anksy’s Grin Reaper was released as a screen print edition of 300 signed works and an unknown number of artist’s proofs in various background colours in 2004 and is one of the earliest works of street art attributed to the artist. Although it is now covered up, the image originally appeared in Shoreditch in the early 2000s, when Banksy first started creating murals across London.
In this uncanny image, Banksy depicts a smiley-faced Grim Reaper sitting on a clock. Holding his scythe and wearing a long black cloak, which is rendered with precise, photorealistic detail, the figure dangles his skeletal feet. The yellow smiley face that covering the Grim Reaper’s face is associated with British rave and acid house culture in the 1990s, as well as counterculture in general. The clock reads five minutes to midnight, evoking the idea of doomsday, with the ominous presence of Reaper and death itself waiting for humanity’s last hour to strike. Grin Reaper fuses humour with sinister iconography to convey a message akin to a kind of ‘wake up call’ for humanity. Another, more existential and perhaps nihilistic reading of the piece is simply Banksy’s encouragement to embrace fun and mischief while there is still time, given the inevitability of death.