Who is Banksy?
This is a question that always comes up when you talk about Banksy. His identity is unknown, but there are several theories about who he is. The most popular theory is that Banksy comes from Bristol and is called Robin Gunningham. The UK daily mail published an article about Gunningham in which she interviewed his school friends. Gunningham showed a photo while he is working on his stencils in Jamaica. But the question remains whether this is the real Banksy.
The early years
Banksy has been active in the graffiti scene since the beginning of 1990. He was first associated with a gang of underground artists known as DryBreadZCrew (DBZ). In his book Wall and Piece, Banksy tells that he learned his stencil technique after he came into contact with the law. He was eighteen when he wanted to spray bubble letters on a train. The police came and everyone fled his course. He was hiding under a garbage truck. While he was lying in a puddle of oil, he thought that from now on he had to make graffiti faster. Under the truck he saw that stenciled letters were sprayed on the underside and his new style was born. (Banksy 2009: pp. 13)
In 2000, Banksy lived with friends in London, Luke Egan and Jamie Eastman. Eastman worked for a record label and he used several of Banksy’s works. Banksy also started to work more and more on the streets of London. It caused a lot of interest and international exhibitions.
Banksy’s first international exhibition was called Existencilism and was held in LA’s 33 gallery in 2002. This was followed by an exhibition in London called Turf Wars. This controversial exhibition was held at a secret location in a London department store. In this exhibition, cattle were painted with commercial motifs. This was to ensure that the abuse of animals came more to the attention. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said it was possible, but animal activists still protested ironically. (Stencil Revolution)
Other popular stunts followed, such as the paintings of Queen Victoria. She was portrayed as a lesbian who is in explicit positions. In 2005, Banksy traveled to the West Bank in Palestine to make the stencils discussed in the introduction. This series led to an exhibition in Los Angeles, called Barely Legal. During this exhibition Banksy put down a painted elephant, which he believed was a symbol of the ever-present poverty in the world. (Exit Through The Gift Shop, 2010)
In the meantime, his work is sold at high prices at auctions. Ranging from £ 37,200 for “Balloon Girl” to £ 288,000 for Space Girl & Bird. Banksy sold his works on the street for $ 60 as a stunt. He claims that he did this because he doesn’t want his work to be about money and commerce. He also posted a photo of the auction on his website with a text that said, “I can’t believe you buy this sh **!”. (Stencil Revolution) The question remains of course whether Banksy does not really like it that so much money is paid for his works.
Success or failure?
Banksy is known for breaking boundaries and taking street art to the next level. In 2009, the Banksy vs. opened Bristol Museum show at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery in his likely hometown. In this show there were 100 unique pieces on display. More than 300,000 visitors came. (Stencil Revolution)
Banksy’s work made several controversial appearances during his career. In 2005 he placed several custom paintings in prominent museums in New York, including the Museum of Modern Art, The Met, The Brooklyn Museum and the American Museum of Natural History. He also hung up a primitive rock painting with a hunter with a shopping cart in the British Museum of London. This work was immediately destroyed. (Banksy 2009)
In 2006, Banksy replaced 500 CDs from Paris Hilton’s first album with a mix of Danger Mouse songs and his own digital adapted cover. The tracks were called “Why Am I Famous?” and “What have I done”. A few copies were sold before the employees seized them and sold them online for $ 750. (Stencil Revolution) In this year, Banksy also placed an inflatable doll dressed as Guantanamo bay prisoner in California’s Disneyland.