Source – banksy.co.uk
– “…Banksy’s name and identity remain unknown – it has been stated that the reason for this secrecy is that graffiti is a crime…Scottish journalist Craig Williams published an investigative piece in which he connected the timing of Banksy’s murals with the touring schedule of the trip hop band Massive Attack – Banksy himself may be Massive Attack’s frontman, Robert Del Naja”:
(REBEL YELL: Banksy – ‘The Bad Artists Imitate, the Great Artists Steal’)
Banksy is an England-based graffiti artist, political activist and film director of unverified identity. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. His works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Banksy’s work grew out of the Bristol underground scene, which involved collaborations between artists and musicians. Banksy says that he was inspired by “3D”, a graffiti artist who later became a founding member of the English musical group Massive Attack.
Banksy started as a freehand graffiti artist in 1990–1994 as one of Bristol‘s DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ), with two other artists known as Kato and Tes. He was inspired by local artists and his work was part of the larger Bristol underground scene with Nick Walker, Inkie and 3D. During this time he met Bristol photographer Steve Lazarides, who began selling Banksy’s work, later becoming his agent. By 2000 he had turned to the art of stencilling after realising how much less time it took to complete a work. He claims he changed to stencilling while he was hiding from the police under a rubbish lorry, when he noticed the stencilled serial number and by employing this technique, he soon became more widely noticed for his art around Bristol and London. He played football with the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls in the 1990s and toured with the club to Mexico in 2001. Banksy’s first known large wall mural was The Mild Mild West painted in 1997 to cover advertising of a former solicitors’ office on Stokes Croft in Bristol. It depicts a teddy bear lobbing a Molotov cocktail at three riot police.
Banksy’s stencils feature striking and humorous images occasionally combined with slogans. The message is usually anti-war, anti-capitalist or anti-establishment. Subjects often include rats, apes, policemen, soldiers, children, and the elderly.
In July 2011 one of Banksy’s early works, Gorilla in a Pink Mask, which had been a prominent landmark on the exterior wall of a former social club in Eastville for over ten years, was unwittingly painted over after the premises became a Muslim cultural centre.
On 19 June 2002, Banksy’s first Los Angeles exhibition debuted at 33 1⁄3 Gallery, a tiny Silver Lake venue owned by Frank Sosa. The exhibition, entitled Existencilism, was curated by 33 1⁄3 Gallery, Malathion LA’s Chris Vargas, Funk Lazy Promotions’ Grace Jehan, and B+.
In 2003, at an exhibition called Turf War, held in a London warehouse, Banksy painted on animals. At the time he gave one of his very few interviews, to the BBC’s Nigel Wrench. Although the RSPCA declared the conditions suitable, an animal rights activist chained herself to the railings in protest. An example of his subverted paintings is Monet‘s Water Lily Pond, adapted to include urban detritus such as litter and a shopping trolley floating in its reflective waters; another is Edward Hopper‘s Nighthawks, redrawn to show that the characters are looking at a British football hooligan, dressed only in his Union Flag underpants, who has just thrown an object through the glass window of the cafe. These oil paintings were shown at a twelve-day exhibition in Westbourne Grove, London in 2005.
£10 notes to Barely Legal (2004–2006)
In August 2004, Banksy produced a quantity of spoof British £10 notes substituting the picture of the Queen’s head with Diana, Princess of Wales‘s head and changing the text “Bank of England” to “Banksy of England”. Someone threw a large wad of these into a crowd at Notting Hill Carnival that year, which some recipients then tried to spend in local shops. These notes were also given with invitations to a Santa’s Ghetto exhibition by Pictures on Walls. The individual notes have since been selling on eBay for about £200 each. A wad of the notes were also thrown over a fence and into the crowd near the NME signing tent at The Reading Festival. A limited run of 50 signed posters containing ten uncut notes were also produced and sold by Pictures on Walls for £100 each to commemorate the death of Princess Diana. One of these sold in October 2007 at Bonhams auction house in London for £24,000.
