Pruning firm boss says Banksy artwork creates urban tree debate

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  • by Thomas Mackintosh
  • BBC News

image Caption,

A stencil of a man holding a pressure hose is also painted on a north London building

The owner of the firm responsible for pruning a tree at the center of a new Banksy artwork in north London says graffiti has “enhanced” the area.

It features a cut-back, or pollarded, tree painted green on the wall behind it to resemble a leaf.

Lawrence-Thor Stephen, 33, says the art has generated a healthy discussion about trees in urban parts of the capital.

Banksy’s latest work also includes a stencil of a man holding a sprayer at his side.

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WATCH: New London tree artwork is ‘unmistakably Banksy’

Following speculation after it appeared on a building on Hornsey Road on Sunday, the artist claimed the mural as his own on Instagram.

Like many of Banksy’s graffiti – his latest piece has sparked a range of opinion, including some campaigners from a conservation campaign group who fear the tree has been cut down too much.

Mr Stephen, who runs Thor Trees, told BBC London that his company has a contract with Islington Council and is responsible for pruning trees in the borough.

‘Under strict instructions’

He said that while watching a TV news bulletin on BBC One he recognized the tree that had been cut down by one of his team a few weeks earlier.

“We were given strict instructions on how to cut the tree down to the nearest centimeter, where to cut [Islington Council] Wanted to trim it down,” said Mr Stephen, of Enfield.

Of Banksy’s work he said, “Islington is a beautiful borough anyway and has a lot of trees preserved, but this has 100% enhanced the area of ​​Islington.”

“It’s great how it inspired Banksy. He would have needed a perfect blank canvas so he must have passed by that tree and thought ‘this is a perfect blank canvas for me to work with’.”

Islington Council says the cherry tree chosen by Banksy is 40-50 years old and in declining health with decay and fungal damage.

Mr Stephan explained that his team uses “an ancient form of pruning” known as pollarding – where the upper parts of the tree are removed.

He explained that this practice limits the growth of the tree and prevents weak branches from falling.

“It’s a very good way to extend the lifespan of the tree and control the growth of the tree,” Mr Stephan said.

“I expect it to be bursting with growth in the spring and it will be interesting to see how the artwork progresses over the coming months.”

image Source, Ella Nunn/PA Wire

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A huge number of people have come to see the artwork since it was first revealed

People have been coming to see the work, with one Finsbury Park resident saying he is “proud” his street has been chosen.

Mr Stephen added: “It’s all gone crazy out there.

“It has attracted a lot of attention from naturalists, tourists and a lot of discussion within professional bodies.

“The conversation that’s happening around that piece is extraordinary – and it’s great how art can bring the discussion of the practice of cutting down trees to people’s attention.

“It has awakened the importance of trees in urban environments and how they are managed.

“It’s really nice to know that people are opening up to the discussion of art and the urban landscape.”

Alex Georgiou, whose company owns the building containing the graffiti, said he plans to keep the artwork on the wall and let people enjoy it.

image Source, James Peake/The Banksy Story

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The colors used for the artwork are similar to those of Islington Council signs, as seen in the foreground

Islington Council said its graffiti removal team was aware of the artwork and would not be removing it.

A spokesperson said: “Culture is a powerful way of telling meaningful stories and we welcome this artwork, which celebrates creativity, to Islington.”

“This brilliant piece by Banksy has caused a real stir in Islington and beyond, and we really want the artwork to remain up for people to enjoy.”

The council said it had planted around 90 trees last year alone and this particular tree had been cared for for some time and was pruned for safety in an effort to help extend its lifespan.

It states that he will continue to try to keep the tree alive and should buds grow again on its crown.

But Giovanna Iozzi, who lives in the neighboring borough and is the founder of the group Haringey Tree Protectors, thinks too many of the cherry trees were cut down. He believes this was the point of Banksy’s artwork.

“It’s interesting that they chose this tree, it looks very strange,” Ms Iozzi said. “I can’t understand why it was necessary to cut back all its leaves and branches.

“I think what he’s done is really clever. People look at it as normal – suddenly a world-famous artist does something with it and suddenly it becomes more noticeable.

“What it highlights for us is biodiversity. It’s a very symbolic image and the way trees are typically treated in our urban environments at a time when we need them more than ever.

“I was surprised that people forgot about the issue, I love Banksy and his work and I think he’s brilliant, but I understand it to be about greenwash and trees being seriously polluted.

“Cherry trees do not recover properly from pollination.”

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