When a spray-painted mural appeared on the brick walls of the defunct Reading Prison in England, many suspected that Banksy, the famed anonymous graffiti artist, was behind it. Indeed, a few days later, Banksy confirmed the work to be his in a video posted to his Instagram account. In what is sure to go down in Internet meme lore, the video confession opens like an episode of PBS’ The Joy of Painting. The iconic show’s late star Bob Ross narrates the video in his trademark soothing style and seemingly instructs Banksy as the graffiti artist engages in his latest act of vandalism.
Banksy’s mural depicts a man in prison garb descending over the brick wall via typewriter paper strung together. Some have suggested that the prisoner depicted is the nineteenth-century poet Oscar Wilde, who was jailed in Reading Prison for having a homosexual relationship. Banksy’s video did not clarify this. The question as to what to do with the mural is now in the hands of Reading’s government. Many are hoping that the prison can be repurposed as an art and cultural center with Banksy’s mural being one of the attractions.
Banksy’s decision to incorporate Bob Ross into his video speaks to the artist’s awareness of Internet culture. Ross' happy little painting show has found new life online with some of its episodes receiving millions of views on YouTube. Ross is also the subject of memes and parodies. His famed positive and easygoing manner is felt by many to be an antidote to negativity online.