British graffiti artist joins elite in record sale

LONDON Wed Feb 7, 2007 1:29pm EST

1 of 2. Gallery technicians Jonny Greaves (L) and Ed Jankins adjust Banksy's artwork 'Bombing Middle England' (1975) at Sotheby's auction house at Olympia in London February 2, 2007. The canvas of three old ladies bowling bombs sparked a bidding frenzy at a Sotheby's auction on Wednesday, fetching a record 102,000 pounds ($201,100).

Credit: Reuters / Luke MacGregor

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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Cult British graffiti artist Banksy secured his place among the country's art elite on Wednesday when one of his works fetched a record 102,000 pounds ($201,100) at a Sotheby's auction.

"Bombing Middle England", a canvas of three old ladies bowling bombs, sparked a bidding frenzy at the sale in west London, pushing the price way past its top estimate of 50,000 pounds ($98,560).

"We are absolutely delighted. It's a sensational result," said Elli Varnavides, head of the impressionist, modern and contemporary art department at the auctioneer's Olympia branch.

"It's a record for any Banksy sold at international auction. There was a spectacular atmosphere in the sale room -- lots of hands flying and bidding panels waved," she told Reuters.

In a stark contrast to his roots, spray-painting street walls and curbs, Banksy has seven of his works up for sale at Sotheby's on Wednesday and Thursday alongside pieces by other names such as Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol.

The artist -- whose provocative stencils and desire to remain anonymous have attracted a cult following that only recently exploded into the mainstream -- smashed his own auction record of 62,400 pounds, set last October.

Two of his other pieces, "Balloon Girl" and "Bomb Hugger", sold for 37,200 pounds and 31,200 pounds respectively -- also well above their estimate prices. The identity of the bidders was not immediately available.

SOARING VALUE

Long-time fans -- many of whom bought his political and typically humorous art for just hundreds and even tens of pounds three or four years ago -- were amazed at the rising prices.

"I am quite bemused," said Andy Beales, a 45-year-old fan from Banksy's home city of Bristol in southwest England, speaking on the sidelines of the auction.

"Now I can't afford to buy him anymore," said Beales who paid 425 pounds for a copy of "Balloon Girl" a few years back.

Varnavides predicted the artist and prankster was set for even greater success. "We are going to be seeing a lot more of him at increasingly valuable estimates," she said.

Three more works by Banksy are due to go under the hammer on Thursday. A fourth picture, "Precision Bombing", up for sale on Wednesday ,failed to find a buyer.

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