Banksy—Who He Is and Clues About His Identity
The British graffiti artist Banksy is now considered to be one of the most famous street artists in the world.
His satirical art and subversive epigrams are highly valued and have sold for enormous amounts of money in auction houses. (It is not uncommon for an art dealer to sell his art on location and leave the issue of its removal in the hands of the buyer!).
Yet his personal identity still remains, to a large extent, a mystery. The artist appears to revel in his anonymity and notoriety, also showing contempt for those who perceive street art as a form of vandalism.
This article seeks to provide answers to those who are seeking more information about this elusive artist.
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.— Banksy, Wall and Piece
Early History and Themes
Banksy's art came out of the Bristol underground scene in the southwest of England, with his work first appearing in 1990. During this early period, he worked as part of Bristol's DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ) with two other artists known as Kato and Tes.
The tone of his work from the start was typically satirical and darkly humorous with common themes being anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-establishment.
He often uses images of apes, rats, policemen, and soldiers to express his ideas. Banksy has acknowledged the French street artist, Blek le Rat as a key influence on his work.
Year 2000 Onwards
Sometime around the year 2000, Banksy's work began appearing in the East End of London, often appearing painted on the sides of walls and bridges, and getting him into trouble with London authorities. Tower Hamlets, for instance, considered his work to be vandalism.
More recently, his distinctive stenciled designs have appeared in other areas of the world.
In 2001 the first book of Banksy art appeared, which was called, "Banksy, Pictures of Walls." In 2010, his first movie, "Exit Through The Gift Shop," was released. The film was billed as "the world's first street art disaster movie" and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Despite his work being considered vandalism by some, there is now a big demand for it—many selling for high prices.
The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.— Banksy
Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.— Banksy
What Is Banksy's Real Name?
The name most commonly associated with Banksy is Robin Gunningham.
Public records show that there is a Robin Gunningham, who was born in Bristol in 1973 and educated at Bristol Cathedral School, who seems to approximately fit with the known facts (although graphic designer and writer, Tristan Manco has said that he believes that Banksy was born in 1974, not 1973).
A former friend of Gunningham has also stated that he was "extremely talented at art."
Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don't come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they're having a piss.— Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall
Proponents of the Robin Gunningham theory also point to circumstantial evidence that suggests Robin Gunningham and Banksy might be one and the same person.
For instance, it is known that Robin Gunningham moved from Bristol to Hackney in London around 2000, which is when some of Banksy's famous early works began appearing in the East End. Also, during this period, Gunningham lived with Jamie Eastman who worked for a record label that used images created by Banksy.
Perhaps the strongest circumstantial evidence in favor of the Robin Gunningham theory is that Robin Gunningham has never been traced.
Banksy's agent has refused to confirm or deny the Robin Gunningham theory, while the artist himself has joked on his website that he was unable to comment on his own identity, but that "anyone described as being 'good at drawing' doesn't sound like Banksy to me."
You owe the companies nothing. You especially don't owe them any courtesy. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don't even start asking for theirs.— Banksy, Wall and Piece
Is Banksy a Woman?
In Fall 2014, the writer Kriston Capps questioned whether the idea that Banksy was a man was a piece of misdirection, and that the artist is, in fact, a female.
Capps' theory derives from a number of observations, including:
- The way that Banksy uses street art, which is less macho than male artists.
- The sheer number of girls and women that feature in Banksy's art.
It should also be noted that the Canadian media artist Chris Healey has previously asserted in 2010 that Banksy is not actually one person, but a team of seven artists who are led by a woman.
I'd been painting rats for three years before someone said 'that's clever it's an
anagram of art' and I had to pretend I'd known that all along.— Banksy, Wall and Piece
What Does Banksy Look Like?
The only journalist to interview Banksy was Simon Hattenstone of the Guardian in 2003. When he asked if he would be able to take a photograph of the artist at the interview, Banksy's response was laughter. He describes Banksy as being, "White, 28, scruffy casual," when he met him, and as looking like, "a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets."
The first alleged photograph of Banksy was taken in Jamaica at the Two-Culture Clash Project in 2004 and published in the Evening Standard. (This photo would later be used by Lauren Collins of The New Yorker in a long article about Banksy's identity.)
The BBC ran a story in 2007 which featured another alleged photograph, this time taken by a passer-by in Bethnal Green, London. The photo purports to show Banksy at work, along with an assistant, scaffolding and a truck.
There was more speculation about Banksy's identity in 2009 when the Mail on Sunday speculated that a new mural which appeared in Shoreditch, London, was actually a Banksy self-portrait. The mural showed an image of a rat holding a banner sign with a man's face on it, which the Mail on Sunday speculated was the same man who featured in an earlier photo.
Become good at cheating and you never need to become good at anything else.— Banksy, Wall and Piece
"Banksy Arrested" Hoax
In October 2014 a hoax news report began circulating around social media and the internet that Banksy had been arrested and his identity revealed. The report was quickly discounted as a hoax.
The Goldie Interview June 2017
In an interview with presenter Scroobius Pip, English DJ Goldie referred to someone called "Rob" in a discussion about Banksy.
This stirred up fresh rumors regarding Banksy's identity. Namely that Banksy was either:
- Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja, who was linked to Banksy in an investigation last year by a Scottish journalist. Others claim that Banksy is really an artists' collective led by Del Naja.
- Robin Gunningham. Gunningham has previously been named as Banksy by the Daily Mail in 2008 and is many people's chief suspect (see above).
Who do you think Banksy is?
- Simon Hattenstone's interview with Banksy in The Guardian
Interview from 2003. Simon Hattenstone is the only journalist who has conducted a face to face interview with Banksy.
- Daily Mail article on Banksy and the "New Rat Self-portrait"
Daily Mail article which claims to reveal the identity of Banksy after amural of a rat holding a sign with a portrait on it appeared.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Paul Goodman