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Banksy is a quasi-anonymous English graffiti artist. He is believed to be a native of Yate, South Gloucestershire, near Bristol and to have been born in 1974, but there is substantial public uncertainty about his identity and personal and biographical details. According to Tristan Manco, Banksy "was born in 1974 and raised in Bristol, England. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980s." His artworks are often satirical pieces of art on topics such as politics, culture, and ethics. His street art, which combines graffiti writing with a distinctive stencilling technique, is similar to Blek le Rat, who began to work with stencils in 1981 in Paris and members of the anarcho-punk band Crass who maintained a graffiti stencil campaign on the London Tube System in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His art has appeared in cities around the world. Banksy's work was born out of the Bristol underground scene which involved collaborations between artists and musicians.
Banksy does not sell photos of street graffiti or mount exhibitions of screenprints in commercial galleries. Art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art on location and leave the problem of its removal in the hands of the winning bidder.
Banksy's "The Flower Chucker" is included in the feature film The Age of Stupid to represent all modern art stored in an archive after the end of the world as we know it.
Banksy started as a freehand graffiti artist 1992–1994 as one of Bristol's DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ), write Kato and Tes. He was inspired by local artists and his work was part of the larger Bristol underground scene. From the start he used stencils as elements of his freehand pieces, too. By 2000 he had turned to the art of stencilling after realising how much less time it took to complete a "piece." He claims he changed to stencilling whilst he was hiding from the police under a train carriage, when he noticed the stencilled serial number and employing this technique soon became more widely noticed for his art around Bristol and London.
Banksy's stencils feature striking and humorous images occasionally combined with slogans. The message is usually anti-war, anti-capitalist or anti-establishment. Subjects include rats, monkeys, policemen, soldiers, children, and the elderly.
In late 2001, on a trip to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, he met up with the Gen-X pastellist, visual activist, and recluse James DeWeaver in Byron Bay, where he stenciled a parachuting rat with clothes pin on nose above a toilet at the Arts Factory Lodge. This stencil can no longer be located. He also makes stickers (the Neighbourhood Watch subvert) and sculpture (the murdered phonebox), and was responsible for the cover art of Blur's 2003 album Think Tank.
On 19 July 2002, Banksy's first Los Angeles show debuted at 33 1/3 Gallery, a small Silverlake venue owned by Frank Sosa. The show, entitled Existencilism, was curated by 33 1/3 Gallery, Malathion, Funk Lazy Promotions, and B+.
In 2003 in a show called "Turf War", held in a warehouse, Banksy painted on animals. Although the RSPCA declared the conditions suitable, an animal rights activist chained herself to the railings in protest. He later moved on to producing subverted paintings; one example is Monet's Water Lily Pond, adapted to include urban detritus such as litter and a shopping trolley floating in its reflective waters; another is Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, redrawn to show that the characters are looking at a British football hooligan, dressed only in his Union Flag underpants, who has just thrown an object through the glass window of the cafe. These oil paintings were shown at a twelve day exhibition in Westbourne Grove, London in 2005.
- In August 2004, Banksy produced a quantity of spoof British £10 notes substituting the picture of the Queen's head with Princess Diana's head and changing the text "Bank of England" to "Banksy of England." Someone threw a large wad of these into a crowd at Notting Hill Carnival that year, which some recipients then tried to spend in local shops. These notes were also given with invitations to a picturesonwalls.com Santas Ghetto exhibition. The individual notes have since been selling on eBay for about £200 each. A Limited run of 50 signed posters containing 10 uncut notes were also produced and sold by pictures on walls for £100 each to commemorate the death of Princess Diana. One of these sold in October 2007 at Bonhams auction house in London for £24,000.
- Banksy held an exhibition called Barely Legal, billed as a "three day vandalised warehouse extravaganza" in Los Angeles, on the weekend of 16 September. The exhibition featured a live " elephant in a room", painted in a pink and gold floral wallpaper pattern.
