Who the Hell is Banksy?

kissing bobbiesYou’ve most likely seen his graffiti art but were not aware of his name. There is so much mystery around his real name and what he looks like that it’s now become the stuff of legend. Said to be in his early 30s, Banksy (possibly Robert Banks) was raised near Bristol, England, ostensibly the son of a photocopier engineer, and came up during the great aerosol boom of the late 1980s.

In a world where everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, Banksy is the classic anomaly. He’s managed to achieve fame with anonymity. Supposedly, no one has taken his photograph, although many claim they have an image of him. His distinctive style of graffiti merged with stenciling hanging nudeis instantly recognizable not just in London, but in cities around the world.

Having started out as a freehand graffiti artist with DryBreadZ Crew in Bristol, Banksy helped to organize a major graffiti jam knows as Walls of Fire. His work in this event helped him make a mark throughout the UK and Europe. By the time he added the stenciling aspect, Banksy was also making his art into strong anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment statements. Toward this end, his subjects often included monkeys, rats, policemen, soldiers, children and the elderly.

The definitive profile on Banksy was written by Lauren Collins for the New Yorker and is worth reading for the insights she gained into the life and work styles of the illusive artist.

When he came to L.A. in 2006, for an exhibition titled Barely Legal, he created more than the usual controversey by painting a aerosol cowgirllive elephant and enraging animal rights acitivists. And while he was in L.A. he had to visit Disneyland, where he managed to sneak in a sculpture of a Guantanamo Bay detainee, just inside the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride.

More recently, Banksy has been doing spoofs of famous artists, from Monet to Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol. Given that some of his most recent work has fetched over $500,000, you have to wonder if he really feels all that anti-capitalist any more. To be fair, Banksy lampooned this state of affairs by creating a cartoon on his website opining: “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit.”

On his website, there’s a Shop section where everything is free. Download it and do what you want with it. Of course, Banksy includes this final disclaimer: “This shop is intended for personal amusement only, not for mass producing product. Thanks.” Stick it to the man, oy!

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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