Where’s Banksy?

Some might call his works graffiti but others consider his vandalism rare collectibles, which are now worth an enormous amount of money.

The secretive and highly-sought-after British graffiti artist Banksy recently left his mark on some buildings in Los Angeles, which has nearly doubled their value. The elusive artist left his mark on two downtown Los Angeles buildings over the weekend.

Although Banksy’s satirical public artworks are distinctively recognisable not too many people know what he himself looks like. Gallery owner Robert Berman describes why the mysterious artist is so notorious: “He has a huge amount of street credit for the fact that he’s done all these things so public against the law and never been caught”.

The Beginning of Banksy’s Street Art Career

Banksy started as a freehand graffiti artist between 1992–1994 as one of Bristol’s DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ), with Kato and Tes. He was inspired by local artists and his work was part of the larger Bristol underground scene, involving collaborations between artists and musicians. From the start he used stencils as elements of his freehand pieces, too. His artworks, which have now appeared in cities around the world, are often satirical pieces of art on topics such as politics, culture, and ethics.

By 2000 he had turned to the art of stencilling after realising how much less time it took to complete a piece. He claims he changed to stencilling whilst he was hiding from the police under a train carriage, 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.

Banksy’s Street Art Style

Banksy’s street art method combines graffiti writing with a distinctive stencilling technique and is similar to Blek le Rat, who began to work with stencils in 1981 in Paris. It is also similar to members of the anarchy-punk band Crass who maintained a graffiti stencil campaign on the London Tube System in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Banksy does not sell photos of street graffiti. Art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art on location and leave the problem of its removal in the hands of the winning bidder.

Banksy’s stencils feature striking and humorous images occasionally combined with slogans. The message is usually anti-war, anti-capitalist or anti-establishment. Subjects include rats, monkeys, policemen, soldiers, children, and the elderly.

Banksy’s Hidden Identity

Although Banksy’s identity is unknown he is believed to be a native of Yate, South Gloucestershire, near Bristol and to have been born in 1974. In July 2008, it was claimed by The Mail on Sunday that Banksy’s real name is Robin Gunningham. According to Tristan Manco, in his 2002 book Stencil Graffiti, Banksy “[is the] son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980s.”

Simon Hattenstone from Guardian Unlimited is one of the very few people to have interviewed him face-to-face. Hattenstone described him, in his Guardian article ‘Something to Spray’ on the July 17, 2003, as “a cross of Jimmy Nail and British rapper Mike Skinner” and “a 28 year old male who showed up wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a silver tooth, silver chain, and one silver earring”. In the same interview, Banksy revealed that his parents think their son is a painter and decorator.

In regards to his identity Banksy himself states, on his website: “I am unable to comment on who may or may not be Banksy, but anyone described as being ‘good at drawing’ doesn’t sound like Banksy to me.”

Banksy Street Art in Camden, London

Banksy’s Technique

Due to the secretive nature of Banksy’s work and identity, it is uncertain what techniques he uses to generate the images in his stencils, though it is assumed he uses computers for some images due to the photocopy nature of much of his work.

Asked about his technique, in Design is Kinky on January 26, 2009, Banksy said: “I use whatever it takes. Sometimes that just means drawing a moustache on a girl’s face on some billboard, sometimes that means sweating for days over an intricate drawing. Efficiency is the key.”

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Most recently Banksy’s first film, ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2010. Peter Bradshaw commented on the film, in his Guardian article, dated March 4, 2010, saying that “this teasing faux documentary about Banksy and his fellow street artists is priceless.” He also created 10 street pieces around Park City and Salt Lake City to tie in with the screening.

Sources

  • ‘Something to spray’ by Simon Hattenstone (July 17, 2003) The Guardian
  • ‘Design is Kinky’(January 26, 2009) http://www.designiskinky.net/
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