Banksy held an exhibition called Barely Legal, billed as a “three-day vandalised warehouse extravaganza” in Los Angeles, on the weekend of 16 September 2006. The exhibition featured a live “elephant in a room“, painted in a pink and gold floral wallpaper pattern, which, according to leaflets handed out at the exhibition, was intended to draw attention to the issue of world poverty. Although the Animal Services Department had issued a permit for the elephant, after complaints from animal rights activists, the elephant appeared unpainted on the final day. Its owners rejected claims of mistreatment and said that the elephant had done “many, many movies. She’s used to makeup.” Banksy also made artwork displaying Queen Victoria as a lesbian and satirical pieces that incorporated art made by Andy Warhol and Leonardo da Vinci.
The Banksy effect (2006–2007)
There are crimes that become innocent and even glorious through their splendour, number and excess.
After Christina Aguilera bought an original of Queen Victoria as a lesbian and two prints for £25,000, on 19 October 2006, a set of Kate Moss paintings sold in Sotheby’s London for £50,400, setting an auction record for Banksy’s work. The six silk-screen prints, featuring the model painted in the style of Andy Warhol‘s Marilyn Monroe pictures, sold for five times their estimated value. His stencil of a green Mona Lisa with real paint dripping from her eyes sold for £57,600 at the same auction. In December, journalist Max Foster coined the phrase, “the Banksy effect”, to illustrate how interest in other street artists was growing on the back of Banksy’s success.
On 21 February 2007, Sotheby’s auction house in London auctioned three works, reaching the highest ever price for a Banksy work at auction: over £102,000 for his Bombing Middle England. Two of his other graffiti works, Balloon Girl and Bomb Hugger, sold for £37,200 and £31,200 respectively, which were well above their estimated prices. The following day’s auction saw a further three Banksy works reach soaring prices: Ballerina with Action Man Parts reached £96,000; Glory sold for £72,000; Untitled (2004) sold for £33,600; all significantly above estimated values. To coincide with the second day of auctions, Banksy updated his website with a new image of an auction house scene showing people bidding on a picture that said, “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit.” In February 2007, the owners of a house with a Banksy mural on the side in Bristol decided to sell the house through Red Propeller art gallery after offers fell through because the prospective buyers wanted to remove the mural. It is listed as a mural that comes with a house attached. In 2008, Nathan Wellard and Maev Neal, a couple from Norfolk, UK, made headlines in Britain when they decided to sell their mobile home that contains a 30-foot mural, entitled Fragile Silence, done by Banksy a decade prior to his rise to fame. According to Nathan Wellard, Banksy had asked the couple if he could use the side of their home as a “large canvas”, to which they agreed. In return for the “canvas”, the Bristol stencil artist gave them two free tickets to the Glastonbury Festival. The mobile home purchased by the couple 11 years ago for 1,000 GBP, is now being sold for 500,000 GBP.
The last time I hit this spot I painted a crap picture of two men in banana costumes waving hand guns. A few weeks later a writer called Ozone completely dogged it and then wrote “If it’s better next time I’ll leave it” in the bottom corner. When we lost Ozone we lost a fearless graffiti writer and as it turns out a pretty perceptive art critic. Ozone – rest in peace.
On 27 April 2007, a new record high for the sale of Banksy’s work was set with the auction of the work Space Girl and Bird fetching £288,000 (US$576,000) around 20 times the estimate at Bonhams of London. On 21 May 2007 Banksy gained the award for Art’s Greatest living Briton. Banksy, as expected, did not turn up to collect his award and continued with his anonymous status. On 4 June 2007, it was reported that Banksy’s The Drinker had been stolen. In October 2007, most of his works offered for sale at Bonhams auction house in London sold for more than twice their reserve price.
Banksy has published a “manifesto” on his website. The text of the manifesto is credited as the diary entry of British Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin, DSO, which is exhibited in the Imperial War Museum. It describes how a shipment of lipstick to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp immediately after its liberation at the end of World War II helped the internees regain their humanity. However, as of 18 January 2008, Banksy’s Manifesto has been substituted with Graffiti Heroes No.03 that describes Peter Chappell’s graffiti quest of the 1970s that worked to free George Davis of his imprisonment. By 12 August 2009 he was relying on Emo Philips‘ “When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised God doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and prayed for forgiveness.” A small number of Banksy’s works can be seen in the movie Children of Men, including a stenciled image of two policemen kissing and another stencil of a child looking down a shop.
