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Latest News: Lost BBC Interview Hints at Banksy’s Identity
A recently discovered recording from 2003 might have solved part of the mystery behind the identity of anonymous street artist Banksy. During that interview, former BBC arts reporter Nigel Wrench asks Banksy if he could use his real name in the interview, citing a report from The Independent referring to him as “Robert Banks.” When Wrench asks the artist to confirm if that’s his name, he answers, “It’s Robbie.”
Banksy’s identity has long been the subject of speculation, with Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja and Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlett among the names linked to the artist. The Daily Mail reported in 2008 that Banksy was then-34-year-old Robin Gunningham, though he has denied this.
Who Is Banksy?
Banksy, whose real identity remains unknown, is a street artist believed to have been born in Bristol, England, around 1974. He rose to prominence for his provocative stenciled pieces in the late 1990s. Banksy is the subject and director of the 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop that examines the relationship between commercial and street art. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for the project.
Banksy began his career as a graffiti artist in the early 1990s, in the Bristol, England–based graffiti gang DryBreadZ Crew. Although his early work was largely freehand, Banksy used stencils on occasion. In the late 1990s, he began predominantly using stencils. His work became more widely recognized around Bristol and in London, as his signature style developed.
Banksy’s artwork is characterized by striking images, often combined with slogans. His work often engages political themes, satirically critiquing war, capitalism, hypocrisy, and greed. Common subjects include rats, apes, policemen, members of the royal family, and children. In addition to his two-dimensional work, Banksy is known for his installation artwork. One of the most celebrated of these pieces featured a live elephant painted with a Victorian wallpaper pattern and sparked controversy among animal rights activists.
Other pieces have drawn attention for their edgy themes or the boldness of their execution. Banksy’s work on the West Bank barrier, between Israel and Palestine, received significant media attention in 2005. He is also known for his use of copyrighted material and subversion of classic images. An example of this is Banksy’s version of Claude Monet’s famous series of water lilies paintings adapted to include drifting trash and debris.
In a 2003 interview, a BBC reported asked the artist whether graffiti artwork should be considered vandalism. “If it’s done properly, it is illegal! But I got a good reaction I think off most people from my work,” Banksy replied, according to Rolling Stone. “You know, I’ve even had policemen in the past say they kind of like things about it, but… I just think it’s my right to go out and paint it.”
Banksy’s identity remains unknown, despite intense speculation. The two names most often suggested are Robert Banks and Robin Gunningham. Pictures that surfaced of a man who was supposedly Banksy pointed toward Gunningham, an artist who was born in Bristol in 1973. Gunningham moved to London around 2000, a timeline that correlates with the progression of Banksy’s artwork.
Making Banksy’s identity potentially harder to pin down is the suggestion by journalist Craig Williams and others that Banksy is a collective of artists working together under the same brand. However, news broke in November 2023 that the artist said his name was “Robbie” in a BBC interview conducted two decades previously.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, an ongoing lawsuit threatens to reveal Banksy’s full name once and for all. A greeting card company called Full Color Black is suing the artist for defamation over a now-deleted Instagram post from 2022. After a Guess clothing store used one of Banksy’s works as part of a window display in collaboration with Brandalised—of which FCB is the trading company—the artist posted: “Alerting all shoplifters. Please go to Guess on Regent Street. They’ve helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong for you to do the same to their clothes?”
FCB is seeking at least $1.6 million in damages and wrote in its filing that the “claimant reserves the right to seek an order that he identifies himself for the purposes of these proceedings.”
"The Banksy Effect"
Banksy’s worldwide fame has transformed his artwork from acts of vandalism to sought-after high art pieces. Journalist Max Foster has referred to the rising prices of graffiti as street art as “the Banksy effect.” Interest in Banksy escalated with the release of the 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
The movie, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award. Banksy requested the ability to attend the ceremony in Los Angeles in disguise, which the Academy ultimately rejected.
In October 2013, Banksy took to the streets of New York City. There, he pledged to create a new piece of art for each day of his residency. As he explained to the Village Voice, “The plan is to live here, react to things, see the sights—and paint on them. Some of it will be pretty elaborate, and some will just be a scrawl on a toilet wall.” During that month, he also sold some of his works on the street for $60 a piece, well below the market value for his art.
We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.
People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible, and childish. But that’s only if it’s done properly.
People who should be shot: Fascist thugs, religious fundamentalists, people who write lists telling you who should be shot.
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