How Banksy turns the street into a canvas

 

Banksy

is the most prominent street artist of our time, his works adorn walls all over the world. The stencil pictures, which are mainly in black and white, are controversial and subversive, accompanied by a certain absurdity: they show policemen with abstract faces, animals with weapons of mass destruction, little girls who cuddle on rockets or Samuel Jackson and John Travolta who shoot with bananas. Through ironic puns and appeals, the messages become statements critical of society. But who or what is behind the pseudonym?

 

 

Between modern art and social criticism

After Banksy first made a name for himself with the mural The Mild Mild West in Bristol in 1997, in the past 20 years he developed into the most famous and influential artist of the street art scene. His messages are directed against capitalism and the British establishment. In this way, Banksy exploits his art as public social criticism, which he sprinkles on house walls, doors or garage doors in a way that is visible to everyone and thus free from the constraints of the market. In the meantime, his works are traded at astronomical prices, presented in galleries and museums or adapted as wall decorations by Hollywood greats such as Brad Pitt or Christina Aguilera. A contradiction?

The Mild Mild West (1997) / © Banksy

Again and again Banksy tries to prove his independence and to get rid of the capitalist structures of our time. Back in 2004, Banksy distributed 10 pound flowers with the imprint ‘Banksy of England’ at the Notting Hill Carnival, which showed the portrait of the late Lady Diana instead of the Queen. In 2018, Banksy made headlines again by partially destroying one of his best-known pictures, Girl with Balloon, just when the auctioneer’s hammer fell, by a shredder hidden in the frame. He then announced the new name of the painting Love is the Bin on the Internet. Freely translated: all just junk. Despite his negative attitude towards the sale of art, Banksy had to admit defeat to the insane dimensions of the art market. His painting Devolved Parliament, which depicts British MPs as chimpanzees, was auctioned to an unknown bidder at the end of last year – just before Brexit – for more than 11 million euros.1 And even the work that should destroy itself has increased in value after Banksy’s campaign. Without wanting to, Banksy is one of the most expensive artists in the world.

Girl with Ballon became Love is the Bin / © Banksy

Despite his negative attitude towards the sale of art, Banksy had to admit defeat to the insane dimensions of the art market. ❝

Despite his negative attitude towards the sale of art, Banksy had to admit defeat to the insane dimensions of the art market. ❝

Girl with Ballon became Love is the Bin / © Banksy

Anonymity as self-protection

Banksy still hides behind his stage name; there are no interviews or paparazzi recordings that could reveal more about the identity of the British street artist and social critic. According to the analyzes of various experts and geo-profilers, Robin Gunningham, who lives in Bristol, could be behind the pseudonym. Gunningham is a graduate of the prestigious Bristol Cathedral School, whose prints are also sold at several thousand pounds – hoping to get hands on an original Banksy. Quite a risky undertaking, because Gunningham is far from the only name that is believed to be behind Banksy. It is questionable whether the true identity will ever be revealed. For Banksy himself, anonymity is the basis of his messages, which he spreads – albeit with good intentions – in a way that is still illegal. The day that his identity became known, Banksy’s career would most likely be over.

 © Banksy

We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves. 

— Banksy

1 https://www.zeit.de/kultur/kunst/2019-10/devolved-parliament-banksy-gemaelde-versteigerung-rekordpreis

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