Who is Banksy?
That’s the million dollar question that the whole world wants to know! Unfortunately, we can’t unmask the anonymous artist, since his name, life, and face are all hidden to the world, but we can give you a look into the art he’s created!
Not a reader? No worries — we have a quick video that breaks down everything you need to know about Banksy!
About the Artist
Banksy is an anonymous street artist, known best for his freehand graffiti and stencil artwork in public places. He’s so secretive, in fact, that the only thing we know about his past is that he was probably born in England. Though his fame continues to grow, he chooses to remain completely unidentified. Interviews, while rare, are conducted via email or with altered voice responses put on tape.
How Did His Art Career Begin?
With his identity well guarded, Banksy first gained notoriety in 1993 for his freehand graffiti. Originally, he spray painted walls and trains in Bristol, UK with a graffiti group called he DryBreadZ Crew. Since graffiti is illegal, it’s assumed that he concealed his identity so that he wouldn’t get in trouble. By 2000, he began using stencils to enhance his speed. This is around the time that his mural from 1999 titled The Mild Mild West gained popularity and is considered his first well-known artwork.
Banksy’s Art & Activism
Banksy is more than an artist, but a political activist. Art is his tool to release important messages about current political, social, and environmental issues, taking an anti-war and anti-capitalist stance. He also challenges art institutions of all kinds, no matter what their political standings are. His growing fame has allowed for world-wide conversations to take place about these issues.
Banksy's Street Art
Banksy’s career started as a street artist, but what makes his work revolutionary and captivating? Banksy has an interesting way of incorporating his street art in the landscape. Whether it is a hole in the wall or a sharp corner, Banksy uses the context of the environment he’s in to make his street art stand out and have more meaning.
Girl With Balloon, 2002
This image is one of Banksy’s most famous pieces of street art. It depicts a young girl releasing a heart shaped balloon with the words “There is always hope” written beside it. This is believed to symbolize the innocence of children and how they are the hope for the future.
Love is in the Air, 2003
This piece is located in Jerusalem, on the West Bank Wall that separates Palestine from Israel. It is just one of Banksy’s anti-war demonstrations that promotes peace in war torn countries.
Show Me the Monet, 2005
In this artwork, Banksy added his own touch to a famous painting by Claude Monet. In this otherwise peaceful scene, Banksy inserted a traffic cone and shopping carts into the pond. In an interview with Channel 4 News, Banksy is quoted saying, “The vandalised paintings reflect life as it is now. We don’t live in a world like Constable’s Haywain anymore and, if you do, there is probably a travellers’ camp on the other side of the hill. The real damage done to our environment is not done by graffiti writers and drunken teenagers, but by big business… exactly the people who put gold-framed pictures of landscapes on their walls and try to tell the rest of us how to behave.”
Season’s Greetings, 2018
Like Girl With a Balloon, Banksy depicts childhood innocence in this street art. It shows a child playing in the snow and eating snowflakes, only to show around the corner that it is not snowflakes that spike the image, but ash. This is a great example of how Banksy uses his environment to elevate his street art.
Banksy's Performance Art
Stealthily and with humorous wit, Banksy has merged graffiti with installation and performance. WIth an arrangement or “pranks”, he has created some of the most intriguing performance pieces within the art world.
Crude Oils, 2005
In this exhibition, Banksy displayed tons of parodies of famous paintings, including Monet’s Lily Pads, and van Gogh’s Sunflowers. During the show, he released 200 live rats into the gallery he had rented. Banksy had said that rats are the ultimate role models, because they are “unloved and undesirable”. Still, they survive and have enough power to disrupt large communities.
Untitled (Art in Museums), 2003-2005
Throughout Banksy’s career, he has often placed his art within some of the world’s most renowned museums. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, the American Museum of Natural History, The Louvre, Brooklyn Museum, and Tate Britain are all on the lists of museums that have held his art. No, he wasn’t asked to place his art there, but snuck in and placed his art alongside some of the most famous paintings in history! A note to remember is that at the time, Banksy was not as famous as he is now, so these displays of art were seen as pranks and were taken down. In an interview with the “Hang and Run” artist, Banksy revealed that he learned how to sneak in paintings from Houdini biographies!
Barely Legal, 2006
In September 2006, Banksy had a one weekend warehouse installation in Los Angeles called “Barely Legal” which was quite controversial. He decorated a live elephant, which attracted large crowds despite the lack of publicity. The elephant was placed in a living room, and was painted to match the richly decorated wallpaper, symbolizing “the elephant in the room.” This referred to how billions of people are in poverty, but while a lot of people sit and feel sad about it, they rarely do anything to help.
The Cans Festival, 2008
This exhibition took place in London and was a play on words of the Cannes Film Festival. It was hosted by Banksy and was held in a London rail tunnel called Leake Street Tunnel. There, he encouraged visitors to add art under the condition that they don’t cover anyone else’s spray paintings. Before the space was opened to the public for their contribution, Banksy and 40 other international artists added their own spray painted work to the tunnel.
In September of 2015, Banksy debuted his most elaborate and grand-scale installation art project: Dismaland. It acted as a parody of Disneyland, where instead of keeping the magic, it was determined to strip it away. It was a temporary amusement park and conceptual art show that took place in Weston-super-Mare, England. Weary and disinterested greeters wandered the attraction, wearing pink vests that read “Dismal” across the back. It included work from 58 other international artists as well including Bill Barminski, Damien Hirst, and Darren Cullen to name a few.
Darren Cullen said in an interview with Guardian that none of the participating artists even got to meet Banksy while creating this exhibit. The park also hosted late night parties and concerts. Banksy described it as “a family attraction that acknowledges inequality and impending catastrophe.” Banksy believed that attractions like Disneyland were in place to distract us from the worldly issues that surround us, like pollution and inequality. Thus, he created Dismaland, which highlighted those issues instead of ignoring them.
Walled off Hotel, 2017
Walled off Hotel was opened in 2017 in Bethlehem. It was constructed next to the wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, and boasts that it has “the worst view of any hotel in the world.” The rooms are decorated with work by Banksy himself, and has a gallery that exhibits works from many Palestinian artists.
Love is in the Bin, 2018
In late 2018, Banksy pulled a stunt where one of his most popular murals, Girl with Balloon (2006), was being sold as a canvas print. However, upon being sold for $1.4 million, the piece shredded itself. While people speculated about the meaning and the auction house’s involvement on social media, Banksy posted a video taking credit for building the mechanism within the frame. However, he also stated that it malfunctioned, and was meant to destroy the piece entirely, but we think it only made the artwork even more interesting! Banksy’s authentication bureau, Pest Control, created a certificate that acknowledged the destroyed work was a new piece called Love Is in the Bin.
Banksy’s Other Creative Endeavours
On top of his contributions to art, Banksy has also written three books: Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall (2001), Existencilism (2002), and Wall and Piece (2005). Each book documents his projects and iconic pieces of work. Banksy has also directed a film titled Exit Through the Gift Shop, a film about some of the world’s most talented graffiti artists. While some critics took the film for what it was, others believed that it was a parody. Thierry Guetta, a filmmaker-turned-street artist, was the documentary’s main subject, who commented on the commercialization of art. Some theorize that he was just an actor paid by Banksy, while others theorized that he was Banksy himself.
What fascinates us most about Banksy?
Is it his message, his mystery, or the combination of the two? Either way, his art has captivated the masses. It continues to break social norms and push people to learn about conditions around the world. It’s why he is one of the most famous contemporary artists in the world — even though he is anonymous!
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