The meaning behind Banksy’s Rats – Explained

Banksy, the anonymous British street artist, is known for his thought-provoking and often politically charged art pieces that have captured the attention of people around the world. One of his most well-known motifs is the rat, which he has used in various forms within his art.

Banksy’s rat first appeared early on in his street work as a symbol of the urban decay that was prevalent in many cities at the time. The rat, often depicted in a humorous or ironic way, represented the idea that these creatures were the only ones thriving in the decaying urban landscape.

Banksy in 2005 acknowledged Blek le Rat was one of the first to use the rat as a motif in his work on the streets of Paris.

“Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well. Only twenty years earlier.”

Over the years, Banksy’s rat has taken on various meanings, some of which are more political in nature. For example, in 2004, Banksy painted a rat holding a placard that read “Welcome to Hell,” and “Get out while you can”. The rat has become one of Banksy’s most enduring symbols, and it has been reproduced in various forms around the world. Many murals, artworks and screen prints by Banksy show a testament to the enduring popularity of this iconic image.

Banksy, Stencil art, Paris 2018. Photo credit Banksy

The Banksy ‘Rat’ is one of the most recognisable symbols in street art; even the word ‘rat’ is an anagram of the word ‘art.’ In an interview, Banksy once revealed that he had been painting rats for three years before someone pointed out that the word was an anagram of ‘art.’ He even joked that he had to pretend he had known it all along about the anagram.

“I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said ‘that’s clever it’s an anagram of art’ and I had to pretend I’d known that all along.”

Banksy’s use of the ‘rat’ anagram is particularly clever and fitting. The rat is ubiquitous in urban environments, and Banksy’s use of it in his art highlights the decay and grittiness of urban life. By using the ‘rat’ anagram, Banksy also makes a statement about the nature of art itself. Like the rat, his art can be found in unexpected places and thrive even in the most unlikely environments.

Banksy, Stencil art, Paris 2018. Photo credit Banksy

Banksy’s rat is a poignant symbol that reflects the life of graffiti artists in many ways. Just like the rat, graffiti artists exist without permission and are constantly on the run, fearing the wrath of city councils who hunt them down and eradicate their work. In the eyes of many, they are nothing more than pests, a nuisance to be dealt with rather than respected for their art. As Banksy himself said, rats …

“They exist without permission. They are hated, hunted, and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilizations to their knees.” Banksy

Like rats, Banksy must navigate the city’s underbelly in order to create his art.

Warning Anti-Climb Paint. Photo Credit Banksy

Banksy’s rats often carry spray paint cans or 3D glasses, accompanied by thought-provoking phrases. These phrases are an integral part of Banksy’s art, as they add depth and meaning to the image of the rat. For instance, the phrase “Our time will come” has been used; it is a message of hope, suggesting that the oppressed and marginalised will one day rise and claim their place in society.

Another popular phrase that accompanies Banksy’s rat is “If graffiti changed anything – it would be illegal.” This statement is a commentary on the power of graffiti as a form of expression and resistance. It suggests that graffiti has the potential to bring about change and challenge the status quo, but it is often suppressed and criminalised by those in power.

All Image copyright Banksy

Banksy Rat Artworks

Banksy has brought out a few canvases and some screen prints that feature the Rat, such as Gangsta Rat and Love Rat (2004), shown in the screen prints below.

Love Rat, 2004 Screen-print in colours on paper Editions: 150 signed, 600 unsigned

Banksy – Love Rat (Unsigned) Print

Gangsta Rat, 2004 Screen-print in colours on paper Editions: 150 signed, 350 unsigned. Colourway small edition sizes: Blue, Pink, Yellow, Orange, Grey and Green.

Banksy – Gangsta Rat (unsigned) Print

Placard Rats were released in 2004 as editions of three different screen-prints: Welcome To HellGet Out While You Can, and Because I’m Worthless. The prints are based on George Marshall’s book “Get Out While You Can, Escape the Rat Race.” The red lettering signed edition was /75. Whilst the unsigned edition /175 was a mixture of pink and red lettering. H 50cm x W 35cm

In 2019 at Banksy’s Gross Domestic Product store in Croydon, UK, Banksy released free Rat screenprints to the children visiting the store. The image is taken from the Racing Rat clock at the GDP store. Read more here.


Purchase artwork here

The Clock is an “upcycled” office clock featuring a rat running up one side of the clock’s face as if stuck in a wheel. The rodent represents the endless rat race and competitive world we find ourselves in.

Banksy ‘ Gross Domestic Product’ Photo Credit

Banksy’s Rat is a symbol of urban decay, political commentary, and humour. Through this simple yet powerful image, Banksy has captured the attention of people around the world and created a lasting legacy in the world of street art.

If a Banksy Rat artwork piques your interest and you want to add one to your art collection, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Alternatively, you can browse through a range of Banksy artworks available on our online store.



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