The elusive street artist Banksy has become popular for his thought-provoking and clever works of art that have been spotted all around the world.The mysterious artist has yet to reveal his true identity, but there are many theories as to who he might be.
Who Is Banksy?
Banksy is anonymous. What the world does know is that he (assuming Banksy is a guy, which general consensus believes he is) is an English graffiti artist, whose works have made him a sort of political activist. Through his stenciling technique—which will be explored later on—Banksy has mixed dark humor and satire to make comments about societal issues.
Banksy started out in the early ’90s as part of the DryBreadZ Crew, a team of freehand graffiti artists in Bristol, England. Inspired by other local artists in the area, Banksy helped contribute to the Bristol underground scene. At one point, Banksy began selling his work with the help of photographer Steve Lazardies, who became his agent.
Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)
Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film is a British documentary that was directed by Banksy himself. The film follows Thierry Guetta, who at the start of the film is a French immigrant in Los Angeles that works at a used clothing store. Guetta is the cousin of street artist Invader, which prompts his interest in the world of street art.
Throughout the film, Guetta gets to know Banksy and eventually starts creating his own street art too, under the name Mr. Brainwash. Because the film was directed by Banksy, many people believe that the film is a hoax and Guetta is a pawn in some elaborate prank. However, Banksy has insisted that the film is real and it is not a prank. Despite being directed by him, the film still doesn’t reveal Banksy’s true identity. So who might he be? Click on to see the theories.
In October 2014, news broke that an Anti-Graffiti Task Force arrested a man in Liverpool named Paul Horner for vandalism, conspiracy, racketeering, and counterfeiting as Banksy. The only problem was that he wasn’t actually Banksy. As it turned out, the article was a hoax published by a satirical news site.
Paul Horner was actually a 35-year-old man from Arizona who was a lead reporter for National Report, which is known for publishing fake news. From that place of power, Horner’s article managed to convince millions of people that he was Banksy. People from all over the world tried to get an interview with him, not knowing that Horner was actually just a professional Internet troll.
At the same time as the Paul Horner hoax, a man in Brooklyn was arrested on the accusation that he was Banksy. The year prior, Banksy began a residency in New York City called Better Out Than In, which prompted Mayor Michael Bloomberg to go on a wild goose chase to arrest the artist and remove any newfound street art from him. That is why in October 2014, freelance engineer Richard Pfeiffer was arrested in Brooklyn when he and his fiancée were admiring a smiley face graffiti.
Six officers arrested Pfeiffer and accused him of being Banksy, especially because he had a black marker on his person at the time. Charges were dropped shortly thereafter when Pfeiffer was able to make the case that the marker he had didn’t match with the actual graffiti, which was also not fresh by the time he was looking at it.
Is Banksy Really a Woman?
There are many art world critics who have a theory that Banksy is actually a woman. Chris Healey, a Canadian media artist, maintains the hypothesis that Banksy is a team of seven artists that is led by a woman. In Exit Through the Gift Shop there is a blonde woman in scenes that take place in Banksy’s studio and people believe that she may be the artist in question.
Because many people believe that the person they’re looking for is a man, it would make sense if a woman were actually Banksy because it is unassuming. This goes in hand with the fact that a lot of Banksy’s work depicts women in a non-sexualized manner.
For a short time, many people believed that Banksy was actually hiding in plain sight at his very own Dismaland park. A lot of visitors to the park saw a parking attendant who looked awfully similar to another man that people believe to be Banksy, named Richard Gunningham.
The man had a very similar nose structure and the same glasses as Gunningham and even claimed that he allegedly met Banksy at one point. However, the Daily Mail reported that the parking attendant was not Richard Gunningham or Banksy, but was in fact, just an actual employee of the municipality that Dismaland is located at. Click on to learn more about Richard Guninngham and Dismaland.
There are other theories that the true identity of Banksy belongs to a man named Robin Banks, who has seldom been spotted in public. One boy told the media about an account in which a man on a train gave him who said his name was Robin Banks, gave him a signed copy of a print and said, “This will be worth about £20,000 – have a good life.”
Another report claimed that a man was at a restaurant admiring the street art on the walls. He said his name was Robin Banks and was invited back for coffee the next morning, but never returned. People believe that Robin Banks is just a pseudonym that Banksy uses sometimes.
The aforementioned Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, who is featured prominently in Exit Through the Gift Shop was also suspected of being Banksy. But despite the suspicions and the fact that Mr. Brainwash has become a street artist himself, art critics widely agree that Guetta is a terrible artist.
Street art expert and curator Carlo McCormick said that there is a one percent chance Guetta is the real Banksy but believes it’s doubtful, “Simply put Theirry is a rich kid who could provide artists like Banksy [with] access to prime properties in L.A. so that some of the more daring conquests could have been given permission.”
Robert Del Naja
Robert Del Naja is one-third of the electronic hip-hop group Massive Attack, but many people also believe that he is Banksy. In 2016, British graduate student Craig Williams blogged about his theory that Robert Del Naja and Banksy are one in the same, providing some sound evidence to prove his case.
While Del Naja is also known to be a graffiti artist, Williams believed it was no coincidence that a lot of Banksy’s work has popped up wherever Massive Attack has a show. A few months after revealing his theory, Williams went with the theory that Banksy is actually a group of people and that Del Naja is definitely one of them.
Is Banksy Australian?
In October 2016 a video appeared on YouTube in which someone claims that they think they have spotted the elusive artist. Shot on Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, which is a common location for street art in that Australian city, the user who filmed the video begins by saying “Oh my god, I think I just saw Banksy,” before going to the work of art moments after the artist is finishing up. Then, after seeing a signature that is similar to one Banksy has used in the past, the user yells, “Banksy! Hey!” to which the artist running away says, “[Expletive] off!” Could it have been him?
