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Banksy artwork on trailer home sells for $848K at Paris auction

Early Banksy artwork, titled Silent Majority, spray painted on the side of a trailer home sold at auction in Paris, Monday for the equivalent of $848,516.

'He got famous and it got valuable,' says consignor of Banksy's early 1998 artwork, Silent Majority

Banksy's 1998 work, Silent Majority, was spray painted on the side of a trailer home during the Glastonbury Festival as part of a graffiti show. The piece, sold by the owner of the trailer, earned $848,516 at auction Monday in Paris, including fees. (Digard Auction)

Auctioneers handling the sale of an unusual early work by the elusive street artist known as Banksy say the spray-painted trailer home has sold in Paris for 620,000 euros, or the equivalent of $848,516, including fees.

Auction house Digard had expected the 1998 work, titled Silent Majority, would fetch anywhere from $547,000 to $820,000.

The work was sold by the trailer's owner, who was living in the home when he was approached by the then-obscure artist at Britain's Glastonbury Music Festival with a request to paint it.

The work depicts a commando raid to install sound gear for a rave. A quote written over the top of the piece says: "It's better not to rely too much on silent majorities ... for silence is a fragile thing... one loud noise and it's gone."

Painted by one of the world's most famous street artists, installed first at a mud-soaked music festival and then beneath an oak tree, the trailer was home first to an itinerant British couple and then their growing family. 

Owner and Banksy were buskers 

In 1998, the truck owner knew Banksy as someone he had once busked with in Bristol, England, and the friend of his sister's boyfriend, and for 200 pounds (about $375), he agreed to turn his trailer into a blank canvas for the Glastonbury Music Festival.

The owner wanted only his first name, Nathan, to be used to avoid more hassle over his strange and valuable possession. His four children, who tagged along to Paris, still treated the work casually, slipping up alongside it on the street where it was displayed for the weekend.

Silent Majority is displayed outside the Digard auction house in Paris. (Jacques Brinon, The Associated Press)
Nathan had already been on the road for most of his life when Banksy approached him about the trailer that was his home at the time. In exchange for a bit of money and some tickets to the music festival, the then-obscure artist had a deal. He and a collaborator known as Inkie set to work, painting during the annual festival best remembered that year for its ankle-deep mud.

"I took some Champagne to sell, so we were drinking and selling Champagne while he was painting," Nathan said. "Other than that, our lives just carried on. Then he got famous and it got valuable."

Bansky himself is as elusive as his work is public. The Internet is full of speculation about his identity, fuelled by Banksy's refusal to play along. His website, displaying a photo of a man in a balaclava, says he "is not represented by an art gallery, is not on Facebook and has never used Twitter."

Nathan said wistfully he hadn't seen him in years: "He's hidden himself away from us lot for some reason."

Inkie is also attending the Paris auction, where he was given a blank canvas and space on the sidewalk in a ritzy Parisian version of the mud-splattered Glastonbury day when he and Banksy painted the trailer. "We painted it live over a day," Inkie said after carefully peeling off a latex glove and offering a handshake. "He came up with the idea."

The trailer made its way to other festivals over the years, with Nathan driving and setting up tents as he had in the years before the spray paint hit his home. And it started to get more attention.

Silent Majority was painted freehand, rather than using stencils as has been Banksy's signature, and is a rare example of the artist's early work, said Mary McCarthy, a British street art expert who helped organize Monday's auction.

Art commissioned by festival

"This piece was a commissioned piece. So it wasn't a piece that Banksy just threw on the side of a truck or threw on a wall," McCarthy said. Nathan doesn't quite describe himself as a commissioner of artwork, but the piece became part of his life over more than a decade, after he met his wife and the two of them started a family.

Then when he finished it, it looked great. You walk out your truck in the morning, open the door and there's 50 people taking photos.- Nathan on letting Banksy paint Silent Majority on his trailer

"If I didn't like it, I would have painted over it," he said. "Then when he finished it, it looked great. You walk out your truck in the morning, open the door and there's 50 people taking photos."

Nathan said he hopes to build a house with the money from the proceeds, putting it on the same piece of land where the trailer stood for so long.

Banksy himself wasn't at the auction, but the organization that he set up to authenticate his work has given Silent Majority a rare certificate that allows its buyer the unusual chance to own the piece legally. On his website, Banksy discussed the sale of street art.

"As a kid I always dreamt of growing up to be a character in Robin Hood," he wrote. "I just never realized I'd end up playing one of the gold coins."
Banksy's Silent Majority is a rare example of the artist's early work (Digard Auction)

With files from CBC News

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