Who is Banksy: an artist, a “quality vandal” and a provocateur

Black Square Design
9 min readJun 23, 2020

British street art artist, who proved to everyone that graffiti is worthy to be called a work of art, shocked the audience again, destroying its legendary painting at an auction on October 5. We talk about the most interesting performances and works of an anonymous genius.

One of the artist’s most famous paintings, “Girl with a Balloon,” self-destructed at the Sothebyʼs auction in London on October 5. After it was sold for a million pounds, the built-in shredder worked, which cut the canvas into small strips. In his Instagram account, the artist published a video in which he said that he came up with this plan several years ago in case he ever wanted to put up a picture for auction. Surprisingly, according to experts, now the cost of the picture can increase significantly.

The very moment of self-destruction of the picture at Sotheby’s auction on October 5, 2018

There are so many more questions than answers in this story. The Schröder was activated remotely, but most likely, it was done by one of the guests present in the hall. Does this mean that the artist himself or his assistant visited Sothebyʼs? The painting over the previous 12 years belonged to another owner. If the shredder was running on batteries, why didn’t they run out during this time? Was the original canvas really destroyed? However, there is no one to ask these questions directly, because no one knows the real name and contacts of the author of the picture.

While auction representatives and experts make guesses and seek explanations, we find out why the artist seeks to remain anonymous, and also recall his most interesting works and provocative performances.

Banksy is the most mysterious and discussed street artist of our time. He works in his own original technique, using not only spray cans, but also pre-prepared stencils. His drawings are always symbolic statements that carry a social perspective. Banksy draws attention to the most important and pressing issues: the vices of a consumer society, the innocent victims of war, global warming and so on. He did what no street art artist had previously succeeded in — he brought graffiti to the level of art.

More than twenty years have passed since his first graffiti appeared on the streets of Bristol, but over the years no one has ever found out who exactly is hiding behind a pseudonym. So anonymity has become an integral part of the image of the artist. Once Banksy said: “If you want to say something so that people hear you, you need to be in a mask.”

Banksy often uses the image of a rat, a symbol of the underground, in his works. It is rats that are able to survive in any conditions and resist the attempts of destruction.

However, attempts to establish the identity of a high-profile artist do not stop. Not only the journalists of the most popular foreign publications tried to get on Banksy’s track, but also professional criminologists and detectives. Detectives used the latest search approaches, such as the geographic profiling method used by police to locate serial killers. Its essence is that a conditional criminal commits an offense within his “comfort zone”, that is, not far from his place of residence. After analyzing about 140 places on the streets of London and Bristol, where Banksy left his works of art, detectives concluded that Robin Cunningham, an artist and a graduate of a public school in Bristol, could be hiding behind a pseudonym. It was he who often visited pubs and football fields, next to which the mysterious Banksy painted graffiti, and his movements coincide with the advent of new drawings.

But there are other assumptions. For example, some people think that Banksy and the famous musician, a member of the Massive Attack, Robert Del Nye — are the same person. Robert was born in Bristol and painted graffiti on the streets of his hometown long before he decided to found a musical group. Fans of this theory say that often it is in those cities that are included in the Massive Attack tours that the artist’s works appear. But the main argument for this assumption is that Banksy’s friend, the British musician DJ Goldie, accidentally named “Robert” during an interview when he spoke of a popular artist. “Write Banksy on the T-shirt in bulk, that’s all. Now it can be sold, ”he said. And then he added: “No disrespect for Robert. I think he is an amazing artist. I think he turned the world of art. ” However, Robert and Banksy deny these rumors.

Robert Del Nye, Massive Attack concert in Spain on June 14, 2014

Someone even claims that Banksy is not one person, but a group of seven different artists. Perhaps this explains the vast geography of the artist’s work, as well as their number. Banksy himself is ironic about all these theories. He wrote on his website: “I can’t comment on who Banksy is or is not, but I don’t think that anyone who knows how to draw is suitable for this definition.”

Keegan Hamilton, who managed to get an exclusive interview from the artist for the New York weekly The The Village Voice, says Banksy is a true conspiracy master: “It’s just amazing how he manages to maintain his anonymity, given how he risks, and how popular his personality is. I would be extremely surprised if he willingly revealed himself, because now he is enveloped in mystery. He’s a public intrigue, to which interest has grown more and more over the years, given that no one knows who he is. ”

Such a strong desire to keep their real name a secret to some even suggests that the artist may be associated with the criminal sphere. Banksy himself calls himself a “quality vandal.” He also explains his anonymity as a social stance against a culture that engages in idle chatter instead of comprehension. “I have no reason to reveal my identity. I believe that there are already enough self-confident empty people whose ugly little faces constantly flash in front of you, ”says the artist.