- After Christina Aguilera bought an original of Queen Victoria as a lesbian and two prints for £25,000, on 19 October 2006 a set of Kate Moss paintings sold in Sotheby's London for £50,400, setting an auction record for Banksy's work. The six silk-screen prints, featuring the model painted in the style of Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe pictures, sold for five times their estimated value. His stencil of a green Mona Lisa with real paint dripping from her eyes sold for £57,600 at the same auction.
- In December, journalist Max Foster coined the phrase, "the Banksy Effect", to illustrate how interest in other street artists was growing on the back of Banksy's success.
- On 7 February 2007, Sotheby's auction house in London auctioned three works, reaching the highest ever price for a Banksy work at auction: over £102,000 for his Bombing Middle England. Two of his other graffiti works, Balloon Girl and Bomb Hugger, sold for £37,200 and £31,200 respectively, which were well above their estimated prices. The following day's auction saw a further three Banksy works reach soaring prices. Ballerina With Action Man Parts reached £96,000; Glory sold for £72,000; Untitled (2004) sold for £33,600 - all prices being significantly above estimated values.
- In February 2007, the owners of a house with a Banksy mural on the side in Bristol decided to sell the house through Red Propeller art gallery after offers fell through because the prospective buyers wanted to remove the mural. It is listed as a mural which comes with a house attached.
- In April 2007, Transport for London painted over Banksy's iconic image of a scene from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta clutching bananas instead of guns. Although the image was very popular, Transport for London claimed that the "graffiti" created "a general atmosphere of neglect and social decay which in turn encourages crime" and their staff are "professional cleaners not professional art critics".
- On 27 April 2007, a new record high for the sale of Banksy's work was set with the auction of the work ' Space Girl & Bird' fetching £288,000 (US$576,000), around 20 times the estimate at Bonhams of London. On 21 May 2007 Banksy gained the award for Art's Greatest living Briton. Banksy, as expected, did not turn up to collect his award, and continued with his notoriously anonymous status.
- On 4 June 2007, it was reported that Banksy's The Drinker had been stolen.
- In October 2007, most of his works offered for sale at Bonhams auction house in London sold for more than twice their reserve price.
- Banksy made a tribute art piece over his famous Pulp Fiction piece. The tribute was for 19-year-old British graffiti artist OZONE, who was hit by an underground train in Barking, East London, along with fellow artist WIZE, on 12 January 2007.
- Banksy has published a " manifesto" on his website. The text of the manifesto is credited as the diary entry of one Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin, DSO, which is exhibited in the Imperial War Museum. It describes how a shipment of lipstick to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp immediately after its liberation at the end of World War II helped the internees regain their humanity. However, as of 18 January 2008, Banksy's Manifesto has been substituted with Graffiti Heroes #03 that describes Peter Chappell's graffiti quest of the 1970s that worked to free George Davis of his imprisonment.
- A small number of Banksy's works can be seen in the movie Children of Men, including a stenciled image of two policemen kissing and another stencil of a child looking down a shop.
- In the 2007 film Shoot 'Em Up starring Clive Owen, Banksy's tag can be seen on a dumpster in the film's credits.
- Banksy, who deals mostly with Lazarides Gallery in London, claims that the exhibition at Vanina Holasek Gallery in New York (his first major exhibition in that city) is unauthorized. The show featured 62 of his paintings and prints.
- In February, a stencilled graffiti work appeared on Thames Water tower in the middle of the Holland Park roundabout, and it was widely attributed to Banksy. It was of a child painting the tag “Take this Society” in bright orange. London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham spokesman, Councillor Greg Smith branded the art as vandalism, and ordered its immediate removal, which was carried out by H&F council workmen within three days.
