Who is Banksy? The question continues to enthrall ever since his pithy visual sound bites and satirical guerilla-style art interventions made him a household name in the early 2000s. ‘Nobody ever listened to me,’ he once famously wrote, ‘until they didn’t know who I was.’ Banksy’s anonymity may be necessary due to the illegality of much of his work, yet in this age of Facebook and mass surveillance, his anti-persona is as much a part of a witty provocative commentary on the world as his epigrammatic, anti-establishment visual slogans.
Whoever Banksy really is, there is little doubt that he first began tagging during Bristol’s urban-culture renaissance of the 1990s, when seminal trip-hop bands like Massive Attack and Portishead made the city the UK’s epicentre of street culture. His early work was freehand graffiti, seen in large-scale pieces such as Silent Majority created for the 1998 Glastonbury Festival. By 1999 his work had begun appearing in London, and by 2000 was showing the influence of satirical stencil street artists like Xavier Prou, a.k.a. Blek le Rat.
After 2001, works such as Napalm (2004), his haunting parody of Nick Ut’s iconic Vietnam War photograph, began capturing the world’s imagination. In 2005, nine Banksy images appeared on the Israeli-West Bank wall — the same year in which he began adding art interventions to his oeuvre, with pieces such as the guerrilla-hanging of a yellow smiley-face version of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
By the late 2000s the art world had caught up with Banksy’s popular appeal, and many of his works had been removed from their original public settings and sold. Kissing Coppers (2004) for example, taken from the wall of a Brighton pub, sold for $575,000 in Miami in 2014. While Banksy has always wanted his works to remain in their original contexts, any of his graffiti pieces belong to the owners of the building on which they are sprayed, and they are thus able to expunge the work as vandalism, leave it as public art, or sell it at will. However, Banksy also produces works on paper through his authentication site, Pest Control.
In 2010 his film, Exit through the Gift Shop, was nomintated for an Academy Award.
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