Arguably the most controversial street artist in the world, Banksy has developed an entire art subculture devoted to his works. Banksy’s art can impact any location at any given moment. His identity remains unknown, even after over 30 years of being involved with the graffiti scene. He has worked with many different types of street art media and street art types. His work not only includes many powerful, often controversial images, but they may also be found throughout the internet as viral images.
Banksy began his graffiti art lifestyle by admiring the works of Blek Le Rat and often recycling his old ideas. He has been very active in the graffiti scene since the early 1990s. Initially, he hung around a graffiti crew in Bristol by the name of DryBreadZ crew or DBZ. Soon after, he began to partner with Inkie, another notable graffiti street artist.
By the age of 18, Banksy began to develop stencils after nearly being caught vandalizing public spaces by police. As his crew fled from the scene, Banksy was stuck hiding beneath a garbage truck. It was at this time that Banksy saw stencil letters on the truck. Looking for a faster way to paint, Banksy decided stenciling would be his new graffiti type.
The most common form of street art Banksy uses are stencils. These are often in the form of multi-layeredstencils and/or combined with other media sources, such as spray-paint. He also includes anything found in the streets like street signs and other objects to convey his message by crafting beautiful street art installations. His artwork is often satirical and combines dark humor with graffiti and also spread messages across art, philosophy, and politics.
By the early 2000s, Banksy relocated to London, where he began to gain notoriety and even worked on a series of international exhibits. Eventually, he decided to travel to Palestine and the West Bank, where he stenciled nine images on the Bethlehem Wall. These images were an instant hit and virally exploded online.
At this time, Banksy’s silkscreen prints and stencil paintings were racking up record-breaking sales in storied art auctions such as Sotheby’s and Bonham’s of London. These successful sales officially broke him into the commercial business. In 2010 Banksy became a successful author and filmmaker for the film “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”
Very little is known about Banksy himself, as he refuses to be interviewed and keeps his identity carefully maintained. A world-renowned mystery man, Banksy has risen through the ranks to become one of the world’s greatest street artists partly by creating an urgency to understand his character. Street art fanatics are consistently satisfied with every piece of art he delivers, though he often leaves them wanting more. This tactic carries one’s curiosity to explore a completely new perspective or idea, leaving his artistic creations to inspire beginning and advanced artists. This inspiration is also known as the “Banksy Effect.”
The media and his supporters have always questioned Banksy’s identity due to a variety of identity claims. Most recently, many popular theories, including an entire newspaper publication, pointed his identity at being a Bristol native by the name of Robin Gunninham. If this is theory holds true, it will allow even greater insight into the artistic world Banksy inhibits. What is even more interesting is that he has managed to completely conceal his identity from his family. To this date, no Banksy identity claim has ever been definitive.
In October 2013, Banksy undertook a month-long residency in New York in 2013 named “Better Out Than In” which consisted of unveiling a new piece of work everyday. On Day 13, the artist disguised as a typical street vendor and set up a stand in Central Park where he sold black-and-white paintings for $60. Only eight pieces of art were sold. The following day, Banksy authentificated those canvas on his website saying “Yesterday I set up a stall in the park selling 100% authentic original signed Banksy canvases. For $60 each”. A year after, Winnie the Pooh purchased during Banksy’s New York residency sold for £56,250 on July 2nd 2014 at Bonhams in London.
In Summer 2015, Banksy organised a temporary art project called Dismaland, a dystopian theme park built in the seaside resort town of Weston-super-Mare, in England. Prepared in secret, the project unveiled 10 new works by Banksy and the pieces from 58 other artists.
In March 2017, Banksy participated in the designing of The Walled Off Hotel located in Bethlehem opposite the Israeli West Bank Barrier. With its nine Banksy-designed rooms, guests could literally sleep inside a work of art. Originally intended as a temporary and provocative piece of installation art, the Walled Off Hotel has rapidly become a top tourist attraction along with the city’s traditional pilgrimage site with the reputed spot where Jesus was born, turning the controversial 700-kilometre-long wall that cuts through occupied Palestinian land into a surprising tourist site.
In October 2018, a painting by the anonymous street artist sold at Sotheby’s auction house in London for £1.04 million. Shortly after the hammer came down on the lot, the canvas began to pass through a shredder installed in the frame, shredding half of it. “It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” reported Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s senior director and head of Contemporary Art in Europe. The piece was a famous Banksy print known as “Girl with Balloon” created back in 2006. Banksy’s balloon girl, which was voted UK’s best-loved work of art in 2017, became the first instance of a self-destructing painting. The Banksy posted a video to his Instagram account to confirm the move was intentional and showed how he built a shredding device into the large golden frame. The new work was then given a new title “Love is in the Bin”. One less than savvy Banksy owner, that actually shredded their own Banksy print in the hope the stunt would add value to their investment, was very disappointed.
Most recently, Banksy stenciled the image of a migrant child signalling for help with a neon pink flare beside one of the Venice canals along a series of nine oil paintings which when placed together depict a huge cruise ship. Banksy’s intervention aimed at denouncing the mass tourism which is endangering the Italian city.
Banksy’s artwork has been seen across the world. His travels have included Australia, England, France, Italy, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, and even Israel.