It appeared one winter’s night on a steelworker’s garage, a wondrous piece of street art making points about the innocence of childhood, industrial decay and air pollution.
After a three-year sojourn in the town of Port Talbot, Season’s Greetings, Wales’ first and only Banksy, was craned on to the back of a flatbed lorry and trucked out of the country.
As the work headed towards the M4, there was anger and sadness from many townsfolk, who argued that the piece, destined for a secure storage unit in England, was a gift from Bansky and should not be lost.
“I’ll definitely miss it,” said retired chef Lynne Thomas, one of those who turned out to bid a melancholy farewell to the Banksy – spray paint on half a tonne of concrete blocks. “I get off the bus just here every day and always have a look. It’s a real shame we couldn’t hang on to it.”
Paul Reynolds, who owns the motorbike shop Kickstart, said the town should have done more to save its Banksy. “It was made for Port Talbot,” he said. “It should stay in Port Talbot.”
The owner of the garage, close to the Tata steelworks, sold the Banksy to an Essex art dealer, John Brandler, shortly after it materialised in December 2018. Brandler said it could stay for three years and it was moved for safe-keeping to a former police station in the town.
Last year, Brandler told Neath Port Talbot council that the town could keep the work for longer – but the loan fee would be £100,000 a year. The council declined and on Tuesday a team of removal experts arrived to take it away.
“I wanted it to stay here but spent months banging my head against a brick wall,” said Brandler, who was on site to make sure his multimillion pound piece came to no harm.
Brandler said the £100,000 figure was “a starting point” in a negotiation and he had been keen to work with the council to find a way of keeping it in south Wales and turning it into a more permanent attraction.
“This is not a rich place,” he said. “Nobody stops here out of choice. I wanted to make Port Talbot a go-to place, not a go-through place.”
From behind the fence set up around the removal operation, steelworker Simon Lewis challenged Brandler, claiming that moving the work from Port Talbot made it meaningless. “Isn’t street art meant to be in the street?” he asked. “Not necessarily,” Brandler replied.
The dealer said he was in discussion with an English city about building a museum around the Banksy. But plans are also afoot to sell off unique digital pieces of it to fans, who would then own a tiny virtual piece of Season’s Greetings.
Under pressure on moving day was John Frankiewicz, the executive chairman of the Egg Group, the fit-out and refurbish company in charge of safely transporting the Banksy (nobody could be found to insure the operation). “It’s a fragile thing, we don’t want it in bits, do we?”
It took seven hours to get the work out and strapped on to a lorry. A crowd gathered to wave it goodbye as it headed out past Taibach, the neighbourhood where it appeared.
Bev Simmonds-Owen, a leading light in a trail called ARTwalk that has grown up around the Banksy, was sad but said: “The Bansky being here has shone a light on art and culture in the town. A lot of great stuff has bubbled to the surface.
“The Banksy itself and everything that goes with it has turned into a bit of a circus. In a way it’s good that the circus is leaving town. It’s time to look forward.”