Summary of Banksy
With tongue firmly planted in cheek, English graffiti artist and international prankster Banksy has managed to become one of the world's most recognized artists while remaining relatively anonymous. Staying true to the credos of Street Art, he's built a celebrated body of work, both permanent and impermanent, that utilizes satire, subversion, dark humor, and irony to create resonant social, political, and humanist messages for the masses on a populous and public level. His style is universally familiar, founded on a signature stencil aesthetic that has elevated him from mere man with a spray can to a highly creative artist in his own right. He is responsible for catapulting guerilla work into the mainstream as a viable form of art.
- Banksy's artistry lies in his ability to use humor and sardonic wit to trick viewers into contemplating the underlying seriousness of his messages about capitalism, advertising, politics, and humanity. It is this very sense of innocent whimsy coupled with daring, glaring truths about our times that lift him to a role as potent social mediator all under the guise of art.
- Regardless of his fame, Banksy's chosen canvas remains the street and improvisational public places where his art can 'pop up" guerrilla-style retaining its resistance to being commercialized within any specific social sector, audience, or market.
- Anonymity has been Banksy's main way to operate, largely because it removes the status of artist as celebrity and instead forces a focus on the artwork. It also allows for the freedom of telling one's unapologetic truth without regard to consequence.
- In an ironic twist of fate, Banksy's subversive mien has only furthered his crossover to mainstream acceptance as the world takes note of his signature style and lack of any noted ego drive toward artistic recognition. The artist himself has become a bridge not unlike the ones his artwork aims to build.
- Because graffiti is illegal, Banksy's work continues to raise questions in the social sphere about the lines between public art and vandalism. If his work on the side of a building becomes a collectible, protected piece while another less known street artist is jailed for performing a similar action, what does this signify about the hypocrisy afforded to fame?
The Life of Banksy
Whether Banksy is one person, or a group of people we don't know. But it is a fact that he (she, or it) has created some of the most powerful, controversial, witty, and brilliant contemporary art.
Important Art by Banksy
In this iconic image, two (seemingly male) police officers in full, typical British uniforms are depicted kissing, in what appears to be a loving embrace. This work was originally spray-painted on the side of the Prince Albert pub in Trafalgar Street near the downtown core of the city of Brighton. Before its creation, one of Banksy's associates approached the pub owner on his behalf to seek permission for the work. The pub owner says, "My first thought was, 'oh no'. I thought we'd get in loads of trouble for it." But to his delight, after its creation, a group of uniformed officers appeared in front of the pub to view the piece and proceeded to take pictures. In 2011, the piece was replaced with a copy protected by a Perspex case, while the original was flown to the United States to be sold at auction.
The piece can be read in many ways. In one respect, Banksy is advocating for a sexual-identity accepting society by placing icons of authority in a pro-gay position. His use of policemen, rather than ordinary citizens, is intriguing, because the very subjects of his tender portrayal are often the ones to working to eradicate his vandalism. While some believe that he is poking fun at policemen, showing them in a vulnerable, intimate moment, others read the work more positively, as showing a human side to the police force, and emphasizing the strong bonds that exist on the police force between partners and teammates. The work is an undeniable testament to Banksy's use of irony to challenge us to build a bridge of understanding between expected enemies of ideology.
Spray paint - Originally painted in Brighton, England. Now in private collection
Rage, the Flower Thrower
This work, now covered and protected by a Perspex overlay, features a man dressed up in what we associate with traditional riot gear, with a bandana obscuring his face, and his cap on back-to-front. His stance is one of a person about to lob a Molotov cocktail; he's taking aim and is ready to throw his weapon. However, instead of a weapon, he holds a bunch of flowers (which are the only part of the mural to appear in color.) This piece is located on a wall on the side of a garage in Jerusalem on the main road to Beit Sahour, Bethlehem.
By substituting a weapon with a bunch of flowers, Banksy is advocating for peace, and he opted to install this particular message in a high-conflict area. The work also carries the message idea that peace comes with active hard work. In addition, the bouquet may as also represent a commemoration of lives lost in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and thus, his use of art to relay messages of social importance.