- Over the weekend 3–5 May in London, Banksy hosted an exhibition called The Cans Festival. It was situated on Leake Street, a road tunnel formerly used by Eurostar underneath London Waterloo station. Graffiti artists with stencils were invited to join in and paint their own artwork, as long as it didn't cover anyone else's. Artists included Blek le Rat, Broken Crow, C215, Cartrain, Dolk, Dotmasters, J.Glover, Eine, Eelus, Hero, Pure evil, Jef Aérosol and Tom Civil.
- In late August 2008, marking the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the associated levee failure disaster, Banksy produced a series of works in New Orleans, Louisiana, mostly on buildings derelict since the disaster.
- A stencil painting attributed to Banksy appeared at a vacant petrol station in the Ensley neighbourhood of Birmingham, Alabama on August 29 as Hurricane Gustav approached the New Orleans area. The painting depicting a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan hanging from a noose was quickly covered with black spray paint and later removed altogether.
- His first official exhibition in New York, the "Village Pet Store And Charcoal Grill," opened October 5, 2008. The animatronic pets in the store window include a mother hen watching over her baby Chicken McNuggets as they peck at a barbecue sauce packet, and a rabbit putting makeup on in a mirror.
- The Westminster City Council stated in October 2008 that the work "One Nation Under CCTV", painted in April 2008 will be painted over as it is graffiti. The council says it will remove any graffiti, regardless of the reputation of its creator, and specifically stated that Banksy has no more right to paint graffiti than a child. The work was painted over in April 2009.
- In December 2008 a Banksy image of a diver in a duffle coat in Melbourne Australia was vandalised. The image was protected by a sheet of clear perspex, however silver paint was poured behind the protective sheet and then tagged with the words "Banksy woz ere". It is thought the image has been destroyed.
- May 2009, parts company with agent Steve Lazarides. Announces Pest Control the handling service who act on his behalf will be the only point of sale for new works.
- On June 13, 2009, the Banksy UK Summer show opened at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, featuring more than 100 works of art, including animatronics and installations; it is his largest exhibition yet, featuring 78 new works. Reaction to the show was positive, with over 8,500 visitors to the show on the first weekend.
Notable art pieces
In addition to his artwork, Banksy has claimed responsibility for a number of high profile art pieces, including the following:
- At London Zoo, he climbed into the penguin enclosure and painted "We're bored of fish" in seven foot high letters.
- At Bristol Zoo, he left the message 'I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring, boring.' in the elephant enclosure.
- In March 2005, he placed subverted artworks in the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
- He put up a subverted painting in London's Tate Britain gallery.
- In May 2005 Banksy's version of a primitive cave painting depicting a human figure hunting wildlife whilst pushing a shopping trolley was hung in gallery 49 of the British Museum, London. Upon discovery, they added it to their permanent collection.
- Banksy has sprayed "This is not a photo opportunity" on certain photograph spots.
- In August 2005, Banksy painted nine images on the Israeli West Bank barrier, including an image of a ladder going up and over the wall and an image of children digging a hole through the wall.
See also: Other Banksy works on the Israeli West Bank barrier
- In April 2006, Banksy created a sculpture based on a crumpled red phone box with a pickaxe in its side, apparently bleeding, and placed it in a street in Soho, London. It was later removed by Westminster Council. BT released a press release, which said: "This is a stunning visual comment on BT's transformation from an old-fashioned telecommunications company into a modern communications services provider."
- In June 2006, Banksy created an image of a naked man hanging out of a bedroom window on a wall visible from Park Street in central Bristol. The image sparked some controversy, with the Bristol City Council leaving it up to the public to decide whether it should stay or go. After an internet discussion in which 97% (all but 6 people) supported the stencil, the city council decided it would be left on the building.. The mural was later defaced with paint.
- In August/September 2006, Banksy replaced up to 500 copies of Paris Hilton's debut CD, Paris, in 48 different UK record stores with his own cover art and remixes by Danger Mouse. Music tracks were given titles such as "Why am I Famous?", "What Have I Done?" and "What Am I For?". Several copies of the CD were purchased by the public before stores were able to remove them, some going on to be sold for as much as £750 on online auction websites such as eBay. The cover art depicted Paris Hilton digitally altered to appear topless. Other pictures feature her with a dog's head replacing her own, and one of her stepping out of a luxury car, edited to include a group of homeless people, which included the caption "90% of success is just showing up".
- In September 2006, Banksy dressed an inflatable doll in the manner of a Guantanamo Bay detainment camp prisoner ( orange jumpsuit, black hood, and handcuffs) and then placed the figure within the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.
Asked about his technique, Banksy said:
|“||I use whatever it takes. Sometimes that just means drawing a moustache on a girl's face on some billboard, sometimes that means sweating for days over an intricate drawing. Efficiency is the key.||”|
Stencils are traditionally hand drawn or printed onto sheets of acetate or card, before being cut out by hand. Because of the secretive nature of Banksy's work and identity, it is uncertain what techniques he uses to generate the images in his stencils, though it is assumed he uses computers for some images due to the photocopy nature of much of his work.
He mentions in his book, 'Wall and Piece', that as he was starting to do graffiti that he was always too slow and was either caught or could never finish the art in the one sitting. So he devised a series of intricate stencils to minimise time and overlapping of the colour.
Banksy's real name is not, as is commonly believed and has been widely reported, Robert or Robin Banks. His year of birth has been given as 1975.
Simon Hattenstone from Guardian Unlimited is one of the very few people to have interviewed him face-to-face. Hattenstone describes him as "a cross of Jimmy Nail and British rapper Mike Skinner" and "a 28 year old male who showed up wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a silver tooth, silver chain, and one silver earring".
Banksy's parents think their son is a painter and decorator.
In May 2007, an extensive article written by Lauren Collins of the New Yorker re-opened the Banksy-identity controversy citing a 2004 photograph of the artist that was taken in Jamaica during the Two-Culture Clash project and later published in The Evening Standard in 2004.
In October 2007, a story on the BBC website featured a photo allegedly taken by a passer-by in Bethnal Green, London, purporting to show Banksy at work with an assistant, scaffolding and a truck. The story confirms that Tower Hamlets Council in London has decided to treat all Banksy works as vandalism and remove them.
In July 2008, it was claimed by The Mail on Sunday that Banksy's real name is Robin Gunningham. His agent has refused to confirm or deny these reports.
In May 2009, the Mail on Sunday once again speculated about Gunningham being Banksy after a 'self-portrait' of a rat holding a sign with the Gunningham shot on it was photographed in East London. This 'new Banksy rat' story was also picked up by the Times newspaper and the London Evening Standard.
Banksy himself states, on his website:
|“||I am unable to comment on who may or may not be Banksy, but anyone described as being 'good at drawing' doesn't sound like Banksy to me.||”|
In 2004, Banksy walked into the Louvre in Paris and hung on a wall a picture he had painted resembling the Mona Lisa but with a yellow smiley face. Though the painting was hurriedly removed by the museum staff, it and its counterpart, temporarily on unknown display at the Tate Britain, were described by Banksy as 'shortcuts'. He is quoted as saying:
|“||To actually [have to] go through the process of having a painting selected must be quite boring. It's a lot more fun to go and put your own one up.||”|
Peter Gibson, a spokesperson for Keep Britain Tidy, asserts that Banksy's work is simple vandalism, and Diane Shakespeare, an official for the same organization, was quoted as saying: "We are concerned that Banksy's street art glorifies what is essentially vandalism".
In June 2007 Banksy created a circle of plastic portable toilets, said to resemble Stonehenge at the Glastonbury Festival. As this was in the same field as the "sacred circle" it was felt by many to be inappropriate and his installation was itself vandalized before the festival even opened. However, the intention had always been for people to climb on and interact with it. The installation was nicknamed "Portaloo Sunset" and "Bog Henge" by Festival goers. Michael Eavis admitted he wasn't fond of it, and the portaloos were removed before the 2008 festival.