Banksy is the invisible man

Banksy's distinctive style is known by the stenciled graffiti artworks that appear unannounced, typically in public places. He usually addresses political and social themes.

Banksy is the pseudonym used by the well-known UK-based street artist, though his identity remains a mystery. Banksy's distinctive style is known by the stenciled graffiti artworks that appear unannounced, typically in public places, often depicting figures integrated into the physical environment and addressing political and social themes.   

Banksy has achieved international success as a graffiti artist, with some of his artworks selling for over £1 million. Yet remarkably, he has remained anonymous. There have been speculations about his identity, yet they remain speculations. Aside from his graffiti artworks, he also draws, paints, and is a political activist and film director. 

His artistic style is instantly recognizable in that his works use a stencil, with a predominant use of black and white and fair use of color. He often depicts figures, including children and personified animals, and usually incorporates humor and playfulness into his works. However, he does not adhere to a single style and covers a range of themes, from childhood to love to political satire and social injustice. In some cases, he satirizes historical artworks, and his pieces are often subversive in nature.

Despite his anonymity, there have been speculations about his identity. He emerged from the underground art scene in Bristol, UK, during the 1990s. Many believe that his real name is Robin Gunningham, born in Yate, near Bristol in 1973, though this remains unconfirmed. There have also been alternate speculations, including the rumor that Banksy is, in fact, Robert Del Naja, a member of the Bristol-based band Massive Attack. He was a graffiti artist before joining the band. Another rumor is that he is Jamie Hewlett, an English comic-book artist who drew the comic Tank Girl and the artwork for the virtual band Gorillaz, but Banksy's publicist has denied this.

People believe that he lived in Easton, Bristol, during the 1990s, later moving to London in 2000. In 2003, he was interviewed for The Guardian, which uncovered part of his personal history, including that he began as a graffiti artist at fourteen. According to the interview, he didn't enjoy school, was expelled, and served time in prison for petty crime. He began using stencils for his work since he was not skilled in using a graffiti can freehand, and graffiti art gave him a voice and a sense of identity separate from his personal identity.      

In his adolescence, he began spray-painting buildings and trains in and around Bristol. Street graffiti is illegal in the U.K., so he concealed his identity to avoid getting arrested. He continues to protect his identity and his private life with great care, which makes sense given the subversive nature of much of his work. It also generates mystique around the production, location, and revelation of his public works and stunts. 

Banksy, "the great money-maker."

If no one knows who Banksy is, how does he make money? Like all street artists, he does not earn from most of his works. He paints onto walls, not on canvases; thus, his anonymity does not affect his earnings. 

Since he is a famous street artist, other people are cashing in where he cannot. Property owners and art dealers typically remove the entire wall with an original Banksy artwork and sell it. 

The elusive and iconic street artist is content on selling prints of his works to make money. He hired Pest Control, a third party, to deliver his famous certificates of authenticity for his works.

Banksy also hired someone to sell some of his original artworks for supposedly $60 in Central Park and on the street. He aimed to condemn what he thought was the nonsense practice of the art market in pricing artworks. 

Each of those who bought his artwork for $60 was almost sure it was a fake. The following day, though, Banksy published a viral video, and now these artworks are worth $20,000 at auction. 

Banksy has also made money through the Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, in which he scrutinized the difference between street and commercial art. He also has a best-selling book, Wall and Piece. 

Banksy, "the humanitarian."

Many of Banksy's artworks have been sold at auction, sometimes for upwards of £10 million. His piece Game Changer, which depicts a child playing with a doll of a nurse dressed as a superhero, alongside other superhero toys, sold for £16.8 Million in March 2021. The drawing was made, it is believed, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the money, as well as a copy of the drawing, has been donated to an NHS hospital in Southampton.

He has also donated artwork to support various humanitarian causes, including Civilian Drone Strike artwork, with the proceeds going towards the charitable organizations, Reprieve and Campaign Against Arms Trade. Following its display in his theme park Dismaland in 2015, his sculpture, Dream Boat, was sold with the proceeds going towards the refugee charity, Choose love.    

Banksy, "the controversial artist."