Stencil and spray paint - Bethlehem
Again, Banksy has taken a pre-existing image - in this case an iconic photograph from Vietnam in 1972, of a girl - Kim Phuc - fleeing from a napalm attack on her village. The original photograph was taken by associated press photographer Nick Ut and has developed into a short hand for the atrocities of the Vietnam War. Banksy has isolated the image of the horror-stricken girl (originally surrounded by a few other clothed children and seven soldiers running down a road away from the site of the napalm attack) and flanked her with Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald. These two instantly recognizable, smiling characters, when juxtaposed with the image of Napalm Girl, give the image a very twisted and sinister feel.
Both Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald are two family-friendly faces of American capitalism, the same country that dropped Napalm on Vietnam. Banksy's work then becomes a critique of not just America but also of capitalism. The girl's horror-stricken face is juxtaposed against the two characters' big, bright smiles. In this simple image, Banksy shows both the fun, carefree facade of American culture, and the reality that America also has a very dark, underbelly which drops bombs on people, and both commercializes and glamorizes war. Banksy once stated that "The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It's people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages."
Screenprint on paper
Show Me the Monet
This work by Banksy refigures the iconic Impressionist painting Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lillies (1899) by Claude Monet. Monet's original reveals a tranquil scene of his own garden, with rich vegetation reflected in the calm water. Banksy has replicated Monet's original painting almost exactly, using the same materials as Monet, however Banksy has added two discarded shopping carts and a traffic cone to the pond.
By using shopping carts, an image associated with consumerism, Banksy’s message is that society is focused on material goods, buying more than is necessary in a futile attempt to make itself feel happy and fulfilled. Moreover, by representing these man-made objects as discarded in an otherwise beautiful setting, he critiques contemporary society's disregard for nature in favor of commodity fetishism and the production of excessive waste. Even in the title Banksy has subverted the meaning of the Impressionist painting, with the word "money" being a play on "Monet".
Oil on canvas
This mural depicts two young boys playing with buckets and shovels, like children creating sandcastles on a beach. The boys, one standing, the other kneeling, look back at the viewer, rendered in Banksy's typical black and white stencil aesthetic. Just above the boys, the artist has created the illusion of a broken section of the grey wall on which the mural was created. Through this false hole, a photorealistic color image of a tropical beach paradise is visible.
As with much "guerrilla" Street Art, the location of the piece plays a central role in its meaning. Banksy stenciled this work onto the Israeli-Palestinian West Bank barrier wall in August 2005 along with eight other murals (including a dove with a bulletproof vest and a heart-shaped target over its chest, a child beneath a ladder stretching to the top of the wall, and the silhouette of a young girl being lifted upwards by a bunch of balloons). While the Israelis consider the wall to be a protection against terrorism, the Palestinians claim that its purpose is racial segregation.
Banksy's spokeswoman Jo Brooks said that while Banksy was creating the piece, "The Israeli security forces did shoot in the air threateningly and there were quite a few guns pointed at him." However, Banksy questioned, "How illegal is it to vandalize a wall if the wall itself has been deemed unlawful by the International Court of Justice?"
This piece plays on the notion that the grass may be greener, and the landscape (perhaps environmental, perhaps political) may be better on the other side of this large barrier (although we know that it isn't). The artist may also be suggesting that a better political landscape could only emerge if the barrier were destroyed. By including children in this, and several others of the murals on the wall, the artist forces us to consider the toll that the local conflict takes on the innocent. The viewer is even more strongly implicated in the work through the direct gaze of the children.
When painting these murals in 2005, Banksy had a conversation with a Palestinian man who told him, "You paint the wall, you make it look beautiful," to which Banksy replied, "Thanks." The Palestinian man then said, "We don't want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home."
