Memo to Banksy

Tom Nickel
7 min readJul 29, 2022


RE: Your Work and VR

Gorilla in the Pink Mask, image source: BBC

The Gorilla in the Pink Mask is gone. The piece you created there in 2001, on the corner of the old social center, is painted over.

People can still see the image in pics, but they can’t see it where you made it, tucked into the corner looking at a church. No one would know anything about where it was unless they walked by and noticed it and thought about it sometime between 2001 and 2011, when it was painted over.

But now people can see Gorilla on-location again because, amazingly, Google Street View recorded it in 2008, with Big Brother and Bounty Hunter Dog already added to the outside wall by other artists.

I used a hi-res JPG, downloaded from Google Street View, to recreate that place at a well-attended event in AltspaceVR. People felt right there, on Fishponds Road in Bristol — in 2008.

Maybe not that far from where you grew up, right?

I also put a gigantic version of the image next to it on the building, so people could see it in place and in detail at the same time. Both views help us appreciate the piece.

There was one more local touch, The Bristol Sound. I know that you didn’t invent the sound or the look of Bristol street art. You were born into a unique creative scene that you took in and made your own.

Tricky released, Aftermath ten years before you made Gorilla in the Pink Mask happen, but the song felt like good background as people’s view wandered between image and place.

Then we all talked about it.

Because the large detailed image was there, people were drawn by the gorilla’s facial expression and read stories into it. Other people commented on the location, how the Gorilla is almost hiding in a corner looking out at organized religion.

This discussion is why I developed and hosted the event, Banksy, with the Educators in VR organization.

When I look at your work myself, I see what I see. When I look at it with a group of 30–40 people who don’t even know each other, and we have an open discussion — I see a lot more.

It was an educational event because it showed historical reconstruction in action and focused on using your work for people to learn together.

Police Sniper, image source:

The power of seeing your work on-location is even more apparent in Police Sniper.

It’s easy to find the picture online or even on t-shirts, but the t-shirt wearer or anyone viewing your pic anywhere else but on Park Row in the center of Bristol wouldn’t have that sense of a sniper’s rifle pointed at ordinary people on the sidewalk.

Police Sniper was our second stop in the event, with your original set perfectly on the second story wall (sadly, gone now) and a very large pic that I put off to the side nearby. Massive Attack provided the sound, Safe From Harm, irresistible.

I think the Streetview version created a mood that drew us in and the detailed image allowed people to play around more with the boy and the bag. Off the street, it’s not so ominous. In fact, it’s funny.

Some people saw the boy about to pop the bag and startle the sniper and then who knows what. But that was not a majority view. Others saw it as a snack he was bringing for the policeman. One guy was sure it was a bag of weed.

A man with firearms experience pointed out the sniper is holding the rifle all wrong.

Someone else went in a direction I hadn’t imagined . I wonder if you did — she saw the adult sniper with the gun and the younger boy with the bag as the same person, younger and older versions of each other.

Aachoo Lady, image source: NME, Banksy/Instagram

Our third on-location visit was your recent Aachoo Lady on Vale Street.

Just looking at the picture, you wouldn’t feel how steep that street is and how the Aachoo Lady is just a little bit up from the bottom with possibly a long way to go. And she’ll be doing it without her walking stick or her purse. No support. No Money.

And no dentures. It takes the large image to clearly see what she has violently expelled. Your work went up in December, 2020 and it was easy to relate to as a story, frozen in one moment, about how it is for the elderly in this pandemic.

We listened to more Massive Attack, a song called, Angel.

Much of our discussion was about the authorities removing it so quickly, March, 2021. Unlike the other pieces, you chose a residential neighborhood for the Aachoo Lady. The neighbors wanted it to stay. The authorities didn’t.

image source: Tilly Mint, Flickr

The Gorilla with the Pink Mask is about to come out as an NFT.

I don’t love NFTs and I don’t hate them. When they serve as a token of membership, even belonging, I think NFTs can play a nice role in helping sustain community. Also, if you love an artist’s work, some NFTs can be a way to have art in your life in some format.

Maybe I’m wrong, but what I’m seeing in the up-coming Gorilla NFT is something different, something pretty much entirely based on speculation and the chance of a dollar-denominated gain.

As I’m sure you know, Gorilla is being quantized. Each NFT will be one of the teeny pieces to which the whole is being reduced. It’s hard for me to see how ownership of a teeny piece brings beauty into the buyer’s life. Maybe it does create some sense of belonging that I’m not aware of.

My guess is it’s about the money.

I’ve read that lots of your pieces are set to become NFTs in one way or another. Probably they will be framed as objects of speculation, with a massive upside.

I don’t care.

It doesn’t interest me, but I’m also not writing you this Memo to end up on a critical judgment about anyone, including you, making money off of you.

I’m in favor of money.

I’m also in favor of people thinking and talking with other people about difficult and important questions — like the ones you always raise. That’s why I described one way we can even use work of yours that no longer exists IRL to get people doing just those things — thinking and talking, with strangers even.

The reason I am writing this Memo is to ask for your help in developing more street art worlds and events in VR and AR and the full spectrum of spatial media technologies.

I conducted the initial event with the help of Educators in VR, the largest and most organized community that I am aware of in the Metaverse. It takes a group like this to grow Street Art in VR from an event to a program, with persistent worlds drawing in young people all over the world.

One cool way you can help grow the use of your work for humanity, in addition to all the NFT stuff, is to do a Banksy at one of our Educators in VR events. We don’t have the schedule all worked out yet. No hurry.

If you’re not into VR yet, this whole Memo illustrates just one of many compelling reasons to check it out. The whole avatar thing is perfect for you.

If you’d like a worldbuilder-helper to fast track your creative disruption, there are plenty, but you might want to look for a guy called ShuShu in AltspaceVR. Tell him I sent you.

You can take pictures inside VR, so you’ll have something for your Instagram.

If the actual person who is Banksy is reading this Memo to the end — thank you, man, for confronting us with such great material, for providing such grist for the mill, in your work and in your life.

Image by David Denton

I write about VR and other topics I have no standing to write about on Medium and Substack.

I have a black belt in learning and I’ve been meditating for so long you’d think I’d be enlightened but I’m not.



Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos