The term International Man of Mystery is perhaps best used when it comes to describe the controversial street graffiti artist Banksy. The elusive artist has announced his first UK show since 2009, and the people are buzzing about it. The Banksy vs Bristol Museum show in 2009 drew in huge crowds, and his new show- Dismaland– is proving to be even more popular.
Dismaland is an exhibition at a derelict seafront Lido in Weston-super-mare. The show has been described by Banksy as a ‘family theme park unsuitable for children’.
The exhibition, which will require a lot of audience participation; has been kept a secret from residents and council workers for a long time. In fact, only four people in the entire council knew about Bankys’ exhibition taking place. Speculation had been growing in the area when locals began noticing structures being built, however they were told that a Hollywood movie was going to be shot there.
With Weston-super-mare embracing itself for a huge number of crowds it is clear to see the impressive following that Banksy has. But who is Banksy? Thousands flock to view his art, but no-one knows who this man truly is. This profile will explore everything that we do know about the man known as Banksy.
Who Is Banksy?
Banksy is an artist of many mediums. He is a film director, painter, installation artist, graffiti artist and political activist. The British main gained his following by creating satirical street art, art that is laced with dark humor and full of political and social commentary. Banksy works of art have popped up all over the world, and it is easy to spot a Banksy when you see one.
Banksy began his work as a graffiti artist in the early 1990s. He was part of a graffiti grew named DryBreadZ Crew in Bristol’s underground scene. Beginning as a freehand graffiti artists, Banksy turned to the art of stenciling by the year 2000. He says that he decided to change to stenciling whilst hiding from police under a lorry, where he noticed a stenciled serial number. Creating stencils means that it takes much less time to complete a piece of work on the street, letting him remain secretive, and more importantly not be arrested during his early years as a graffiti artist. By using this stenciling technique Banksy became more well known and noticed for his art around Bristol and London.
The stenciled art that Banksy produces is, as aforementioned, satirical street art with political and social commentary. The images are striking and usually contain slogans, and the message delivered through Banksy’s work is almost always anti-establishment and anti-war. Banksy’s art is displayed on walls and self-built props- it is always publicly visible. The artist does not sell any photographs or reproductions of his work, however art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art, yet the leave the removal of the art from the wall on which it resides up to the highest bidder.
Exit Through The Gift Shop was Banksy’s first film, and debuted in 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival. Subsequently, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary in January 2011, and Banksy was awarded Person of the Year at the 2014 Webby Awards.
Why Is He So Popular?
Whilst many artists can be seen as uncooperative and untouchable, Banksy is more than that. He is intelligent. He does not do sit down interviews, he does not bask in his fame and he does not charge extortionate prices for his work, making his works untouchable for those but the rich. Banksy instead cultivates his persona by teasing it out over the years- inviting us to look at his artwork, to discover what it means and to agree with his political and social agendas all while having no clue who the man behind the art really is. Banksy creates art for the people who are not happy with the state of the world, who do not sit in their ivory towers judging others but who instead see the need for change, for revolution.
Banksy once characterized his works as a form of underclass ‘revenge’, of guerilla warfare. His artworks aim to take power and glory from the larger, more powerful and more suppressive enemy and put power back into the social classes. He mocks centralized power, and aims to show the public that we are feeding a system that constantly works against us. Banksy’s works are anti-war, anti-fascism, anti-imperialist, anti-authoritarianism, anarchist, nihilist, anti-consumerist and existentialist. Through a dark and humorous stencil painting on a building Banksy can convey his message to millions of people over the world, and his critiques on greed, hunger, poverty, despair and hypocrisy unite nations in the questioning and examination of the human condition.
There are many reasons behind Banksy’s success. To begin with, his anonymity makes him an enigma- no-one knows who he is, but everyone wants to know. Secondly, his political pieces promote thought and change, they unite those who seek for a different world and call for an up cry. Finally, Banksy’s art is inescapable. You do not have to go to an art gallery specifically to see a Banksy. You can be walking down the street and come across one, you can take the same route every day for ten years and one day a Banksy artwork will appear in your path.
Bansky brings his art to the people.
• Banksy began painting freehand and turned to stencils from the late 1990s onwards
• Banksy was born in Bristol in 1974.
• In the film Children of Men you can see Banksy artworks in the background
• Banksy illustrated the opening credits to The Simpsons in 2010
• He is the son of a photocopier technician
• Banksy designed the cover art for Blur’s Think Tank
At London Zoo Banksy climbed into the penguin enclosure and painted ‘We’re bored of fish’ in 7 foot high letters.
At Bristol Zoo Banksy got into the elephant enclosure and painted ‘I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring,boring.’
May 2005, Banky’s version of a primitive cave painting- one that depicted a human figure hunting wildlife whilst pushing a shopping trolley- was hung in gallery 49 of the British Museum in London.
August 2005, Banksy painted nine images on the Israeli West Bank barrier.
April 2006, Banksy placed one of his sculptures on a side street in Soho, London. It was a crumpled red telephone box with a pickaxe in it’s side, shown to be bleeding. This sculpture was removed by Westminster Council.
June 2006, Banksy created an image of a naked man hanging from a bedroom window on a wall in central Bristol. The city debated over whether to keep the image or not, and after a public poll the decided to keep the artwork, as 97% of those surveyed supported the art.
September 2006, Banksy dressed an inflatable doll to look like a prisoner of Guantanamo Bay, dressing the doll in an orange jumpsuit, with a black hood and handcuffs. He then placed this doll inside the Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.
July 2012, he made several pieces based upon the upcoming London 2012 Olympic games.One image showed an athlete throwing a missile instead of a Javelin.
April 2014, Banksy created a piece in Cheltenham near the GCHQ headquarters. The piece showed three men wearing sunglasses and using listening devices to listen in on a conversation happening in a telephone box.
What Does He Actually Look Like?
Despite having created many famous pieces all over the world, on display to the public, we still do not know who Banksy really is. There are a few people who have interviewed him, and there are people who claim to have seen Banksy, yet the majority of us would not know who he was if he walked right up to us. There was even in internet hoax circulating in October 2014 claiming that Banksy had been arrested- a story that has seen over 3 million shares on Facebook- but which, evidently, is not true. Then, there are those people who believe that Banksy is a woman, or a team of seven artists. The reality is, we do not know who this elusive artist is. Still- there is speculation.
The publication Mail on Sunday held an investigation into Banksy’s identity in 2008. According to the publication, several former schoolmates of the artists state his name is Robin Gunningham, and that he was born in Bristol and is a former public of Bristol Cathedral School.
Then, there is the supposed sighting of Banksy in the Lake District. Apparntly, Banksy walked into the art bistro Wild Zucchinis in Cockermouth, Cumbria, and introduced himself as Robin Banks to the French-Canadian born owner Manon Plouffe. Manon says that she had never heard of Banksy, but this man was very interested in the art they had on display, specifically the graffiti art, saying ‘This is funky, I really like it’. The man also admired the quote of the day on the board outside, which read ‘it’s not about ho good you are, but how good you want to be’. He was there ten minutes before closing time so just walked around admiring the art, not stopping for any food or drink. Manon says they have never seen him since. She describes him as white, in his late 40s with scruffy clothes.
Finally, Simon Hattenstong from The Guardian interviewed Banksy face to face in 2003. Simon described Banksy as ‘white, 28, scruffy casual-jean, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring. He looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets.’
Who knows what Banksy really looks like? I for one hope that we never find out the truth.