Paint - West Bank barrier wall
One Nation Under CCTV
This work on Newman Street in London was painted on the wall of a building used by the Royal Mail. At the bottom right, a child in a red hooded sweatshirt, black shorts, and a grey backpack, is seen painting the phrase "ONE NATION UNDER CCTV" while being watched by a police officer and a dog at the bottom left.
The mural was situated in the line of sight of a CCTV camera. In fact, Banksy managed to erect three stories of scaffolding under the cover of darkness to create the entire artwork in one night. This work aims to criticize the excessive surveillance (both from CCTV cameras in public spaces, as well as in other forms such as online) that has recently become a controversial issue both in the UK and abroad. Banksy has done other works that aim to "tease" security cameras, for instance by stenciling the words "what are you looking at?" on a blank wall faced by a CCTV camera.
The Westminster City Council stated in October 2008 that the work would be painted over, regardless of the celebrity status of the artist, as it was illegal graffiti. The council 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, "If we condone this then we might as well say that any kid with a spray can is producing art." The work was eventually painted over in April 2009.
The condemning of Street Art as illegal vandalism, and its frequent removal, has been the focus of many other works by Banksy. But on the other hand, the fact that many of his works get removed shortly after their creation adds to the excitement and fanaticism that surrounds Banksy's work. Banksy biographer Will Ellsworth-Jones wrote in 2013 that Banksy "is an artist who has got people running around the city desperate to see his work before it gets painted over."
Mona Lisa Bazooka
In this work, Banksy plays upon one of the world's most famous paintings, The Mona Lisa (1503-4). Although in his piece, the female protagonist wears a headset while aiming a rocket launcher in his typical black and white stencil style. The piece first appeared in the Soho district of West London.
While Banksy's juxtaposition of art history's most famous female with a powerful modern weapon may certainly be cheeky, there is more that can be read into the image. While da Vinci's Mona Lisa appears graceful and passive, Banksy gives her a powerful, confrontational, and active sensibility. Her facial expression remains just as calm as in the original, however, next to the powerful weapon, her welcoming smile is menacing, in a much more horrific manner. It can also be read as a statement on how blasé citizens have become to the ongoing realities of war, always taking place somewhere far removed from their own tranquil lives.
This mural depicts a maintenance worker in an orange vest pressure washing art from a wall. The act seemingly destroys an ancient cave painting, a painting that is quite similar to the wonderous discovery at the time in France.
With this work, Banksy is drawing a parallel between the prehistoric cave paintings, and modern-day graffiti. While it is standard practice for the latter to be cleaned off of walls, it would be unthinkable for the same fate to befall the former. In this way, the artist questions the value placed on certain works of art, and the label of "vandalism" assigned to others.
This more recent Banksy work serves as an excellent example of the way that guerrilla Street Artists use the surrounding environment as an integral part of their works. In this work, Banksy has stenciled a simple black silhouette of a child with a large mallet in the process of striking something in front of him. The pre-existing object that the boy is about to hit is a red fire hydrant (or rather, a siamese connection for the fire department) which has a pipe coming up through the top leading directly to a round red object several feet higher (possibly a fire alarm). With the inclusion of the small boy with the mallet, this utilitarian plumbing fixture is instantly transformed to look like a "strength tester" (the classic carnival game where a player must strike a mallet to hit the bell at the top).
With site-specific works like Hammer Boy, Banksy and other Street Artists encourage viewers to envision urban spaces, surfaces, and objects differently, and to see fun and whimsy in otherwise mundane surroundings. In this way, Street Artists have much the same mentality as skateboarders or people who practice parkour. For all of these groups, city spaces and surfaces are not restricted to their prescribed uses. Instead, participants feel the freedom to co-opt and repurpose the urban environment. A fire hydrant is not just for holding water, it can also become a child's plaything. A handrail is not only for holding and supporting oneself, it can also become a tool for enacting daring acrobatic feats.
