Does It Matter If We Know This Anonymous Artist?
People have been trying to figure out who Banksy is for the past 20 years…
Even though he is a street artist, his works have left quite an impression on people worldwide.
Banksy’s work first debut at 33 1/3 Gallery in Los Angeles in 2002. Since then, his signature stenciling and quirky pieces have appeared throughout the world. He often leaves social and political commentaries on the street, walls, and props.
Since they’re quickly finished, it’s challenging to catch the artist in the act of working.
Some people think Banksy is a fellow named Robin Gunningham, especially after someone referred to the artist as “Rob” once during a conversation.
Could Banksy be an artist collective? Is it one person with lots of diversions?
With several interviews on the record, a few possible sightings, and GPS corroboration, many people think Robin Gunningham could be the artist. The fact is that graffiti is often illegal, which is why it helps the artist to have this alter ego.
Who Is the Real Banksy?
When Robin Gunningham released the documentary called “Exit Through the Gift Shop“, it was initially seen as an exciting look at one of the world’s most famous modern artists. The work even garnered an Academy Award Nomination in 2010.
If you watch the film, you’ll see Banksy sitting in a dark corner. He speaks through a voice enhancer so that you can’t directly identify him. Although the core of the piece follows other street artists, it’s the moment with Banksy that creates the most intrigue.
Without anonymity, Banksy couldn’t do what he does. That’s because the artist is a maverick who continues to push people to do the right thing. He’s gone from the gallery to public fascination, using his influence to shake up the social and political scene in the United Kingdom.
If you as the artistic community about Banksy’s work, you’ll get a divided set of answers. Critics often question where the line is between cultural representation and political activism.
Does it even matter if there is a designation between activism and artwork?
After a decade of analyzing the documentary that includes Banksy, some wonder if Gunningham used it to create something closer to a mockumentary. Could it be the Spinal Tap of the artwork world?
Does the increased acceptance of graffiti and urban art help to blur the lines of legality even further?
When does it become acceptable for other street artists to follow in Banksy’s footsteps? After all, some walls have been physically removed to preserve the art that the artist left behind.
Banksy will likely stay anonymous because it allows the artist’s alter ego to enjoy more freedom than would be possible otherwise.
Banksy Got Started in the 1990s
We know that Banksy dropped out of school as a teen. He spent his time creating graffiti with a crew, with their works noticed in Brighton, Bristol, and London.
Although Balloon Girl is arguably his most famous work, the mural that got him noticed at first was called the “Mild Mild West“. The artwork features a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at riot police.
In 1999, riot police began attacking partygoers in Bristol within the abandoned warehouses where raves were happening. Banksy created the piece in three days, working in broad daylight to capture the desired attitude.
Even though the commentary might seem like an attack on law enforcement, the city of Bristol has adopted the piece as part of its culture. It’s still visible on No. 90 Stokes Croft.
An anti-graffiti organization once put red spray paint all over the mural, but the community rallied to restore the work. As one of the local leaders commented, it was odd that someone against graffiti would use it as a way to make a statement.
Brighton would be the home of the next piece. In 2004, Banksy created street art that he called “Kissing Coppers“. It featured two male law enforcement officers kissing each other, offering a nod to the city’s stop-and-frisk policy that happened at the time.
Although the mural was placed on a Brighton pub, the artwork was eventually removed and sold. It brought in $575,000 at auction in 2014. What’s even more remarkable is that two Banksy items at the same auction didn’t meet the reserve price.
Can We Have Artistry That Matches with Social Commentary?
The most outrageous commentary effort from Banksy happened in 2018. While auctioning off a painting of his girl with a balloon that sold for $1.3 million, the artwork started beeping.
That’s when the painting started to slip downward, with shreds emerging from beneath the frame. As the audience gasped, the art destroyed itself.
Banksy admitted that the plan had been for the entire painting to get shredded. The mechanism stopped working halfway down, leaving some of the original pieces still visible.
When the event happened, Banksy posted a picture to his Instagram feed that said, “Going, going, gone.”
He says that he secretly built the shredder into the painting if someone ever put the piece up for auction. Signed, authenticated prints regularly sell for over $100,000 for Girl with a Balloon, and the auction result only propels that result even further.
Just the act of shredding the piece upped its potential value by more than 50%. The painting went on display at the Frieder Burda Museum in Baden-Baden in 2019, with the staff opening the frame to remove the batteries and shredder before the exhibition. It’s hung just as it appeared in the auction house, with the strips hanging underneath.
Authenticity Is What We Get with Transformation
Banksy made specific restrictions on the placement, inspection, and time the artwork could be sold by Sotheby’s. One of his most explicit instructions was that the frame could not be inspected.
He also wanted it to go up for auction during the last half of the night while placing it in the salesroom.
Those instructions suggested that Banksy was in the audience to trigger the mechanism. That’s because the painting dropped into the shredder right after the gavel banged the final sale.
Handlers removed the piece immediately as all of the onlookers looked shocked, with some offering a nervous laugh about the incident. Sotheby’s would commercialize the circumstances by titling the work “Love is in the Bin.”
Banksy has come to call it the first work of art that ever took place during a live auction.
Brad Pitt has several Banksy creations.
You can find his work called “There Is Always Hope” as a tattoo on Justin Bieber’s arm. What makes this artist such a profound influence today is his courage to constantly challenge conventions and question the establishment’s policies and procedures.
Are We Living in a New Artistic Landscape?
The fact that Banksy’s most famous works fail to conform to the guidelines of the contemporary gallery is hardly surprising. That’s also why his items are in such high demand. When you’re willing to walk by your own rules, there’s nothing that can hold you back from the goals you hope to accomplish.
That may have never been more evident than when Banksy opened Dismaland in 2015. It was a popup park that had over 150,000 people visit over five weeks. The park charged people a small fee to walk through different scenes with Disney characters.
Some of the best items found in the park were the rubber duckies covered in oil and Cinderella having her cart crash into some paparazzi. The staff that monitored the installations were even wearing Micky Mouse Heroes.
There’s also the time when Banksy funded a refugee boat that saved 89 lives. He financed a pink motor yacht that set sail in secrecy to avoid getting intercepted by the authorities. They set sail in August from Burriana, staying in the central Mediterranean to help people fleeing conflicts from northern Africa.
The crew on the rescue vessel consisted of activists with extensive experience managing search and rescue operations. It set sail under a German flag, helping to keep people away from Libyan forces that were known to sell people back to local militias.
What Can We Learn from Banksy Today?
Whether Robin Gunningham is Banksy or not, we can learn from the artist the importance of following our own rules. Although the government sets boundaries and expects us to follow them, we should keep questioning everything we see to ensure that the path forward is forged in freedom instead of tyranny.
We must examine the role that art plays in our lives. Whether through commercialism or the love of hanging up something beautiful to enjoy, it is healthy to embrace our creative energy in this way.
Although some of his works have been destroyed over the years, Banksy has proven that urban art can be as valuable as anything else that someone creates. As long as you’re willing to stay true to yourself when making something, you’ll find that your artwork deserves a place in this world.
Find more of Banksy’s work on the official Instagram page.