Banksy piece in Park City, vandal’s target, painstakingly restored

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD
Deborah Uhl, a painting conservator, on Saturday continues her work on the Banksy angel boy just off Main Street. The piece was vandalized around New Year's. The building owner hired her to save the Banksy image. Jay Hamburger/Park Record

It was in broad daylight on Saturday when Deborah Uhl stepped toward the Banksy angel image on the Cunningham Building garage just off Main Street gripping a can of white spray paint.

A touch of here, another touch there. It took only a few seconds or so each time she carefully added a bit of the white paint to the piece depicting a kneeling angel boy.

It was probably similar to the time it took the famed graffiti artist Banksy to create the image in the darkness one night in January of 2010, when he was in Park City for a Sundance Film Festival documentary that starred him.

It was also likely about the same amount of time a vandal took in the overnight hours around New Year’s when he smashed the glass meant to protect the artwork and then spray-painted the image with brown paint.

Uhl, a painting conservator from Telluride, Colo., was summoned to Park City in January by the owner of the Cunningham building to attempt to save the Banksy after the New Year’s vandalism. Uhl in January removed approximately half of the vandal’s graffiti and returned to Park City last Wednesday to take off most of the rest and then restore the original Banksy image.

"I’m bringing this back so people don’t have to remember the vandalism," she said. "They can appreciate their cultural landscape, unviolated."

She spent eight painstaking days working on the piece between the two trips to Park City. Uhl estimated she will have spent 70 hours conserving and restoring the Banksy, producing reports about her work and making a stencil that matched the one Banksy used. The owner of the Cunningham building is funding the work. The price is not known.

Her stencil, with her on Saturday, was critical in ensuring the restoration closely followed Banksy’s original work. She made the stencil out of clear acetate film in January, tracing the Banksy image onto the film. After returning to Colorado, she cut out the areas of the stencil where the white spray paint was to be put, following the traced image.

It was a tedious process on Saturday. Uhl posted a photo of the piece before the vandal’s damage next to the actual one. Moving her focus between the photo and the real piece, she sprayed the white paint onto the piece where Banksy himself had used white.

"I just called in my guardian angel," she said as she was putting the spray paint on the image. "I need all the help I can get to make sure it’s right."

She needed to remove Banksy’s original white spray paint that was affixed to the angel boy’s torso as she took off the vandal’s paint. Some of the vandal’s paint required a Q-tip to remove. She kneeled on padding on Saturday as she delicately moved the Q-tip along small sections of the image, including the boy’s face and forearm. Yellow caution tape surrounded her workspace on the driveway to the garage. A few people wandered up the driveway from nearby Main Street to inquire about her work. She gladly answered questions.

"I’m trying to do it with, like, the same kind of marks, the same kind of spots, that he did," she said about Banksy.

Banksy buzz

Park City buzzed when Banksy arrived just before the opening of the film festival in 2010. He is believed to have created six pieces in Park City in quick succession. The angel boy and the image of a videographer on the nearby Java Cow building are the only ones that remain on public display. The vandal targeted the Java Cow piece on the same night but was unable to break the glass protecting the Banksy. The glass suffered extensive damage, though.

There have been repeated vandalism cases involving the Banksy pieces since they appeared, but none was as serious as the ones around New Year’s. The damage is estimated into the thousands of dollars, perhaps into five figures.

The Park City Police Department developed a suspect, a Los Angeles-area man, a month later. A video of the vandalism as it was committed in Park City was posted to YouTube, providing critical evidence.

Rick Ryan, a police captain, said at the time investigators watched other videos posted by the man. One of them showed a police agency in California responding to what was described as a one-man protest involving the person, Ryan has said. The police in Park City contacted the California agency for the person’s identity. The suspect at the time was in custody in California on a count similar to a criminal mischief charge in Utah, the police in Park City said.

Ryan said on Tuesday the Police Department has forwarded the case involving the two damaged Banksy pieces along Main Street to the Summit County Attorney’s Office for screening. Charges are pending, Ryan said.

If the man is eventually convicted in the Park City cases, prosecutors could seek restitution for the owners of the Cunningham building and Java Cow. The work by Uhl would almost certainly be included in restitution that would be sought by the Cunningham building owner.

Uhl, herself an artist, normally works on larger pieces, and the damage to the Banksy was limited to just a section of the piece. She figured at first she could finish the work during her trip to Park City in January based on the size of the piece. It then became apparent that it would be a much more involved process if she was to preserve the Banksy at the same time she took off the spray paint.

At the site on Saturday, Uhl said she still considers the piece to be a Banksy, with her white spray paint added, even after the vandalism and her restoration.

"In this case, what we’re trying to return to is the artist’s intent," she said. "His message."



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