Spray Paint - 79th Street, New York City
Love is in the Bin
In October 2018, Banksy’s iconic image of Balloon Girl, featuring a young girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon as a beacon of innocent hope, was sold during a Sotheby’s auction for 1.04 million pounds. The moment it was pronounced “sold,” a strange alarm sounded from within the painting’s frame, its trigger source unknown. Immediately, the painting started to descend down through its bottom, which turned out to be a shredding mechanism. Although the painting was supposed to shred fully as Banksy later admitted, the device stopped working, leaving half the painting intact in the frame. Banksy posted a video of the shredding with the words “Going, going, gone” on his Instagram page, leading people to believe he had planted a subversive ally in the auction room. But he removed the video promptly, after it had successfully winked at his social media audience.
The female buyer decided to keep the work, newly retitled Love is in the Bin, as it was now the subject of a grand scandal, the only artwork created at a live auction in history, and cemented her in the status of purchaser of one of the art world’s most notorious capers. Joey Syer, co-founder of an art dealing website, was quoted in the Evening Standard as saying, “The auction result will only propel this further and given the media attention this stunt has received, the lucky buyer would see a great return on the 1.02M they paid last night, this is now part of art history in its shredded state and we’d estimate Banksy has added at a minimum 50% to its value…”
Banksy would go on to release a video showing how the shredder was installed into the frame upon its creation, stating it was purposefully crafted in case the work ever made it to auction. His reasoning came in the form of the quote: “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”
Biography of Banksy
Very little is known of Banksy's youth, as he continues to keep his true identity a secret. It is reported that he played (as goalkeeper) with the Easton Cowboys football club during the 1990s and early 2000s. According to Will Simpson, another long-time member of the Easton Cowboys, Banksy went on tour with the team to Mexico in 2001 and painted a number of murals in the communities they played in, including one painting that was "raffled off to raise money for water projects in Chiapas in southwestern Mexico."
According to investigation of several alleged former schoolmates and associates, along with indication by the geographic locations of Banksy's work, the artist is believed to be Robin Gunningham, a former student at the public Bristol Cathedral School. There has also been speculation that rather than being a single person, Banksy is a team of seven artists.
Education and Early training
Because of his anonymity, not much can be surmised about Banksy's education or training in art. Yet, from very early on in his career we find a creative proficiency with using original imagery to develop his own unique voice - one that combined controversial and humorous visuals to create anti-war, anti-capitalism, and anti-establishment messages.
In the early 1990s, Banksy began working as a freehand graffiti artist with the DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ) in his hometown of Bristol. Around 1994, he turned to stencil art, inspired by fellow street artist 3D who later became a founding member of the band Massive Attack. Stencils are traditionally hand drawn or printed onto sheets of acetate or card stock, and then cut out by hand. The stencils are then affixed to a surface, such as a wall, and spray-painted. When the stencil is removed, the image remains. This first signature tool allowed Banksy to execute pieces on the fly. Like many street artists, he adopted common recurring motifs such as apes, policemen, soldiers, rioters, children, and the elderly to mark his stamp in public spaces, which quickly began to garner a following. By proliferating these iconic-stenciled images around Bristol and London, he rapidly gained the attention of the street art community and the general public.
A prototypical street artist, Banksy justified his vandalism of public space, and his use of the city as canvas, as being a direct response to what he called "Brandalism," or, "any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not...The people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff. They expect to be able to shout their message in your face from every available surface but you're never allowed to answer back. Well, they started the fight and the wall is the weapon of choice to hit them back."
Banksy also frequently used rats in his art, as did his predecessor, the street artist Blek le Rat, who once stated, "I began to spray some small rats in the streets of Paris because rats are the only wild animals living in cities, and only rats will survive when the human race disappears and dies out." In Banksy's work, these nocturnal creatures (to most people associated with disease and infestation) can be understood as a sort of pseudonym or self-portrait of the artist who completes his illegal works under the cover of darkness.
