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How Rene Gagnon jabs Banksy at his own game: The Story Behind “Happy Drones”

Rene Gagnon's response to Banksy

Rene Gagnon’s response to Banksy

When we announced the release of “Happy Drones” to our +100,000 loving fans on Instagram without the story behind the piece, we saw hate commentaries pour in like never before.  If art is meant to be provocative, then this piece is a masterpiece.

Banksy's Praying BoyThe public reaction to this work actually serves the point the artist intends for. This is not an attack on Banksy; but a response to a pickle with the notorious British street artist that originated 3+ years ago when the internet called out Banksy and Mr. Brainwash for painting strikingly similar works to that of a lesser known street artist from Massachusetts, called Rene Gagnon.

Rene Gagnon is a graffiti and street artist that has been tagging, spray-painting and wheat-pasting the streets in the southern industrial cities of Massachusetts since the 1980s. His work evolved very early on, mixing graffiti and then avant-garde techniques with his use of stencils, layer accumulations and graffiti abstractions. Gagnon has a very strong local reputation but he still remains much lesser known to the general public. He is not unknown, however, to some more famous artists such as Banksy and Mr. Brainwash. By 2010, many street art blogs and forums such as NuArt began pointing out the strange resemblances between what Banksy and MBW were making with earlier works of Rene Gagnon. Banksy noticed the talks spreading online and contacted Rene Gagnon directly to apologize about this incident.

Gagnon let it go, but a year later he noticed that his piece kept on being used over and over by Banksy: for a large edition print release, on street walls and in art shows… It became one of Banksy’s most popular images: Praying Boy. (It even appeared in Banksy’s show last October in New York; in the Central Park stand).
Reactions on the @streetartanarchy Instagram

Reactions on the @streetartanarchy Instagram

This “idea theft” of which he saw none of the glory nor profit, was not the first Gagnon was a victim of. Other works of his became famous through other artists: his tomato soup spray cans and works on pop and cultural figures had all been almost exactly copied alike in the Mr. Brainwash 2008 show in Los Angeles.
Rene Gagnon in his studio

Rene Gagnon in his studio

When we first met with Rene Gagnon six month ago in his studio, we discovered the richness of his palette and artistic universe. Dozens of magnificent artworks that had been stacked for years were pulled out to show us his evolution as an artist along with his artistic process explorations. Over the years, he has become a master craftsman of working every elements of his studio by himself, from stretching canvases, mixing colors, screen printing, stencil cutting etc… To our surprise, in twenty plus years, he told us, we were the first gallery to ever set foot in his studio.

With “Happy Drones”, Rene Gagnon playfully reverses his situation as an inspiration to a “thief”, only making it better in craft and more contemporary in the subject process. This piece responds back at Banksy’s “theft”, not in public outcries or legal threats, but in the old school fashion of the 1910s Parisian artists’ salons and competitions, or nowadays called “art battles”.

This piece is an artistic success, not only as a provocative artwork but also because Gagnon played Banksy at his own game: borrowing from his work to make a better artwork with a more contemporary composition – and adding a new dimension to the story behind the work.

6 Comments

  • Brian Matheson says:

    i had the pleasure of meeting him on a couple of occasions. I took some art class with his younger brother ( one of many rene gagnons in that family haha). He’s def an inspiration. The first time i met him, it was 2001,i was 17 and just starting to step into my own skin as an artist. It was actually one of the first time i had seen an artist using spray paint on canvas in person and I’ll admit i began doing the same after that.

  • Street Art says:

    RENE GAGON IS NOTHING BUT A PLAGERIST. HIS WORK IS UNINSPIRING, UNORIGINAL AND 2ND RATE AT BEST.

    • Michelle says:

      Speak for yourself! Your plagiarist comment belongs with Brainwash. Rene Gagnon is an amazing and original artist….end of story.

    • tHAt says:

      Do your research d-bag. Maybe take some art history classes before you waste everyone’s time with bs comments.

      @streetartanarchy: I am so glad you did this write up. Keep up the good job.

  • Kristoffer Sjaastad says:

    Check out the original work from Per Kleiva – Amerikanske Sommerfugler (American Butterflies)

  • Gerald Landy says:

    Get em, Rene!!! ENOUGH OF THESE SO CALLED ‘STREET ARTIST’, who are really just commercial vultures making a bad name for ‘ORIGINAL STREET ART!!’

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