Hollywood gas station employee Chris Martinez said Wednesday that he didn't realize he had been working in the presence of a work of art that could fetch as much as $300,000 at an upcoming auction in Los Angeles.
"I had no idea the wall was worth that much," said the Chevron cashier, pointing to a now bare white wall that until recently had been a Banksy mural.
"Flower Girl," which depicts a girl toting a basket of flowers while a security camera blossoming atop a plant looks on, will headline Julien's Auctions "Street Art" sale Dec. 5 featuring more than 50 pieces by street artists, including Shaka and Risqué, worth an estimated $1 million.
"At first it was exposed," Martinez said of the Banksy stencil on a wall of the station at the corner of La Brea Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. The gas station's previous owner "covered it up so you couldn't see it," after the mural was posted on Banksy's website.
"It was that way for a long time," Martinez said.
The seller of "Flower Girl," whose name has not been released, last year approached the auction house, which specializes in selling pop culture memorabilia, said Michael Doyle, Julien's Auctions consignment director.
Moving the mural took weeks and some heavy lifting.
Before selling the Valero station last October to Chevron, the owner spent two weeks sawing a 9-by-8-foot section of the wall and then used a high-powered forklift flatbed truck to move the mural, which weighs between 5,000 to 7,500 pounds.
"When the new owners bought the store, the [prior owner] wanted to keep the wall," said Chevron manager Leonel Valdes. "It was part of the contract."
The mural was painted late one night in 2008 after the Valero owner was approached by a friend, filmmaker and street artist Mr. Brainwash, who asked if an unidentified artist standing beside him could tag the business’ wall, Doyle said.
"The surveillance cameras went black inside the gas station, [the owner is] still completely clueless as to how [Banksy] would pull that off in 2008," said Doyle. "I don't know what kind of magic he has up his sleeve, but he obviously knows what he's doing."
As Banksy’s fame grows — thanks in part to the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” that pokes fun at street art and features Banksy and Mr. Brainwash — more of his murals end up on the auction block.
Banksy's "Slave Labour," which went missing from a British discount store earlier this year, was pulled from a Miami auction after protests from art aficionados and Londoners.
In June, the owners of the Poundland building sold the mural at a private auction for $1.1 million.
"No Ball Games," another Banksy that went missing from a London shop, resurfaced on the website of the Sincura Group, the London-based concierge service that sold "Slave Labour."
The company's website promises that profits from the mural's sale, which is planned for some time next year, will benefit Step by Step, a London organization that works with disabled children.
Banksy has said he believes his art should remain in its intended location — on the street.