Banksy said, "If you feel dirty, insignificant, or unloved, then rats are a good role model. They exist without permission, they have no respect for the hierarchy of society, and they have sex 50 times a day." The word "rat" also serves as an anagram of "art," although Banksy has admitted that he painted rats for several years before someone made him aware of this fact. Rats also happen to be rare vermin that resist deep hatred by humans, and have the survival skills to get by – somewhat like Street Artists that evade authority and operate often under the cover of darkness.
In the 1990s he met Bristol photographer Steve Lazarides, who began photographing Banksy and his work, and then went on to become his agent until 2009. Lazarides recently stated, "When I first met this scruffy, grumpy guy back in 1997, I would have never guessed that 20 years on he would be the most famous artist of his generation, and that his work would be studied on school curriculums." He also says, "I worked with him [Banksy] for 11 glorious years, during which time we broke every rule in the art rule book along with a fair few laws. He has since gone on to become a global superstar and has retained his ability to shock and make people chuckle."
After Banksy's professional relationship with Lazarides ended, he created his own organization, Pest Control, which acts as sole representative and contact liaison for his work, in charge of verifying authorship of his pieces and issuing documents of provenance to buyers.
In the early 2000s, Banksy evolved from stenciling the streets to creating prankster projects, staging public interventions within well-established art institutions, and organizing exhibitions in addition to continuing with his unsanctioned public works, all the while retaining his carefully cloaked invisibility within the public eye. Much of these efforts poked fun at art as commodity, or made specific statements on the way we are force-fed popular culture through mainstream mass distribution, and challenged our common culpability in consuming marketing, political, or media messages as truth.
In the early 2000s, Banksy began holding exhibitions and performing interventions within well-established art institutions, in addition to continuing with his unsanctioned public interventions. For example, he produced 100,000 fake British £10 bills, putting in a photo of Diana, Princess of Wales, and updating text to "Banksy of England".
In March 2005, he surreptitiously placed modified versions of artworks (such as a Warhol-esque painting of a discount soup can) in the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn.
In August/September of 2006, Banksy placed approximately 500 copies of Paris Hilton's debut CD, Paris, in 48 record stores around the UK, modified with his own cover art (Photoshopped to show Hilton topless). Other versions featured: Paris with her Chihuahua, Paris with Tinkerbell's head replacing her own, or Paris stepping out of a luxury car amongst a group of homeless people, which included the caption "90% of success is just showing up." Music tracks were given titles such as "Why Am I Famous?" "What Have I Done?" and "What Am I For?" Members of the public purchased many copies of the guerilla CD before stores were able to remove them. The purchased copies went on to be sold for as much as £750 on online auction websites.
In September 2006, Banksy dressed an inflatable doll in an orange jumpsuit, black hood, and handcuffs in resemblance of a Guantanamo Bay detainment camp prisoner. He then placed the doll below the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, where it remained for 90 minutes before the ride was shut down and the figure removed. By placing a harsh symbol of political reality within a noted escapist environment, Banksy was remarking on our propensity for keeping our eyes wide shut.
At his Barely Legal exhibition of 2006 in Los Angeles, which drew a celebrity crowd including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Banksy rented a live 38-year old female Indian elephant named Tai, painted in the same red and gold floral pattern as the wallpaper behind it. This “elephant in the room” was meant as a reminder of our ongoing ignorance of poverty around the world. Due to rights activists complaints, the elephant was not painted for the final day of the show, even though her handlers said that she had done "many, many movies [and is] used to makeup,” meaning that painting her was not a form of mistreatment.
In London, over the weekend of May 3-5, 2008, Banksy hosted an exhibition titled The Cans Festival (a play on words of the famous French film festival Cannes). Stencil artists from around the world (including Faile from Brooklyn, Bandit from the Netherlands, Run Don't Walk from Argentina, and James Dodd from Australia) were invited to paint their original artwork, as long as it did not cover or interfere with anyone else's. It took place in a road tunnel formerly used by Eurostar underneath the London Waterloo station. The location was kept secret while the works were completed, and only then revealed to the public. Eurostar agreed to leave the works intact for at least six months following the event.