Banksy, who “is not represented by any of the commercial galleries that sell his work second hand (including Lazarides Ltd, Andipa Gallery, Bank Robber, Dreweatts etc.)”, claims that the exhibition at Vanina Holasek Gallery in New York City (his first major exhibition in that city) is unauthorised. The exhibition featured 62 of his paintings and prints.
In March, a stencilled graffiti work appeared on Thames Water tower in the middle of the Holland Park roundabout, and it was widely attributed to Banksy. It was of a child painting the tag “Take this—Society!” in bright orange. London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham spokesman, Councillor Greg Smith branded the art as vandalism, and ordered its immediate removal, which was carried out by H&F council workmen within three days.
In late August 2008, marking the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the associated levee failure disaster, Banksy produced a series of works in New Orleans, Louisiana, mostly on buildings derelict since the disaster. A stencil painting attributed to Banksy appeared at a vacant petrol station in the Ensley neighbourhood of Birmingham, Alabama on 29 August as Hurricane Gustav approached the New Orleans area. The painting, depicting a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan hanging from a noose, was quickly covered with black spray paint and later removed altogether. His first official exhibition in New York City, “The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill“, opened 5 October 2008. The animatronic pets in the store window include a mother hen watching over her baby Chicken McNuggets as they peck at a barbecue sauce packet, and a rabbit putting makeup on in a mirror.
The Westminster City Council stated in October 2008 that the work One Nation Under CCTV, painted in April 2008 would be painted over as it was graffiti. The council said it would remove any graffiti, regardless of the reputation of its creator, and specifically stated that Banksy “has no more right to paint graffiti than a child”. Robert Davis, the chairman of the council planning committee told The Times newspaper: “If we condone this then we might as well say that any kid with a spray can is producing art.” The work was painted over in April 2009. In December 2008, The Little Diver, a Banksy image of a diver in a duffle coat in Melbourne Australia was destroyed. The image had been protected by a sheet of clear perspex; however, silver paint was poured behind the protective sheet and later tagged with the words “Banksy woz ere”. The image was almost completely obliterated.
The Cans Festival (2008)
In London, over the weekend 3–5 May 2008, Banksy hosted an exhibition called The Cans Festival. It was situated on Leake Street, a road tunnel formerly used by Eurostar underneath London Waterloo station. Graffiti artists with stencils were invited to join in and paint their own artwork, as long as it did not cover anyone else’s. Banksy invited artists from around the world to exhibit their works.
In May 2009, Banksy parted company with agent Steve Lazarides and announced that Pest Control, the handling service who act on his behalf, would be the only point of sale for new works. On 13 June 2009, the Banksy vs Bristol Museum show opened at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, featuring more than 100 works of art, including animatronics and installations; it is his largest exhibition yet, featuring 78 new works. Reaction to the show was positive, with over 8,500 visitors to the show on the first weekend. Over the course of the twelve weeks, the exhibition was visited over 300,000 times. In September 2009, a Banksy work parodying the Royal Family was partially destroyed by Hackney Council after they served an enforcement notice for graffiti removal to the former address of the property owner. The mural had been commissioned for the 2003 Blur single “Crazy Beat” and the property owner, who had allowed it to be painted, was reported to have been in tears when she saw it was being painted over.
In December 2009, Banksy marked the end of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference by painting four murals on global warming. One included the phrase, “I don’t believe in global warming;” the words were submerged in water. A feud and graffiti war between Banksy and King Robbo broke out when Banksy allegedly painted over one of Robbo’s tags. The feud has led to many of Banksy’s works being altered by graffiti writers.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
The world premiere of the film Exit Through the Gift Shop occurred at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on 24 January. He created 10 street artworks around Park City and Salt Lake City to tie in with the screening. In February, The Whitehouse public house in Liverpool, England, was sold for £114,000 at auction. The side of the building has an image of a giant rat by Banksy.
