Street artist Banksy has waded into the row over his latest artwork – and given a cash-strapped boys club permission to sell it.
The elusive artist created ‘Mobile Lovers’ on a boarded-up doorway at Broad Plain and Riverside Youth Project, which needs to raise £120,000 to survive.
Club boss Dennis Stinchcombe MBE thought his financial prayers had been answered – until the local council claimed ownership and put the work on display in a museum.
But now, in a rare public statement, Banksy has written to Mr Stinchcombe confirming he is the owner and giving his blessing “to do what you think is right with the piece”.
Today the tireless volunteer vowed to sell the work – which could be worth up to £2 MILLION – and split the proceeds between Bristol’s many youth groups.
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In his letter – which was pushed through the door of the club – Banksy wrote: “I hope this finds you well. As you know I recently painted on a doorway near the club.
“This was meant to be a small visual gift for the area – but apparently a financial one would’ve been more useful.
“I don’t normally admit to committing criminal damage, but seeing as it looks like charges won’t be brought any time soon you have my blessing to do what you think is right with the piece.
“I am a great admirer of the work done at the club and would be chuffed is this could help in some way.
“Your tenacity in the past few weeks has made for an entertaining spectator sport.
“I assume you’re familiar with the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln – ‘Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left behind by those who hustle’.”
Yesterday Mr Stinchcombe, 58, said: “I am absolutely elated, it is like having a secret millionaire walk through our down, I really can’t believe it.
“I thought it would come through in the end because of the build-up of the whole thing.
“Only he could verify it was his piece, which he gave to us.
“The money is a saviour, if it was not for his secrecy I would love to shake his hand because he has no idea what he has done for this community.
“I don’t think he realises what this will do for the club, this community and this city.
“I do plan on selling it off but I won’t just be using the money for us, there are plenty of other clubs out that there need help just as much as we do, I will be sharing the wealth.”
The painting was first discovered at the club in St Jude’s, Bristol, on April 15 after Banksy posted a picture of the new design on his website.
Just hours later it was crowbarred off the wall by staff, who began to charge people to come and see it.
The cash-strapped youth group insisted Banksy wanted them to have it and planned to sell the work to fund the future of the club.
Bristol City Council said it was not “100 per cent sure of the ownership” of the wall the artwork was attached to, and just days later it was removed and taken away.
It was put on display at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery while its ownership was decided and more than 10,000 people viewed it over the Easter weekend alone.
But on Tuesday this week Mr Stinchcombe found the letter – but had to keep quiet until its authenticity was confirmed.
Then the following day Bristol’s elected Mayor George Ferguson received a similar letter from Banksy confirming it was genuine.
On Wednesday evening he tweeted: “Just received confirmation by Banksy that note to Bristol Broad Plain Boys Club is authentic.
“Great to have a clear resolution @banksynews”
He added: “As far as I’m concerned it now belongs to the club as I’d agreed once confirmation received from Banksy.”
Mr Stinchcombe said: “I got the letter on Tuesday morning and it has been very quiet because we needed to verify it first, didn’t want to shout about it only to get it all taken away again.
“But it was very hard to hang to it though, I wanted to shout it from the roof tops, and now I can.
“George Ferguson let people know the letter was genuine and he relented in a nice way.
“He was very amicable about it and always said if we could prove it was ours he would hand it back and he has stuck to his word which I appreciate.
“I think he is doing it for the right reasons, he knows we are doing it for the community, which in a roundabout way benefits him.”
In a statement Mr Ferguson added: “I have now received confirmation that the note posted into the Broad Plain Boys Club is authentic.
“I believe this to be a good resolution and that we have done the right thing in looking after ‘Mobile Lovers’ in safe conditions while putting it on display in aid of the Boys Club.
“I had a good discussion with Dennis Stinchcombe at the time that we decided to house it in the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery as an interim solution and agreed that if Banksy was to ‘send a signal’ that it was to go to them that I would be more than happy to oblige.
“Dennis said he would like it to benefit both the club and other youth projects in Bristol which would be a brilliant resolution.”
Mr Stinchcombe said he has been told the disputed artwork could fetch as much as £2million.
He said: “I think we can get up to a couple of million at least I’m sure. At the end of the day we will sell it because we want as much money as possible to save this, and other clubs.”