In August 2008, three years after Hurricane Katrina and the associated levee failure disaster, Banksy produced a series of work in New Orleans, Louisiana, mostly on buildings that had yet to be repaired. He said, "Three years after Katrina I wanted to make a statement about the state of the cleanup operation." He also painted on the rebuilt levee wall, which according to him offered "the best painting surface in the state of Louisiana."
On June 13, 2009, the Banksy vs. Bristol Museum exhibition opened at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. The show featured more than 100 artworks (78 of which were new works), including animatronics, sculptures, and installations. The show drew over 8,500 visitors on the first weekend, and over 300,000 over the course of twelve weeks.
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," submerged in water.
At the London Zoo, Banksy climbed into the penguin enclosure and painted "We're bored of fish" in 7-foot-high letters. He also left the message "I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring, boring." in the elephant enclosure.
In 2010, Banksy's oeuvre expanded into filmmaking after he employed aspiring street artist Thierry Guetta as an assistant and documentarian on several visits to Los Angeles. He encouraged Guetta to pursue making art, which he did, closely following Banksy's example to ultimately become the branded graffiti artist Mr. Brainwash. This journey became the focus of Banksy's 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was nominated for an Oscar. Banksy released a statement about the nomination saying: "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."
From August 21 through September 27, 2015, Banksy opened Dismaland in Weston-super Mare, United Kingdom. The large-scale group show, which included artists Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer, was a dark and twisted take on Disneyland. The temporary theme park featured a gloomy castle and an overturned Cinderella's carriage.
A lso in 2015, Banksy created several murals in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, which were located in the area of Calais, France’s “jungle”—a site heavily packed with migrants attempting to enter the country. One of these murals ironically depicted Apple founder Steve Jobs, because as the artist described, “We're often led to believe migration is a drain on the country's resources, but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. Apple is the world's most profitable company, it pays over $7bn a year in taxes – and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.”
2017 saw Banksy collaborating with artists Sami Musa and Dominique Petrin to design the Walled Off Hotel, a real space of lodging in Bethlehem that the artist financed to mark the 100th anniversary of British control in Palestine. Also, housing an art gallery, the hotel was tightly surrounded by a wall that each of the bedrooms directly faced, rather than the prototypical vacation views. Although Banksy’s work shows a clear predilection for views in support of social justice, pieces created in this geographical area, have come under criticism by people and organizations such as Change.org because of their one-sided, sometimes borderline anti-semitic, messages.
In 2018, Banksy returned to New York City after a five-year absence for a graffiti spree that titillated the public with a spray of fresh works. Some works, such as a trademark rat running around a large clock face, were torn down quickly but others such as a portrait of imprisoned Kurdish artist Zehra Dogan on the Bowery Wall became adopted works into the fabric of the city.
The end of 2018 would bring to light a stroke of artistic genius from Banksy, in an unforgettable pre-strategized prank that rocked the art world’s stuffy foundation. One of Banksy’s prior works Balloon Girl was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for 1.04 million pounds, yet just as the gavel sound confirmed the piece was sold, an alarm sounded from inside the picture frame and the piece started to pass through a shredder that had been buried inside. The antic would go down in history as presenting the first piece of artwork, created guerilla-style, in the midst of an auction.
The event would also represent an evolution in Banksy’s nearly two decades long career where the artist’s strict anonymity had become concretely replaced by a worldwide recognition so vast, it would inevitably change the future course of his works. No longer abetted by the street art underground’s codas of secrecy, Banksy had become undeniably familiar, accepted, easily recognized, and sought after by the public at large. This became blindingly clear in 2018, when he painted the mural Season’s Greetings on a garage in Wales. The two-sided piece depicted a child tasting snowflakes which were revealed to be smoke and embers from a fire. The town was immediately abuzz about the possibility of the work being done by Banksy, the garage owner expressed fear and anxiety over the responsibility of protecting the piece from vandalism, and eventually a plastic screen and security guards were funded to cover the work.
