We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves. —Banksy”
“Sometimes I feel so sick at the state of the world,” Banksy wrote in his book, Wall and Piece, “I can’t even finish my second apple pie.” That pretty much reflects the work of Banksy: provocative, discomforting, funny and well-crafted.
Banksy is one of the most well-known artists in the world, yet most people don’t know who he is or what he looks like. What we know about Banksy is what he’s told us in his books, films, the few interviews he’s given and, of course, his art.
Banksy said that he began his career as a graffiti artist in Bristol, England, at around age 14. When he was about 18, he was part of Bristol’s DryBreadZ (DBZ) Crew., using the tag, Robin Banx. He said that he began using stencils when he and the crew were chased by police and he hid under a garbage truck. The large serial numbers stenciled under the truck gave him the idea of using stencils to speed up the painting process and decrease the risk of getting caught and avoiding arrest.
When Banksy moved to London in 1999, his work began to gain more attention and “Banksy sightings” became more frequent and talked about around the city. What is now known as the “Banksy Effect” – bringing street art into mainstream culture – began to take hold. As his fan base widened, so did the debate about art, property, social order and the value, both esthetic and monetary, of art and graffiti.
Banksy managed to prank major museums in 2003…and still remain anonymous. He walked into the Tate in London, dressed in a shabby coat and floppy hat, and taped his painting, Crimewatch UK Has Ruined the Countryside For All of Us, on to one of the gallery walls. It would have been the perfect crime, but the tape didn’t hold and the painting fell off the wall. Banksy also pranked the Louvre in Paris and the Met in New York.
In 2007, the town of Briton, where he had once been considered a vandal and had to run from police as a young graffiti artist, awarded Banksy the Greatest Living Briton award in the arts. (Banksy didn’t show up at the ceremony to claim his award. Queen Elizabeth won in the “People” category. Julie Andrews, Paul McCartney and Margaret Thatcher were also nominated.) Briton is now covered with outsider art, and actually encourages many of its young artists to paint murals on its buildings.
My lawyer calls me ‘the most infringed artist alive’ and wants me to do something about it. But if you’ve built a reputation on having a casual attitude towards property ownership, it seems a bit bad-mannered to kick off about copyright law.”
The 2010 Olympics inspired Banksy to put Olympic-themed works around London. His piece called Child Labor that depicts a child hunched over a sewing machine, sewing Union Jacks together, caused a lot of controversy and disappeared after the games. It turned up at a Miami auction, was pulled from the auction and was later sold for $1.1 million dollars.
“I don’t make as much money as people think.” Banksy said in an interview, “The commercial galleries that have held exhibitions of my paintings are nothing to do with me. And I certainly don’t see money from the T-shirts, mugs and greeting cards. My lawyer calls me ‘the most infringed artist alive’ and wants me to do something about it. But if you’ve built a reputation on having a casual attitude towards property ownership, it seems a bit bad-mannered to kick off about copyright law.”
TIME magazine named Banksy one of The 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2010. Also on the list was Barak Obama, Steve Jobs and Jet Li. A photo of Banksy, with a paper bag over his head, was accompanied by a short tribute, written by Banksy’s friend and fellow street artist, Shepard Fairey (the artist who designed the 2008 Obama Hope poster). Fairey eloquently summed up the impact Banksy has had on the world:
“Many people recoil at the thought of a guy in a hoodie with a spray-paint can and something to say. Others foam at the mouth when they see the same guy’s artwork auctioned off for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Banksy just laughs at all of it. He has a gift: an ability to make almost anyone very uncomfortable. He doesn’t ignore boundaries; he crosses them to prove their irrelevance.
People usually see art as an abstract emotional vehicle, lacking the direct impact of language. Banksy paints over the line between aesthetics and language, then stealthily repaints it in the unlikeliest of places. His works, whether he stencils them on the streets, sells them in exhibitions or hangs them in museums on the sly, are filled with wit and metaphors that transcend language barriers.
Banksy’s work embodies everything I like about art. It’s accessible, public, not locked away. He makes social and political statements with a sense of humor. His latest exploit is Exit Through the Gift Shop, a film about a filmmaker who left off making a film about Banksy to become an art star himself. It sums up the art world perfectly — the authentic intertwined with the absurd.”
In 2013, Banksy named himself Artist in Residence of New York for a month and created a work of art, or a special event, every day for 31 days. One of his installations was a booth outside of Central Park, along Fifth Avenue, where he had a salesman sell his work for $60 a piece. The paintings and silkscreens, which would have sold for thousands of dollars in galleries and at auction, brought in a total of $420.
“We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles.” he said, “In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.”
So, who is Banksy? He (or she) may, or may not be, Robin Gunningham, a middle class kid who wore a grey blazer and striped tie to his private school in Bristol. Banksy says that his parents don’t know what he does, that he’s one of the most influential artists in the world. “They think I’m a painter and a decorator.” he said. Well … maybe he is.
See more work on Banksy’s website.