Banksy Season’s Greetings mural leaves Port Talbot on 'sad day for street art'

Port Talbot residents have bid farewell to a mural by artist Banksy, amid fears it might never return to Wales.

'Season's Greetings', which depicts a message about the impact of pollution on communities, appeared on the outside of a steelworker's private garage in the community of Taibach on December 19 2018.

The mock Christmas scene, created using stencils and spray paint, includes a dumpster fire next to a child with a sledge who is trying to catch falling 'snow' on their tongue.

The 'snow' in the mural is black dust - a by-product of steel production. The dust fell heavily from the town's steelworks in the summer of 2018.

Bristol street artist Banksy, whose identity remains a mystery, later confirmed he was behind the piece with a video on his Instagram account - leading to much excitement in the Welsh town.

The mural appeared on the outside of a Port Talbot steelworker's private garage in December 2018. Credit: PA Images

Art dealer John Brandler then bought the artwork from garage owner Ian Lewis for an undisclosed six-figure sum, agreeing to keep it in Wales.

It was put on display in an empty shop unit in Port Talbot, where it remained for four years, but has now been removed and transported across the border to England.

The artwork was removed today (8 February) in one piece after being encased in a special protective shell made by design-and-build company the Egg Group.

It will be transported to a temporary storage facility over the border before being loaned to a cultural institution, which will put it on display to the public while its long-term future is secured.

Workers use a crane to lift a crate containing the artwork as it leaves Port Talbot. Credit: PA Images

There has been criticism of the decision to move the artwork to England, including from Port Talbot actor Michael Sheen, with many seeing it as a "missed opportunity" for the town.

However, the artwork's owner, John Brandler, has said the controversial move is down to Neath Port Talbot Council, who he claims sent him a letter last year asking him to "take it away".

'It's sad for Banksy fans and it's sad for street art': Residents say goodbye to the mural

The local authority said it had been in discussions about keeping the piece in the town but Mr Brandler had demanded a yearly six-figure sum for the loan of the mural.

A council spokesperson said: "The council was informed it would have to meet the costs of its removal and installation into a new venue, to continue to cover the insurance and to pay a fee in the region of £100,000 per year for the loan of the work."

The cost of relocation of the artwork was estimated to be around £50,000, the council said.

"The future of the artwork is now in the hands of its owner, Mr Brandler," it added.

John Brandler, the owner of Season's Greetings by street artist Banksy. Credit: PA Images

Mr Brandler has claimed "fanatics" and "vandals" have tried to destroy the piece and moving it out of Wales would ensure it would be preserved for future generations.

But the art dealer, who owns Brandler Galleries in Essex, said his original intention was to set up a street art museum in the town to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area.

Talking to PA news agency, Mr Brandler said: "I wanted it to stay in the town, and when I bought it that was one of the conditions of me buying it.

"I wasn't the biggest offer the owner had but I came up with the idea of lending it to the town and I said it should stay here for at least three years.

"And then at the end of last year, I got a letter from the council saying 'right, your three years are up now take it away'. I was quite happy to leave it here.

"What a missed opportunity for the town, 150,000 people coming here need tea, coffee, beers, sandwiches, everything.

"Everyone I spoke to in the town wanted it to happen, shop keepers, taxi drivers, but the authorities didn't want it to happen."

Local artist 'K', who publishes work under the name Scruffy Trainers, said the piece had been a symbol of "hope" for the town and that its removal had "raised emotions".

There was huge excitement in Port Talbot when the artwork was confirmed as a genuine Banksy piece. Credit: PA Images

She said: "This type of thing doesn't happen very often in Port Talbot so it's pretty sad to see it go. I think it gave people hope. So I think, naturally, it going has raised emotions.

"It's the only Banksy in Wales, but I think it'll come back. And I think it will travel and tour the country, and take the story of Port Talbot with it, and I think that is a positive."

The Banksy Preservation Society now aims to raise enough funds through selling exclusive Banksy Non-fungible token (NFT) Art drops to buy Season's Greetings from Mr Brandler in order to ensure it will be on display to the public.

If the scheme is successful, those who buy the NFTs will be able to have a say over where the original is exhibited.

'Season's Greetings' depicts a message about the impact of pollution on communities. Credit: PA Images

Lucy Cowley, from the organisation, said: "The reason the society was founded was to bring Banksy work from a private collection back into the public.

"Those who purchase an NFTs will get membership to the society which will allow them a vote as to where it goes.

"And, who knows? If the public voted that they wanted it back in Wales, it would come back to Wales."