Banksy not only knows how to expertly hide from the public, but also does not miss the chance to carry out provocative performances, while remaining unnoticed. So, for example, once he decided that his work could dilute the stiffness and pretentiousness of exhibitions in museums in Europe and America. Several times he penetrated into various exhibition halls and left his own paintings or small art compositions as a keepsake. The way the artist brought his exhibits to museums was filmed on camera by his assistant. Banksy then uploaded the video to his website and, together with his fans, waited for the forgery to be discovered.

A painted stone suddenly appeared in the British Museum, which imitated a fragment of a prehistoric cave painting. It depicted a man with a cart from a supermarket. Apparently, the exhibit fit too well into the exposition, because museum employees noticed a gift from Banksy only on the eighth day after he brought it. In museums in the United States, employees turned out to be a little more efficient and found paintings by a contemporary artist among historical masterpieces a little faster — in two or three days, but visitors still managed to admire a lady with a gas mask and a soldier with a spray paint in his hand for some time.

In August 2004, Banksy decided to joke with banknotes. He drew ten-pound bills, where the Queen’s head was replaced with a portrait of Princess Diana, and the signature “Bank of England” (Bank of England) was transformed into “Banksy of England” (Banksy from England). One of the artist’s assistants threw a pack of such banknotes right into the crowd of people at the Notting Hill Carnival. Fakes as if no one had noticed. Someone even tried to pay these bills in local shops that day. When people realized that they got into their hands banknotes created by a famous street artist, they began to put them on eBay. The price of these art objects reached even 200 pounds.

Banksy FanART Shop

Today, Banksy no longer needs to specifically bring his works of art to museums. Entire exhibitions are dedicated to him, they try to steal new works by cutting along with pieces of walls, and for his original paintings they give sky-high sums at elite auctions. Among the celebrities who became the proud owners of the artist’s works are Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Christina Aguilera.

As for the exhibitions dedicated to Banksy, there are so many of them that the author of the pictures is not always up to date with “his” expositions in different parts of the world. In the summer of 2018, an exhibition opened at the Central House of Artists in Moscow, where the artist’s works from private collections were presented. Banksy found out from one of his Instagram followers. The wave of indignation rose when users of the social network found out that the exposure was paid. After all, the artist himself never takes money from visitors for his personal exhibitions. The owners did not really agree anything with the author, however, as it turned out, the exposition was still legal — all the paintings were authorized and provided by private individuals from their own collections. Therefore, there is no violation of the law.

Banksy really promotes free art, he has repeatedly spoken out on this subject. “I don’t take money from people to see my work,” he says. The artist wants his paintings to be accessible to everyone, and not just those who can afford to buy a ticket to the museum. For this reason, his expositions sometimes appear in the most unusual places for this — in tunnels of railways or in warehouses.

“Welcome to the Gaza Strip”

This cute kitten with a pink bow appeared on the wreckage of a wall in the city of Beit Hanoun, in the northeast of Gaza in 2015. The area was badly damaged during the attacks of the Israeli army. In addition to this graffiti, the contemporary artist left several others nearby. Banksy says that with this series of his work he wanted to raise awareness of the devastating consequences of the war in the region: “The Gaza Strip is often called the“ world’s largest open-air prison, ”because no one can come or go here. But this comparison is unfair to prisons — they do not shut off electricity and do not block access to drinking water almost every day. ” When the artist was asked why he decided to depict a white kitten here, Banksy replied that he wanted to emphasize the terrifying destruction of the region by posting photos on his website, but people on the Internet like to look at pictures with cute cats more.

Sorry ! The lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock ”

Banksy always points out pain points, even when it comes to problems in his home country. In 2011, an inscription of his authorship appeared in London, “Sorry! The lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock. ” This graffiti is located on the wall of one of the houses in the business district of the city. Such a good place for the image allows you to see the picture even from a great distance from the windows of office buildings. The inscription is a satire of recession in the English economy.

“Spy booth”

Banksy Fan ART Shop

to be continued…



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