This new reality has manifested in an emerging visibility by Banksy, of which he remains unseen yet engages on social media applications such as Instagram with his public; it is a place fans and collectors follow now to confirm authorship of Banksy’s works as he actively posts new pieces and claims creation.
His art continues to tantalize the status quo and shed light on our societal woes. Staying ever relevant within the arena of current events, Banksy recognized healthcare workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 by creating, dedicating, and donating a painting to the University Hospital of Southampton.
The Legacy of Banksy
On May 21, 2007 Banksy was selected to receive an award for Greatest Living Briton. Along with other artists like Shepard Fairey, Zevs, D*Face, and Ron English, he is credited with transforming graffiti from the typical "bubble writing" style of the 1980s to the "narrative-driven street art" of today. This contemporary street art varies significantly in aesthetic and materials, from Banksy's stencils, to Swoon's wheat paste posters, to Zevs' "liquidated logos" technique, to Space Invader's tile art. Other street artists, such as his protégé Mr. Brainwash, have adopted Banksy's particular style of instantly recognizable images such as corporate mascots and famous historical paintings.
This "guerrilla art," also referred to as "post-graffiti art," which Banksy helped develop, often plays heavily upon location and context as part of the work, and seeks to regain power from stronger enemies (such as corporations and governments). These artists accomplish this by carrying out interventions in corporate and government spaces (such as billboards, storefronts, and barrier walls), and by co-opting corporate and government images (such as logos, mascots, political figures, and official currency). Banksy has also pioneered the use of alternative venues for the display of street art, as in his 2003 exhibition Turf War, which was staged in a warehouse on Kingsland Road in London's East End.
Moreover, his art has sold for extremely high prices at auction, with pieces being purchased by collectors and celebrities alike for millions of dollars, making Banksy one of the first street artists to become part of the commercial art market. However, this commercial success troubles the artist, who says that "Commercial success is a mark of failure for a graffiti artist," and "We're not supposed to be embraced in that way." He continues to believe that "When graffiti isn't criminal, it loses most of its innocence." This is an ongoing controversy in the art world, with many artists being seen as "sell-outs" when they embrace the mainstream art world success. Banksy's establishment of representatives and liaisons for points of sale of his work has furthered this controversy. However, many other street artists (including equally famous Shepard Fairey) argue that they use this legitimate income to fund further illicit, unsanctioned guerrilla art.
Banksy's reception on a universal scale has also legitimized graffiti as a viable form of public art, furthering debate between vandalism as criminal activity and vandalism as an artist's creative medium (in a way, becoming a symbol of freedom). Many of his works remain on buildings and other public spaces because of their contemporary value, even if at the time of their creation, they were seen as illegally concocted. In fact, many building owners have benefitted from becoming "owners" of an original Banksy.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Banksy
- Banksy: The Man Behind the WallOur PickBy Will Ellsworth-Jones
- Banksy: Art Breaks the RulesBy Hettie Bingham
- Banksy in New YorkBy Ray Mock
- Banksy. Myths & Legends: A Collection of the Unbelievable and the IncredibleBy Marc Leverton
- Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall
- Banksy, Existencilism
- Banksy, Cut It Out
- Banksy, Wall and PieceOur Pick
- Banksy, Pictures of Walls
- Banksy: You Are an Acceptable Level of ThreatBy Gary Shove, Patrick Potter, and Banksy
- Where's Banksy?: Banksy's Greatest Works in ContextBy Xavier Tapies
- Banksy: Urban Art in a Material Worldby Ulrich Blanché and Rebekah Jonas
- Banksy Locations & Tours Volume 1: A Collection of Graffiti Locations and Photographs in London, EnglandBy Martin Bull
- Banksy Locations & Tours Volume 2: A Collection of Graffiti Locations and Photographs from Around the UKBy Martin Bull
- This Is Not a Photo Opportunity: The Street Art of BanksyBy Martin Bull
- Banksy's Bristol: Home Sweet HomeBy Steve Wright and Richard Jones