Port Talbot’s Banksy destined for England leaving just breeze blocks behind

Three years ago something amazing happened in Port Talbot.

Local steelworker Ian Lewis was scrolling his social media when he realised his garage had gone viral.

When he looked outside his Richmond Terrace home, he stood in disbelief.

The ordinary grey building had been transformed into an extraordinary piece of artwork worth a six figure sum.

Despite initial speculation, the next day it was confirmed that Port Talbot had been visited by none other than world famous graffiti artist, Banksy.

It left Mr Lewis unable to sleep for two days.

Steelworker Ian Lewis standing in front of his garage
(Image: Adam Hale/PA Wire)

But now there are fears the artwork could end up in England after a protracted row over its future.

Season’s Greetings, as the painting was officially named, shows a child dressed for snow playing in the falling ash and smoke from a skip fire, which once spanned over two walls of the garage.

Crowds of people travelled from all over to see Banksy’s Port Talbot creation as it hit national and worldwide headlines.

Mr Lewis’ garage had become an overnight tourist sensation.

People flocked from all over to see the artwork
(Image: www.adrianwhitephotography.co.uk)
From one side it shows a child playing in the snow
(Image: Rebecca Barnes)
But the other reveals it is ash from a fire
(Image: Rebecca Barnes)
The remnants of a bonfire was only metres away from the garage at the time
(Image: www.adrianwhitephotography.co.uk)

Interest in the piece led to congestion in the area, prompting Neath Port Talbot Council to post two members of staff at the site to advise the public on where to park.

At the time, a post on the Neath Port Talbot Life Facebook page claimed the fencing was pulled down as a culprit attempted to damage the mural before being chased away by a security guard and police were called.

A a screen was placed in front of the wall along with a fence to protect it from damage.

Next came the news that John Brandler, an Essex-based art dealer, had bought Season’s Greetings for an unspecified six-figure sum, despite not having seen the painting in real life.

John Brandler who bought the mural
(Image: Tom Martin/WALES NEWS SERVICE)
Mr Brandler excited to see the new addition to his collection
(Image: Jonathan Myers)

Discussions between Mr Brandler, the council and various other agencies came about to try and decide what would happen next with Wales’ first and only confirmed Banksy.

It was decided the piece would be temporarily moved from the garage.

In May 2019 it was moved from the Taibach garage wall to Ty’r Orsaf, the site of the former police station on Station Road.

The painstaking process to move the 2.5 tonne wall was carried out by Baglan -based company, Andrew Scott Ltd.

This is how the Banksy looked as the final preparations for the move took place
(Image: Jonathan Myers)

Workers had to “clamp” the wall together, lifting the whole L-shaped walls with a crane into the back of a lorry.

It was placed in the window of Ty’r Orsaf.

But many of those excited to see the world famous Port Talbot painting in its new home were disappointed, saying it was difficult to see the piece because of strong reflections on the windows as well as no signage initially being placed on the building to show what was inside.

Though it was briefly opened to the public to look at Season’s Greetings, it was criticised for only being open for 12 hours on certain weekdays and having a lacklustre background.

On display to the public on selected weekdays
(Image: Adrian White)
(Image: Adrian White)

Nevertheless, it has remained there ever since.

And all that’s left of where it once stood are some miss-matched breeze blocks replacing the original garage walls.

Mr Brandler had plans to eventually create a street art museum in the Banksy’s new home, Ty’r Orsaf, featuring other world-renowned artists.

But in June 2019 he scrapped the idea.

Three years later: The garage where the Banksy artwork Season’s Greetings appeared in Taibach, Port Talbot
(Image: WalesOnline/Gayle Marsh)
The garage is a shadow of its former glory
(Image: WalesOnline/Gayle Marsh)
The garage three years ago
(Image: www.adrianwhitephotography.co.uk)

Trying to seek aid to bring the project to fruition, Mr Brandler claims he was told in a multi-agency meeting that help was not possible because “Banksy isn’t Welsh”.

Now, Mr Brandler has said he has received interest in the displaying the artwork from counties in England, including his home town of Essex.

In a recent interview Mr Brandler told WalesOnline: “I was going bring an international museum to Port Talbot that and they didn’t want it because Banksy isn’t Welsh.

“The people of Port Talbot wanted it, it would have created jobs, bringing 150,000 people into the town and I wanted to include local businesses in the museum. A similar project was done in Margate and for every £1 made by the museum, £6 was spent in the local area.

“The people of the town who we met were kind and genuine and welcoming and wanted it to happen and Pobl (the letting agency) gave us the building and did everything they could to make it happen.

“But trying was putting me into an early grave, it put too much stress on me, I was getting chest pain. When I pulled out, all of that disappeared.

“They don’t want it because [Season’s Greetings] is about pollution.”

Mr Brandler said he thought the situation was “so sad” and was a “missed opportunity” for the town.

There is now a sign on front of the building
(Image: WalesOnline/Gayle Marsh)

“When you think of where it is now, you have to go up close to be able to see the piece because of the reflection, it took nine months of nagging the council to even put a sign on the window saying Banksy’s art is here,” he said.

“That’s not what artists create for. Artists don’t create art for it to be unseen. They put their passion into painting something.

“I’ve had two English councils express interest in it – from Essex and the Midlands – who want to display it as a central piece. They can see the power of having it.

“We have an exhibition in Bury St Edmunds, Essex, at the moment, it’s exactly what we wanted to do in Port Talbot, showcasing Banksy, Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst, The Connor Brothers, Blek Le Rat, Pure Evil, Rachel List and Kaws. The only difference is we wanted the Banksy piece to showcase centrally in Port Talbot.”

You can just about see the child through the windows
(Image: WalesOnline/Gayle Marsh)
But only if you’re close enough
(Image: WalesOnline/Gayle Marsh)

However, the art dealer said there are no concrete plans to move the piece because of coronavirus restrictions and it now remains in Ty’r Orsaf indefinitely.

Mr Brandler said the bottom line is, as things stand, Season’s Greetings “does not” have a future in Wales.

In Summer 2019, Neath Port Talbot Council said it was exploring the option of securing a gallery for the area as part of the Welsh Government’s plans to create a National Contemporary Art Gallery for Wales.

A spokesman for the council said it would include signage and a display area, as well as a cafe or shop if considered feasible.

However, because of coronavirus those plans had been put on hold.

He said: “As you would expect, all available resources are being directed towards Covid and the recovery from Covid. The plans for the proposed gallery facility will be revisited when it is possible to do so.”

WalesOnline – Wales News