Red Hook Warehouse Worker
In 2013, Banksy unveiled Siren of the Lambs which depicts stuffed animals peeking out of a truck and squealing, with the words “Farm Fresh Meats” labeling the truck. The truck made rounds in New York City and began its journey in the meatpacking district.
When preparations were being made for Banksy’s telling exhibition, pictures surfaced of the truck at the Red Hook Warehouse, where men could be seen loading the truck and one man who was orchestrating everything. Many people believe that this man was Banksy, although given his anonymity, it’d be really hard to tell. Could it have been him? Could it have been Robin Gunningham? Who is Robin Gunningham anyway? Click next to find out.
Through geographic profiling, a technique used to track down serial criminal activity, scientists at the Queen Mary University in London have determined that a man named Robin Gunningham is Banksy’s true identity. The scientists “tagged” Banksy by identifying a pattern between all the locations that his artwork is frequently found in relation to the address of Gunningham.
While the method for tracking down this information wasn’t entirely imprecise, street art expert McCormick said there’s a 75 percent chance that Gunningham is Banksy. When asked if this was true, McCormick said, “Yes, and it is scary to think that something as creepy as geographic profiling could be put to such ends.”
Dismaland was a temporary art exhibition by Banksy that ran for about a month back in 2015. Labeled a “bemusment park,” Banksy himself has said that it is a “family theme park unsuitable for children.” When you see pictures of Dismaland, you might think of it as a dystopian Disneyland, turning the “Happiest Place on Earth” on its head in the most sinister ways.
Along with his own work, Banksy also featured the works of 58 other artists, with entry only £3. Guests went through a cardboard security checkpoint and saw thought-provoking exhibitions, such as Cinderella trapped in her magic pumpkin following a “car crash,” with paparazzo photographing the scene.
How Are Banksy’s Pieces Made?
According to his website, when Banksy was starting out as a graffiti artist, he would be too slow or get caught before getting to finish what he was working on. He turned to stenciling when he realized how much faster it was. Stenciling involves drawing or printing the work onto cardboard and cutting it out by hand. Many speculate that Banksy uses computers for this process “due to the photocopy nature of much of his work.”
Banksy himself has said, “I use whatever it takes. Sometimes that just means drawing a mustache on a girl’s face on some billboard, sometimes that means sweating for days over an intricate drawing. Efficiency is the key.” Banksy often stencils on or around something that is already there, adding to the scene to put a different perspective on something. Click on to see some of Banksy’s most popular works.
The Girl with the Balloon
In 2002 Banksy took to the stairwell on the South Bank of London to put up one of his most infamous works, a girl with a red balloon. The picture depicts a young girl reaching for a heart-shaped red balloon that is just out of her grasp. The words “there is always hope” are written behind her at the base of the stairwell. While it may be pretty easy to interpret this work on your own, the general consensus is that “hope is essential” and despite the circumstances, we should all be holding onto it. The work is so iconic that reprints of it have become widely popular. People even get tattoos of this classic Banksy!
Spy Phone Booth
In 2014, the Spy Booth Mural appeared on the side of a house in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Using a telephone booth that was already there, Banksy painted three men in trench coats around it, that are using materials to look like they are spying on whatever phone conversation is being had in the booth.
Many interpret the work as a comment on government surveillance, as the site is just a few miles down from the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, where the British government runs their surveillance operations. By 2016, however, it was believed that the iconic piece has finally been removed from the site.
Maid in London
Banksy’s Maid In London appeared in 2006 after The Independent commissioned the piece for a wall in Chalk Farm, North London. The mural depicts a woman dressed as a classic maid, who had just finished sweeping and is seemingly discarding of the remnants under a curtain. While the entirety of the work is in black and white, the woman’s hands and face are the only pops of color.
It is said that Banksy modeled the maid after one that he met in Los Angeles and that it is supposed to democratize normal people, while classic art usually is of popes, kings, and queens.
“Rage, Flower Thrower”
Another one of Banksy’s most iconic works is “Rage, Flower Thrower,” which depicts a man whose face is covered in a handkerchief and he is throwing a bouquet of flowers. It is supposed to be reminiscent of riot scenes of the 1960s, in which enraged rioters can be seen throwing weapons or other harmful objects.
The only color in the piece are the flowers. By the man’s look of rage and posture, it is often interpreted that most of the world’s conflicts end in peace rather than violence. This is one of the iconic pieces out of the series of work that Banksy did in Bethlehem.
Dove of Peace
Another one of the most thought-provoking Banksy pieces out of Bethlehem was the Dove of Peace, which depicts a white dove wearing a bulletproof vest and a target on its chest. Located on the wall of the Palestine Heritage Center, the piece is supposed to be a political statement about the unrest and struggle for peace that runs rampant throughout the city in Jerusalem.
While most people attribute this work to Banksy, considering the other work he did there, other people believe that it is done by other artists. But how can one mistake a real Banksy piece from a fake? Click next to find out.
Spotting Counterfeit Banksy’s
You’d be surprised at how often this happens. Considering Banksy’s technique and his affinity for making statements in clever ways, it should come as no surprise that there are many people who try to imitate Banksy’s style. One such artist is called King Robbo, who is also anonymous, but admittedly uses a team to orchestrate his work, called Team Robbo.
The Robbo group is often pitted against Banksy, with whom King Robbo himself was in a vicious graffiti war in 2009. The two artists would often paint too close to each other’s work, which many would interpret as disses to each other. Banksy at the time was also more mainstream and uses his stenciling technique, while Robbo was known to do the opposite.