Banksy has, over the years, captured the imagination of the public with his controversial murals. He has developed a cult following and is revered as one of the most influential artists of his era. 

No contemporary artist can match Banksy's style of using design and street art to communicate moving messages and political statements. This has made him a counter-culture icon and a controversial artist. 

Creating controversial artworks is common nature to Banksy: 

  • Cardinal Sin, Liverpool (2011)

This artwork is an attack on the Catholic church, the most powerful organization in the world. This artwork was unveiled at the Walker Art gallery in the midst of the rampant child abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church and its consequent cover-ups. 

In this artwork, Banksy re-designed a replica of the stone sculpture of a priest done during the 18th century. He replaced the face of the priest with pixilated and murky tiles to symbolize a suspected criminal. He included the tagline, "it's easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity - lies, corruption, abuse." Dismaland, Somerset (2015)

Dismaland is a creepy amusement park installed by Banksy in 2015. The entrance to the park was £3 per person. The park included Cinderella as a carriage-crash princess, a visual simulation of the mermaid Ariel, and a refugee boat game. 

This pop-up exhibition encouraged visitors to look at the real world, not from the perspective of Disney but from the reality of refugees who needed aid.  

  • Girl with Balloon, Sotheby's, London (2018)

"Girl with Balloon" is one of the most famous paintings of Banksy. This is a mural of a monochrome little girl trying to reach out for a red heart-shaped balloon. The balloon represents innocence, hope, and love. 

This mural self-destructed after it was sold for £ 1 million. Bansky placed a shredder into the frame before the auction. Before a shocked Sotheby's crowd, the mural crumbled into pieces after it was sold. 

This stunt pulled off by Banksy was one of the best moments in auction history. Banksy aimed to criticize the high prices of his artwork, saying that art has become a commodity that only the rich can own. Ironically, though, many experts claim, "Girl with a Balloon" is worth even more than £1 million. 

  • I remember when all this was trees, Detroit (2010)

In recent years, Detroit has gone through a significant demographic and economic decline. In 2010, Banksy depicted in his painting the ongoing economic and social hardships in the city. 

On the side of a dilapidated building outside the deteriorated Packard Plant, Banksy painted an image of a downhearted young boy holding a paintbrush and can with the words, "I remember when all this was trees" in red letters. 

This artwork depicted how the loss of nature and mass deforestation has made Detroit nothing like it ever was. 

  • Slave Labour, Wood Green, London (2012)

Bansky dampened the mood of the celebrations of London 2012. With his anti-consumerist attitude, he used his art to make people aware of the reality of sweatshops. "Slave Labour" is spray-painted on the side of a Poundland in Wood Green. 

In this spray paint art, Banksy depicts a young child producing Union Jack flags with a sewing machine. Banksy showed the inhumane measures (a child working) taken so that merchandise could be mass-produced for the London Olympics and the queen's diamond jubilee. 

Banksy, “the master of disguise."

In 2004 Banksy entered the Louvre dressed in disguise and hung up his own version of the Mona Lisa, which depicts a similar portrait of a woman, but with an acid-smiley emoticon for a face. It isn't known for how long the piece remained in place. Some of his publicly displayed graffiti works have also been physically removed from buildings, including a mural of a girl hula-hooping drilled from the side of a terraced building and sold at auction against the artist's wishes. 

Also, in 2004, he dressed up as a museum employee and entered The Natural History Museum, placing his artwork, Banksus Militus Ratus, on display aside some ancient artifacts. The piece included a stuffed rat wearing a backpack and holding a spray can, with the words "our time will come" spray-painted behind. Staff members failed to spot the piece, considering it an actual part of the rest of the display. A staff member is even said to have approached the work, read the text, and checked it was correctly attached.     

Final Thoughts

So, to answer the question: who is Banksy? We can say that Banksy isn't simply an individual but a collection of artworks and an original approach to modern art that seeks subversion and play. Bansky's publicly displayed artworks depend on the physical, built environment. As such, seek to reclaim these spaces while giving the artist a voice free of exclusivity and celebrity. What's more, Banksy is likely admired more because of his anonymity, since the art speaks for itself, and we don't need to know who the person is behind the pseudonym.