Banksy: The Unknown Artist

The most well-known street artist in the world, Banksy, has never revealed his true identity - yet his artwork has sold for up to $1.87 million at auction.

He's been called "the world's most famous vandal", after starting out as a graffiti artist in Bristol in 1990, as one of the DryBreadZ Crew - part of a larger underground scene. He chose the pseudonym, Banksy, to avoid being identified, as his graffiti work was illegal.

Banksy art

© BasPhoto / Adobe Stock


He was inspired by a well-known French graffiti artist called Blek le Rat, who used the same visual style and political messages. Instead of using a free-hand style, like the majority of graffiti artists, Blek used stencils.

Banksy adopted the same technique, later saying he did so because he wasn't good with a spray can. His visual style and anti-establishment views saw him highlight more political targets with his work. His paintings began appearing all over his home city of Bristol.

Targeting injustice and political hypocrisy, he summed up his feelings in an interview with Herald Scotland, when he said a lot of his work was aimed at "crushing the system" and "dragging the city to its knees."

Rise to fame

After moving to London, his public image and the recognition of his work increased. His drawings of rats and chimps attracted the mainstream press and he met a photographer, Steve Lazarides, who became his publicist and agent.

They published a series of books that captured Banksy's work and raised his profile further in the media. He established the concept of "Brandalism" (combining "brand" and "vandalism") and copied advertising techniques and language through slogans and simple images.

His work sprang up in strategic public locations, where he attacked top brands, from Nike to Tesco. Every new work received publicity in the press and the idea was created that Banksy was an anonymous, masked, Robin Hood-type character, who poked fun at the powers-that-be.

Art exhibitions

By the 2000s, he was the biggest name on the British graffiti scene. He then began to target the art world, but shunned traditional galleries, instead hosting exhibitions of street art in locations such as abandoned tunnels.

He became a celebrity and his work began to sell for huge amounts of money. He was also inspired by Andy Warhol and in 2007, a joint exhibition to celebrate the two artists was held at The Hospital in Covent Garden, London.

Called Warhol vs Banksy, it featured Warhol's famous Marilyn Monroe painting, next to Banksy's pale image of a fashion model, repeated in lurid colours in a style that was pure Warhol.

Banksy's model featured the bouffant hair of Monroe, but the face of Kate Moss. His twist invited questions about how fame had changed since Warhol produced his Monroe artwork in the 1960s.

Iconic artwork

By 2008, despite the global economic crash, Banksy's "vandalised" version of a Damien Hirst painting fetched more than $1.8 million at auction. Called "Keep It Spotless", it was the most expensive Banksy artwork ever sold.

The 81 inch x 120 inch canvas sold for the record price at a charity auction at Sotheby’s in New York in December 2008. Banksy had "defaced" the Hirst painting of a Los Angeles hotel maid, called Leanne, who was pulling up Hirst’s painting, exposing a framed window.

Banksy was also inspired by the Mona Lisa when he painted Mona Lisa Bazooka, between 2007 and 2008, depicting one of the world's most famous paintings with a modern twist. In Banksy's version, she wears a headset and carries a rocket launcher.

It first appeared in the Soho district and although the Mona Lisa has the same calm facial expression as the original, when combined with the bazooka, her smile appears menacing!

People remain fascinated by Banksy because of the mystery surrounding his identity. There have been suggestions as to who he might be, but he has never been identified definitively. People will pay a lot of money for one of his paintings.

Expensive prank

In October 2018, an elaborate Banksy prank saw his £1.04 million work of art, Girl with a Balloon, shredded in front of shocked auction-goers at Sotheby's in London.

Moments after it was sold, the spray-painted canvas went through a shredder hidden in the frame as an alarm sounded. It emerged in strips after self-destructing.

Sotheby's staff weren't in on the shock prank and after the stunt, the auction house's senior director and European head of contemporary art, Alex Branczik, said, "It appears we just got Banksy-ed."

An exhibition of Banksy's work is currently on display at Madrid’s IFEMA venue in Spain. More than 70 works from private collections make up the body of the event, which will continue until 10th March. It has already been shown in Moscow and St Petersburg, where it attracted more than 500,000 visitors.

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