Who is Banksy?
Who is Banksy? And how, might we wonder, will his story end? Perhaps one of the most infamous artists of his generation, Banksy has implemented anti-establishment commentary that has shaken the world of graffiti and street art. Functioning solely under his anonymity, the artist prefers to maintain an element of mystery in his work. His art employs the surfaces of publicly visible buildings or walls, where he displays striking images, often accompanied with satirical messages. Whilst his distinctive stencilling technique and political messages have increasingly caught the attention of the critics and dealers alike, perhaps the more sought-after information is his identity.
Banksy’s True Identity
Though there has been much speculation surrounding Banksy’s true identity, nothing has yet been revealed as the artist’s representatives continue ignore the conjecture. His last face-to-face interview occurred in 2003, and with his presence is becoming increasingly harder to trace; Banksy is nowhere and everywhere all at once. Arguably the most prevalent suggestion has been Robin Gunningham, first stated in 2008 when a newspaper claimed that with the help of geographic profiling, they had determined his identity.
It has also been proposed that Banksy does not exist at all, but is in fact the alter ego of Damien Hirst. This became the result of the pair’s Keeping it Spotless collaboration. Furthermore, a number of individuals have considered the possibility of Banksy being female, or a conflation of a group of artists. None of these suggestions however, have been recognised by Banksy himself, and he continues to function under this anonymity with the help of company Pest Control.
The History and Development of Banksy
Due to this, the history and development of Banksy remains unclear. Around 1993, his freehand graffiti art began to appear on trains and walls around the Southern England city of Bristol. Then, in 1997, Banksy produced The Mild Mild West– his first known large formatted work. Situated in Stokes Croft (Bristol), the piece featured a larger-than-life teddy bear, throwing a Molotov cocktail at three riot police. Since his beginning, it has been clear that Banksy has taken his inspiration from a multitude of artists, such as Blek le Rat and 3D. It could be suggested that it was through the influence and availability of 3D’s works in Bristol, that Banksy was able to take his first steps in street art.
By the early 2000s, Banksy’s developed stencil style had begun to crop up in various areas around London. It was common knowledge that Banksy had a studio in the Notting Hill area, where you can still view his older street works. It has been said that Banksy turned to stencils in his pursuit of more effective and less time-consuming images. The artist himself claimed that he found his inspiration in a stencilled serial number, underneath a rubbish lorry, whilst attempting to escape from the police. Through his mysterious allure and blocky prints, Banksy has achieved international status. His work has been recognised in many major cities such as Paris, Barcelona and San Francisco where Banksy uses building structures as his canvases.
However, Banksy’s artistic intuition does not rely merely on the availability of public space. The artist has also been known to divulge to other mediums in order to express himself. In 2010 he produced Exit Through the Gift Shop a documentary that explored the creation and marketing of street art. The film was shortlisted for an Oscar and received acknowledgment worldwide.
Banksy called the film ‘the world’s first street art disaster movie’ and he can be seen throughout of course, concealed with a mask or hood. He has further experimented with sculpture; for example, Cardinal Sin, a piece that comments on the high levels of child abusers that operate within the Catholic Church.
Turning Graffiti into Commercial Art
It is certainly true that Banksy has opened up new discussion between the artist and constituency where the formalisation of how art is made/seen/exploited is no longer a necessity. Banksy’s work has essentially turned the ‘bourgeois world of art’ upside down, by revaluating our expectations. His success as an artist has proved, in his words, that individuals no longer need to ‘go to college, mail off transparencies to snooty galleries or sleep with someone powerful’ in order to be noticed by society. His contribution has brought urban outsider graffiti into the mainstream flow of both commercial and profitable art.
Although Banksy has received a colossal following, many of his works only exist in memory or digitally, as a huge number of his pieces have been removed from their sites. Too often enough, council’s are left to remove Banksy’s work, at the request of residents and the owners of the buildings. Frequently, his art delves into prankster trickery as a means of escaping the law and managing his image. Banksy’s creativity dangles in the balance of artistic innovation and the elitist nature of traditional art. This was seen in 2003, when the artist smuggled a work into the Tate, successfully managing to hang it on a wall.
The Search for Social Justice
It seems Banksy has found a loophole and continues to operate outside of the art world, in his attempt to give back to the people. In his search for social justice, he has been known to not only engage politically, but also in his charitable donations and acts of kindness. The artist has donated works to a homeless charity-housing programme in New York, raising over £300,000 in auction. He has also been known for selling his works anonymously, to unknowing buyers, for as little as £40. His art revels in the promise of righteousness and justice for society. He recently ensured all fixtures and materials used in his Dismaland exhibition were donated to the refugee programme in Calais, where they were reused to build shelters. The effects of his work spans internationally, from his donations to his political contributions. People everywhere have been touched by his kindness. Banksy continues his fight for social justice, as a modern day Robin Hood, in his attempt to replenish and revive how we function as a society.
Perhaps Banksy’s wish for anonymity, juxtaposed with our obsession to reveal him, reflects our values as a society, rather than him as an artist.