2 Detroit artists claim they painted ‘Banksy’ mural that is up for sale

Two local artists are claiming they – not the world-renowned street artist, Banksy – painted a mural that was taken from the abandoned Packard Plant in May 2010 and is now for sale for as much as $1.2 million.

Matt Naimi
Matt Naimi

Matthew Naimi and Carl Oxley III said they created the 7-foot-by-8-foot piece after we revealed last week that the nonprofit 555 Gallery and Studios was looking to sell it.

“Carl Oxley and I painted that piece,” Naimi, director of operations at Recycle Here!, told me. “We didn’t say anything at the time of the fiasco as to who was the artist, as they seemed dead set on calling it a Banksy.”

Carl Oxley III
Carl Oxley III

Oxley is a former artist-in-residence at 555.

The pair’s claim is far-fetched, experts said, and most likely intended to sabotage the sale of street art that was never intended to carry a price tag. Banksy, an elusive and anonymous British graffiti artist, refuses to authenticate his street work. The arm charged with authenticating Banksy’s art, Pest Control, denounces the sale of his graffiti and refuses to authorize it.

The best indication of an authentic Banksy is its appearance on the artist’s website, where the Packard Plant piece was posted until artists at 555 Gallery and Studios removed the mural, which depicts a forlorn boy with a can of red paint and the words, “I remember when all this was trees.”

Until recently, the authenticity of the Banksy piece was rarely, if ever, questioned.

The market for Banksy pieces is hard to predict, in large part because of questions of authenticity. While Banksy murals have sold for six-figures, others have failed to sell.

Banksy once responded on his site, “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit.”

Volunteers at 555 expected criticism for their decision to sell the piece but did not anticipate the attempted sabotage of the sale. They said the nonprofit gallery barely survives on a slim budget of $70,000, which finances education programs, provides studio space and ultimately invests more in the local community. 

555_1025555 owns the piece after reaching a $2,500 agreement in a lawsuit with the owner of the Packard.

Gallery volunteers said they don’t plan to auction off the piece and would rather find a direct buyer.

555, which operates solely with volunteers inside a largely unused former police precinct on West Vernor, the bills must be paid. Without secure funding, 555 has bounced from cramped homes to warehouses to the Third Police Precinct, where about 14,000 square feet is unused and in need of work.

The studio has more than 30 resident artists, musicians, writers, nonprofit arts administrators and creative entrepreneurs. All of them chip in with repairs and renovations.

“The Banksy isn’t our identity,” volunteer executive director and co-founder Carl W. Goines told me last week.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.