In March 2010, the work “Forgive Us Our Trespassing” was displayed at the London Bridge in conjunction with Art Below an arts company that put on art shows on the London Underground. The work was censored by the Transport for London (TfL), forbidding display of the work with its halo, because of the prevalence of graffiti in the underground. It was displayed without the halo over the boy’s head, but after a few days the halo was repainted by a graffitist, so the TfL disposed of the poster. This decline went through the press and several articles were published remarking on the progress of the poster.
Banksy paints over the line between aesthetics and language, then stealthily repaints it in the unlikeliest of places. His works, whether he stencils them on the streets, sells them in exhibitions or hangs them in museums on the sly, are filled with wit and metaphors that transcend language barriers.
In April, to coincide with the premiere of Exit Through the Gift Shop in San Francisco, five of his works appeared in various parts of the city. Banksy reportedly paid a San Francisco Chinatown building owner $50 for the use of their wall for one of his stencils. In early May 2010, seven new Banksy works of art appeared in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, though most have been subsequently painted over or removed.
In May, to coincide with the premiere of Exit Through the Gift Shop in Royal Oak, Banksy visited the Detroit area and left his mark in several places in Detroit and Warren. Shortly after, his work depicting a little boy holding a can of red paint next to the words “I remember when all this was trees” was excavated by the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios. They claim that they do not intend to sell the work but plan to preserve it and display it at their Detroit gallery. There was also an attempted removal of one of the Warren works known as “Diamond Girl”.
In late January 2011, Exit Through the Gift Shop was nominated for a 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Banksy released a statement about the nomination, where he said, “This is a big surprise… I don’t agree with the concept of award ceremonies, but I’m prepared to make an exception for the ones I’m nominated for. The last time there was a naked man covered in gold paint in my house, it was me.” Leading up to the Oscars, Banksy blanketed Los Angeles with street art. Many people speculated if Banksy would show up at the Oscars in disguise and make a surprise appearance if he won the Oscar. Exit Through the Gift Shop did not win the award, which went to Inside Job. In early March 2011, Banksy responded to the Oscars with an artwork in Weston-super-Mare, UK, of a little girl holding the Oscar and pouting. Many people think that it is in reference to 15-month-old Lara, who dropped and damaged her father’s (The King’s Speech co-producer Simon Egan) Oscar statue. Exit Through the Gift Shop was broadcast on British public television station Channel 4 on 13 August 2011.
Banksy was also credited with the opening couch gag for the 2010 The Simpsons episode “MoneyBart“, depicting people working in deplorable conditions and using endangered or mythical animals to make both the episodes cel-by-cel and the merchandise connected with the program. His name appears several times throughout the episode’s opening sequence, spray-painted on assorted walls and signs. Fox sanitised parts of the opening “for taste” and to make it less grim. In January 2011, Banksy published the original storyboard on its website. According to Banksy, the storyboard “led to delays, disputes over broadcast standards and a threatened walk out by the animation department.” Executive director Al Jean jokingly said, “This is what you get when you outsource.”
In May 2011 Banksy released a lithographic print which showed a smoking petrol bomb contained in a ‘Tesco Value’ bottle. This followed a long running campaign by locals against the opening of a Tesco Express supermarket in Banksy’s home city of Bristol. Violent clashes had taken place between police and demonstrators in the Stokes Croft area. Banksy produced the poster ostensibly to raise money for local groups in the Stokes Croft area and to raise money for the legal defence of those arrested during the riots. The posters were sold exclusively at the Bristol Anarchists Bookfair in Stokes Croft for £5 each.
In December, he unveiled Cardinal Sin at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. The bust, which replaces a priest’s face with a “pixelated” effect, was a statement on the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
On 18 February, BBC News reported that a recent Banksy mural, known as the Slave Labour mural portraying a young child sewing Union Flag bunting (created around the time of the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II) had been removed from the side of a Poundland store in Wood Green, north London, and soon appeared for sale in Fine Art Auctions Miami’s catalogue (a US auction site based in Florida). News of this has reportedly caused “lots of anger” in the local community and is considered by some to be a theft. Fine Art Auctions Miami has rejected claims of theft, saying it had signed a contract with a “well-known collector” and that “everything was above board”; despite this, the local Councillor for Wood Green is campaigning for the work’s return.
