Almost a year after Banksy created his Spy Booth on the wall of a house in the British town of Cheltenham, the artwork continues to draw attention, for yet another reason. While it’s true that the words “Banksy” and “controversy” go hand in hand almost inseparably, this particular mural involved many people, which led to Banksy’s name appearing in newspapers even more than usual. Now, the owner of the building which “houses” the work spoke out, and it wasn’t to say he was the lucky target for the famous artist. But, before we get to that, let’s go back in time and see how things got to where they are now.
In April 2014, a new mural appeared surrounding a telephone box in Cheltenham, fairly close to GCHQ, the UK’s surveillance agency. Ironically, it depicted three trench coat-clad detectives eavesdropping by holding listening devices against the telephone box. The work conveniently appeared following the news of the NSA scandal involving information gathering leaked by Edward Snowden. It looked like something Banksy would do - and it was. Beginning of June of last year, the artist confirmed the work was his, which shed a whole new light on the piece.
Soon after, it was announced that the mural would be removed, which stirred commotion within Cheltenham community. The artwork was supposed to be removed and sold by a London art gallery in July, and after an unsuccessful campaign to raise £1 million to buy the word and keep it in the city, the day was saved by the law: because Banksy had painted it on a Grade II* listed house, it was protected under UK heritage legislation, which prevents it from being removed without a permission from the city council.
To make it all even more interesting, the Banksy artwork had been vandalized in August, when silver spray paint covered most of it. The experts have been called in to repair the damage by putting anti-graffiti products, and the Booth was successfully restored.
Finally, the home owner David Possee spoke for the first time since the mural appeared. In an interview for the local radio station Swindon 105.5, Possee stated that he himself was trying to save the mural, but the city’s bureaucracy stood in the way. “They didn’t come up with any sort of ideas,” he said. “I suggested Perspex but they said it’s against listing consent. They just said, ‘You can’t put that on there’, and I was threatened with a fine. They offered no alternative.” He was also accused of trying to remove the work without consent, but he claims he was ordered to remove cement render on the wall of his house by the council. “We had the scaffolding up and then we had a huge panic in Cheltenham thinking I was going to cut it out, which was not the case,” he continued. “Suddenly there’s a 28-day stop notice issued on me so I couldn’t repair the render, which they [fined] me for not repairing. I've said right from the beginning I think it deserves to stay in Cheltenham," Possee insists. "If Cheltenham wants it, Cheltenham can have it. But I need to get on with my own life. So buy the building off me."
On the other side of the story, Martin Chandler, team leader of development management for the council told the Independent that Possee had been warned for three months prior to the painting's appearance to fix the wall. “There has been ample opportunity for Mr Possee to discuss a positive way forward for the mural but unfortunately this has not happened. Should Mr Possee wish to discuss the mural further as land owner, we will of course meet with him.”
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