Banksy: plight of urban nature

The latest work by the anonymous street artist and activist, Banksy is an intriguing mural that re-foliates a rather sad looking, heavily pruned tree in Islington, London.

Banksy's latest artwork of green painted behind a tree to signify leaves

With bright green paint, sprayed on the wall just behind the cut-back tree and its bare, stumpy limbs the paint suggestively reprints the missing foliage. The work includes a typical Banksy stencil of a person holding a pressure sprayer, dripping in green paint.

As is the case with most of Banksy’s work, this latest piece has unearthed a range of opinions. The new mural seems to evoke an environmental message, presumably highlighting the plight of urban nature. The dramatic dripping of the green paint does seem to evoke sadness and plight. The dramatically pruned tree may depict human assertion of control over nature. The other train of thought is that Banksy is making a jab at corporate greenwashing – the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s processes and products are environmentally sound.

Speaking to the Big Issue (BI), the Haringey Tree Protectors group have said that the piece represents the abuse of urban nature and that it is a stark symbol of the “savage” treatment of city trees. According to the Islington Council, the tree in question is a 40-50 year old cherry tree in declining health, with decay and fungi damage and has undergone the pruning in an attempt to manage the health of the tree. Quoted in the BI article, the group’s founder Giovanna Iozzi said: “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.”

The RHS define pollarding as a method of pruning that keeps trees and shrubs smaller than they would naturally grow. Normally started once a tree or shrub reaches a certain height, annual pollarding restricts the plant to that desired height. Cherry trees can be pollarded, but most often pollarding tends to be limited to more vigorous large-growing trees such as willow, plane, lime, ash and catalpa trees. According to Mr Stephen of Thor’s Trees who did the work, the tree underwent the treatment it in an attempt to increase its lifespan, restrict growth and to stop weak branches from falling off.

Banksy, who has never confirmed his full identity, began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol, England, and has become one of the world’s best-known artists. His works are highly sought after and often stolen. Last year, Banksy’s work of the three grey drones across a traffic sign in south London was stolen in broad daylight, less than an hour after the work was confirmed to be genuine. That fate looks unlikely for this latest piece, not only on account of its scale which stretches across several floors of a large building, but also because the tree is integral to the piece. Beware anyone bearing spades…

Be it about pollarding, greenwashing or human assertion on nature, thanks to Banksy’s latest work, people are talking about this tree, trees in general and in doing so the artist has highlighted the importance of their presence in an urban environment – to the residents of Islington and beyond.