Early pieces by graffiti artist Banksy added to Los Angeles auction

By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Four early works of elusive British artist Banksy will go on sale at an auction in December, joining the artist's "Flower Girl" piece, Julien's Auctions said on Monday.

The four graffiti works include "Happy Choppers," a 2002 mural that first appeared on a wall at the Whitecross Street Market in London and features a stenciled group of military helicopters, one adorned with a pink bow.

The piece is estimated to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000, and will join the sale of "Flower Girl," a stencil work that first appeared on a Los Angeles gas station wall. It is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $300,000.

Beverly Hills-based Julien's Auctions said the auction marked the first time that Banksy's public street art had gone on sale in the United States.

The works were all put up for sale by private owners whose identities remain confidential. The consignors to decide whether Banksy receives any part of the proceeds, Julien's said.

Also included in the sale are two other works from Banksy's 2003-2004 tour in Germany, which were discovered on walls in Berlin. "TV Girl" features a stencil of a girl holding a television set with an orange heart on the screen, while "Umbrella Rat" depicts a rat dressed in a bowler hat and tie, parachuting with an umbrella.

"TV Girl" is expected to fetch between $80,000 and $120,000 while "Umbrella Rat" is estimated between $40,000 and $60,000.

The final piece to be added to the collection is a 2003 work called "Black Bobby," from Banksy's tour in Sydney, Australia. It features a silhouette of a British policeman writing a ticket and is valued between $20,000 and $30,000.

Other works in the "Street Art" collection include canvases and paper pieces by artists Risk, Indie 184 and MearOne.

Banksy is the pseudonym of a graffiti artist who first emerged in Bristol, England, as part of an underground group. He hides his identity and real name, and his works have become collectors' items, prized for their trademark spray-paint stencils and offering social commentary.

The auction follows a month-long "street residency" by Banksy in New York through October, during which he placed murals, sculptures and artwork around the city.

One stunt included selling original canvas artwork for $60 at a street-side stall, with buyers having no idea they were purchasing Banksy originals. He also dropped off a painting at a Housing Works thrift shop, which funds charities for AIDS and the homeless, snubbing the art world. The thrift shop auctioned the painting, which fetched more than $600,000.

As Banksy's street work often appears on private property, it has brought up questions of ownership. This year, two of his murals were pulled from a Miami auction when questions arose about the ownership of one and how it had been obtained.

The work, "Slave Labour," eventually sold at a private auction in London for $1.1 million in June, a sign of growing demand, and prices, for a Banksy original.

The artist also appeared in the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" with his face obscured and voice altered. His works are verified through his website (www.banksy.co.uk). (Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Chris Michaud and Christopher Wilson)

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