On the scheduled day of the auction, Fine Art Auctions Miami announced that it had withdrawn the work of art from the sale.
On 11 May, BBC News reports that the same Banksy mural is up for auction again in Covent Garden by the Sincura Group. The auction is scheduled to take place in June. It is expected to fetch up to £450,000. On 24 September, after over a year since his previous piece, a new Banksy mural went up on his website along with the subtitle ‘Better Out Than In’.
Better Out Than In (2013)
A pop-up boutique of about 25 spray-art canvases appeared on Fifth Avenue near Central Park on 12 October. Tourists were able to buy Banksy art for just $60 each. In a note posted to his website, the artist wrote: “Please note this was a one-off. The stall will not be there again.” The BBC estimated that the street-stall art pieces could be worth as much as $31,000. The booth was manned by an unknown elderly man who went about four hours before making a sale, yawning and eating lunch as people strolled by without a second glance at the work. Banksy chronicled the surprise sale in a video posted to his website noting, “Yesterday I set up a stall in the park selling 100% authentic original signed Banksy canvases. For $60 each.” Two of the canvasses sold at a July 2014 auction for $214,000.
It was reported that then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Banksy a vandal whose work is not the definition of art, and that the NYPD‘s vandal squad was on the hunt for Banksy over his various graffiti art and installations. One creation was a fiberglass sculpture of Ronald McDonald and a real person, barefoot and in ragged clothes, shining the oversized shoes of Ronald McDonald. The sculpture was unveiled in Queens but moved outside a different McDonald’s around the city every day. Other works included a YouTube video showing what appears to be footage of jihadist militants shooting down an animated Dumbo the Elephant; travelling installations that toured the city including a slaughterhouse delivery truck full of stuffed animals and a waterfall; and a modified painting donated to a charity shop which was later sold in an online auction for $615,000. Banksy also posted a mock-up of a New York Times op-ed attacking the design of the One World Trade Center after the Times rejected his submission. The residency in New York concluded on 31 October 2013; many of the pieces, though, were either vandalised, removed or stolen.
‘Banksy in Gaza’ clip
In February 2015 Banksy published a 2-minute video titled “Make this the year YOU discover a new destination” about his trip to Gaza Strip. During his visit he has painted a few artworks including a kitten on the remains of a house destroyed by an Israeli air strike. (“I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website—but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens”) and a swing hanging off a watchtower. In a statement to the New York Times his publicist said,
I don’t want to take sides. But when you see entire suburban neighborhoods reduced to rubble with no hope of a future—what you’re really looking at is a vast outdoor recruitment center for terrorists. And we should probably address this for all our sakes.
Banksy opened Dismaland, a large scale group show lampooning Disneyland on 21 August 2015 and permanently closed on 27 September 2015. The “theme park” was located in Weston-super-Mare, United Kingdom. According to the Dismaland website artists Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer were represented in the show.
The Son of a Migrant from Syria
In December 2015, Banksy created several murals in the vicinity of Calais, France, including the so-called “Jungle” where migrants live as they attempt to enter the United Kingdom. His piece The Son of a Migrant from Syria depicts Steve Jobs as a migrant.
Banksy’s name and identity remain unknown – it has been stated that the reason for this secrecy is that graffiti is a crime.
A commonly cited 2008 Mail on Sunday investigation of several former schoolmates and associates stated that he is believed to be Robin Gunningham, a former pupil at the public Bristol Cathedral School. This suggestion was corroborated in 2016 by a study of the locations in which Banksy’s art has been found, which found that the incidence of Banksy’s works correlated with the known movements of Gunningham.
There has also been speculation that Banksy is a woman, or that Banksy is a team of seven artists. In October 2014 an internet hoax circulated that Banksy had been arrested and his identity revealed.
In August 2016, Scottish journalist Craig Williams published an investigative piece in which he connected the timing of Banksy’s murals with the touring schedule of the trip hop band Massive Attack. Williams put forward the suggestion that Banksy’s work could be the work of a collective, and that Banksy himself may be Massive Attack’s frontman, Robert Del Naja. Del Naja had been a graffiti artist during the 1980s prior to forming the band and had previously been identifiy