to break out of her inherited cocoon of unnecessary private wealth’ and how her successes in inspiring the lives of the ‘sick, poor and disabled’ shouldn’t ‘distract from the obscene inequalities and injustices which her “iconic” lifestyle represented. Perhaps a text which (also) inspired Banksy on an artistic level?
The article also finishes with the line, “Rest assured, lifestyle is all around you and will probably soon be ruling the world”, which (albeit very thinly) recalls Banksy’s “Laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge” stencil featuring a chimpanzee wearing a sandwich board.
While more concretely, the tone of the article itself marries up alongside Banksy’s ‘Out Of Stock’ graffiti which appeared in London overnight in December 2011.
We also find contained within a ‘Word of the Week’ article from 8 May, 1999, an illustration of a dove in flight wearing a Nato bomb, in reference to the article’s suggestion, against a theme of the word ‘bomb’, that “peace has taken a back seat…and has been replaced by war and violence” as the millennium approached.
The image of a dove clutching an olive branch in its beak is nothing new – it dates back to early Christian art, but that said dove is carrying a bomb on its body is an altogether more potent form of symbolism.
An idea similar to that expressed by Banksy’s ”Armoured Dove’ stencil – which appeared on a wall in Palestine in 2007 – depicting a peace dove in flight (clutching an olive branch in its beak) wearing a bullet proof vest, while a target is trained on it.
McLeod, who returned to her native Toronto in 2001, told Rough Smooth: “The first two are obvious to me. The rest could be argued. For example, it’s nothing new to put another head on another banknote.
“But people who know my work say my style is written all over my cartoons and if Banksy was a regular Herald reader he could have seen, and been inspired by, almost a decade of my regular work,” she said.
There’s more. Another ‘Traveller’s Cheques’ article from Saturday, November 11, 1995, features an illustration by McLeod of Mona Lisa, freed from her frame, enjoying a hot beverage in what looks like a Parisian brasserie.
An image which could well have been the source of inspiration for Banksy’s Mona Lisa mural he left on the wall of The Arches in Glasgow when he held an exhibition there back in 2001, one which depicts Mona Lisa, half out her frame, alongside the words “Every Time I Hear The World Culture I Release The Safety On My 9MM”.
A search of McLeod’s illustrations for The Herald also uncovers a soup can, in a ‘Word Of The Week’ article from December 20, 1997 on the etymology of the word ‘carol’. The illustration depicts dancers leaping out a can of ‘Carols Condensed Soup’, an obvious take on the famous Campbell’s Condensed Soup logo.
The word ‘soup’ was subject to a ‘Word Of The Week’ article by Betty Kirkpatrick, with an alternative illustration by McLeod of a young orphan holding up an empty bowl (below).
Interesting here, rather than the illustrations, are Kirkpatrick’s words, which read how soup “may become a great leveller”, with “both rich and poor may be served soup in the streets – the rich at the soup bar and the poor at the more traditional soup kitchen.”
This dichotomy – and the earlier illustration of the can – between the ‘haves’ and have nots’ might have served as the inspiration behind Banksy’s ‘Discount Soup’ can, featuring a can of Cream-Of-Tomato soup bearing the Tesco label, which he hung in New York’s MOMA in a stunt back in 2005.
The reason McLeod found out about the link between her work and his was thanks to the major (unofficial) exhibition of his work in Toronto, which she attended with her daughter recently. Prior to that, she knew of him, but not a lot about his work.
“Banksy didn’t get famous until after I left Britain but, being a political cartoonist, I was aware of him. I should have seen the Blur album cover but I didn’t, I long gave up being current in the arts and music scene after my two children were born in 1993 and 1996, when my focus switched to providing for them.
“I bought tickets to the Toronto Banksy exhibition to go with my daughter. And the night before I saw an exhibition snippet on TV and thought – oh – that looks like my ‘Anarchic Granny’. And after I did some research and saw the Blur CD cover I went from being flattered that we thought alike to feeling un-credited,” she affirmed.
The link between Banksy’s work and that of Cinders Mcleod entertains the possibility that Banksy himself lived for a time in Glasgow or at least visited often – for example, as mentioned he hosted one of his first ever exhibitions at The Arches back in 2001.
The artist also left many stencils in the city, such as one still visible outside the Midland Street entrance to the venue, depicting an armed chimpanzee.
“I would guess Banksy lived in Glasgow for a while between 1997 and 2001 or visited regularly, or had a Scottish lover of went to a Scottish university, “ McLeod confirmed.
“My Deep Sea Lovers illustration has never been published online as far as I know, so if Banksy was to have seen my work in question, he would have seen it in newsprint.”
And McLeod feels that the lack of acknowledgement from Banksy as to finding his own artistic inspiration from her work is disrespectful to women cartoonists, adding to the already gross inequity of pay and recognition. Had she received it, she feels her future as a political cartoonist may have been different.
“The Blur album cover was a commercial enterprise and my drawing was its inspiration. I’m all for sharing ideas, but it’s one thing to steal from dead, wealthy, male artists, and another to steal from living and struggling, political women and mother artists, and not give them credit. I could have done with it back in Glasgow, then maybe I wouldn’t have had to leave the city or the work I loved,” McLeod finished.
Who knows, with that in mind, there may be other illustrations to be found in old Glasgow newspapers which have served to influence the murals and stencils we have all come to know today as bring the work of the elusive artist.
One who, on the basis of the evidence, isn’t the (artistic) messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy.