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Is Banksy In San Diego?

Above: A close up of the rumored Banksy stencil on the side of Bull Taco shop in Oceanside. Photo by Ryan Cooper.

Banksy, the mysterious graffiti artist and current Oscar nominee, just may be in San Diego. Or, he may not be.

On Friday morning, Justin Lewis, owner of the Bull Taco shop in Oceanside, arrived at work to find graffiti on the side of his building. The large wall piece features a rat wearing star-shaped sunglasses and flying a kite marked with the traffic sign emblem used at immigrant crossings.

"It's been chaotic," said Lewis by phone Saturday afternoon. Since word spread, hundreds of people have stopped by to snap photos, take video, and pose in front of the possible Banksy mural. "They were here last night, and then more were here this morning at 8:30 when I came to work."

Banksy, who has managed to remain anonymous despite legendary status in the graffiti and art world, often uses rats in his stenciled pieces. He's also used the immigrant crossing emblem before, and political commentary is common in his work.

Lewis sounded a little baffled by the whole thing, though he admitted it's been exciting. "I didn't know anything about him but I'm learning a lot from his fans."

When asked if he would have the stencil drawing removed, he said he's not sure at this point. "I kind of want to take it down but people around here act like it's part of the bible or something...I'm trying to run a restaurant and there's a rat on the side of it." (Strangely, when I went to the home website for Bull Taco, a photograph of the stencil mural is prominently featured).

Not everyone thinks this is a work by Banksy. Photos of the work have already appeared on the photo-sharing site Flickr. A Flickr user named Ryan Cooper, who goes by the name Ape Flavored documents a lot of graffiti. He insists it's a fake.

I asked Cooper in his comment stream why he thinks the wall piece is fake and his reply was: "word on the street." Cooper and I then exchanged emails and he pointed me towards a website called the Carlsbad Crawl that breaks down why the Bull Taco mural is not Banksy's work.

The most interesting, if more insider, debate seems to center around the look of the immigrant crossing emblem on the kite and the appearance of "bridges." The Carlsbad Crawl actually compares an authenticated Banksy stencil of the same image with the Oceanside stencil. There are definitely differences.

Banksy's film "Exit Through The Gift Shop" is one of five nominees competing in the Best Documentary Feature category in Sunday's Oscar ceremony. The movie is a clever commentary on the art world, while also managing to document the culture of street art. Banksy, along with directing, is featured in the film with his face disguised.

The secretive artist is rumored to have painted on and stenciled walls and billboards in Los Angeles over the last couple of weeks, feeding speculation he's mounting his own version of an Oscar campaign.

But would Banksy include San Diego in his run through Southern California?

He declined to take part in the actual street art portion of last year's Viva La Revolución exhibit at MCASD (his work was included in the museum portion).

Since the Oceanside mural appeared, the Imperial Beach's is reporting that another possible Banksy stencil has materialized at the intersection of 9th and Emory Street in Imperial Beach. The stencil also features a rat, this time with a surveillance camera. It's placed next to a sign warning passersby of a video surveillance camera. The article touched off a lively debate in the comments stream about whether or not the piece is by Banksy. Many seem to think it's not of the same quality as Banksy's stencil work.

What do you think? Is the Bull Taco graffiti stencil a work by Banksy or a fake?

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Avatar for user 'saanddave'

saanddave | February 27, 2011 at 11:44 a.m. ― 6 years ago

It's a fake, likely done by the owner, since, despite his claims he wants to take it down, has it displayed on his website and will clearly stand to gain from the publicity.

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Avatar for user 'Printingbanksydotcom'

Printingbanksydotcom | February 27, 2011 at 12:30 p.m. ― 6 years ago

Angela Angela Angela....your story should be about exposing the owners of the 2 businesses profiting from the forgery. They have lured Banksy disciples from probably over a hundred miles with their lies and they're being enabled by people like you. The babbling of a handful of gawkers with no background education on the subject is not's gibberish. Put on a real reporter hat and get to the bottom of the fraud.

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Avatar for user 'Oce'

Oce | February 27, 2011 at 5:26 p.m. ― 6 years ago

Banksy's been to Oceanside last year as well:

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Avatar for user 'stungry'

stungry | February 27, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. ― 6 years ago

It's not a "rumor" that Banksy has new works in LA. They were featured on his website.

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Avatar for user 'saanddave'

saanddave | February 27, 2011 at 5:51 p.m. ― 6 years ago

Oh Angela... you're not a reporting, you're just writing ad copy for a burrito shop.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | February 28, 2011 at 9:07 a.m. ― 6 years ago

@saanddave: thanks for commenting. I was very clear that there are a lot of people who don't think this is a work by Banksy. Linking to Bryan Snyder's analysis on Carlsbad Crawl is an example of that - in my opinion, he makes a strong case that it is not by Banksy. Do you have any evidence that the owners of the taco shop paid to have the mural put on the side of their building? If so, I'd be happy to hear what you have to say. Feel free to email me.

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Avatar for user 'saanddave'

saanddave | February 28, 2011 at 9:57 a.m. ― 6 years ago

No, I have no evidence. I don't live in San diego, nor do i know the owner. I was under the impression a good reporter had intuition for this sort of thing, and asked careful questions. Considering I have seen several articles on this subject, and the restaurant owner contradicts himself in severl of them. In one article, he is quoted as saying he was very concerned that someone was going to paint over it the second he saw it. That contradicts his statements in this article. Do your own research.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | February 28, 2011 at 10:33 a.m. ― 6 years ago

Actually, when I talked to the Oceanside shop owner (different from the Cardiff owner) Saturday morning (when this was published), everything he said was consistent with his public statements and my questioning yielded nothing different. I've been looking for the statement you're referring to and have not found it, though I will keep looking. That's definitely an interesting revelation - especially since the photo of the mural was on the restaurant's website Saturday (as I stated in the post). The owners are obviously more protective of it since then, after all the buzz and since taggers hit it late Saturday night. But that contradiction is interesting.

I don't disagree with you that the restaurant is benefiting from the exposure. I do disagree that this post is just one more advertisement.

Thanks, A

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Avatar for user 'Santoshimoto'

Santoshimoto | February 28, 2011 at 12:20 p.m. ― 6 years ago

First, I don't agree with the critics of Angela's article. She is reporting on both sides of the Banksy/Fakesy divide, and provides plenty of links to other resources. Good job Angela!

My thought, although I'm no artist, is that while I appreciate the differences that have been pointed out between this piece and verified Banksy art, it's a creative theme, and looks, well, hard to pull off.

So then, if not Banksy, then who? The art community here isn't huge, so if the restaurant owner hired someone from the community, other artists would likely know who the most likely culprit would be.

I think it looks great no matter who did it, and hell---I think we can all agree that our own little art scandal is a lot of fun as well!


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Avatar for user 'carlsbadcrawl'

carlsbadcrawl | February 28, 2011 at 9:38 p.m. ― 6 years ago


Here is a lead that might offer a new angle at the story. Bull Taco claims in a Fox 5 San Diego news segment that they have video footage of Banksy painting the mural in Oceanside from surveillance cameras. Fox reported that Bull Taco was to release the video today (Feb. 28th) at 10am, but the video has yet to be seen.

Good luck and thanks for your reporting.

Carl Crawl

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