Banksy has confirmed a painting of an inmate escaping from a former jail that once housed playwright Oscar Wilde is his work.
The bankable British street artist has struck again – this time on the walls of Reading Gaol where Oscar Wilde famously served time for “gross indecency” and where he gathered inspiration for his grim opus “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”.
The picture shows a prisoner – possibly resembling famous inmate Oscar Wilde – escaping on a rope made of bedsheets tied to a typewriter. The artist confirmed the artwork was his via a video posted to his Instagram account last week.
In the footage – which hilariously spoofs celebrity TV painter Bob Ross – Banksy is shown stealthily executing the work entitled Create Escape on the outside wall of Reading Prison at night. Campaigners are calling for the former prison – which closed as a jail in 2013 – to be turned into an arts centre rather than being sold for housing.
Wilde was sent to the jail in 1895 and later wrote his final published work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, highlighting the need for prison reform.
The poem contains immortal lines such as “Yet each man kills the thing he loves” and “Upon that little tent of blue, Which prisoners call the sky”.
A work by the bankable guerrilla artist can often turn the fortunes of the building it’s painted on and the work on the walls of the famous prison was already drawing crowds last week. Earlier this year, one of his murals painted on a wall in Nottingham was bought by an art collector and removed.
It comes as campaigners continue to lobby for the former jail to be turned into an arts hub rather than being sold for housing. The Ministry of Justice in the UK is due to make a decision on the decommissioned prison on March 15.
Reading Borough Council said Banksy’s involvement suggested he was backing the campaign to save the prison.
It said: “We are thrilled that Banksy appears to have thrown his support behind the council’s desire to transform the vacant Reading Gaol into a beacon of arts, heritage and culture with this piece of artwork he has aptly called Create Escape.
“The council is pushing the Ministry of Justice, who owns the site, to make suitable arrangements to protect the image.”
Matt Rodda, the Labour MP for Reading East, said there was a “growing sense of excitement” in the town since the artwork had been confirmed as real.
The Save Reading Gaol campaign tweeted: “We’re thrilled to hear it is, after all, a Banksy!
“Thanks to the elusive artist & their team. We are incredibly grateful. Your support & gift to the town will be appreciated for many years to come!”
Hollywood actors Sir Kenneth Branagh, Natalie Dormer and Dame Judi Dench are among the stars who have lent their support to the campaign.