Banksy: A contemporary cultural icon of solidarity

A Time Magazine dubbed ‘graffiti master, painter, activist, filmmaker and all-purpose provocateur’, what is the artist all about? Now captivating a global audience, Banksy has a plethora of fans, with books, posters, tattoos and even an App demonstrating a distinctive skill set. The man (gender taken for granted here) anti-centralized authority. Whether it’s the government, the arms industry or big business, his art reflects fighting for the little man, and often this is done very tongue-in-cheek.

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“There’s no way you’re going to get a quote from us to use on your book cover” Metropolitan Police spokesperson, a quote from the back of his latest book, a collective of more than just his artwork.

 

In his youth, after finding his name, finding his style and finding his message, and after a hectic run-in with the transport police, he fell for the stencil design. For Banksy this wasn’t mere vandalism. It was dissent. Obviously, he’s not quite matching Che Guevara or Karl Marx, nor will he claim to be, but the socio-political edge was always there for him, and this can be seen throughout his lifework and its locations.

 

The identity behind Banksy: Who is he?

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Everyone who knows Banksy knows that no one really knows who he is. Confused? You should be, although more has become known in recent times. Apart from being born in Bristol and what you can take from his literature (mainly imagery anyway), the rest is fairly up in the air. In 2008 the Mail on Sunday used their investigative powers to come to the hotly debated conclusion that Banksy is a 43 year old man named Robin Gunningham, an ex-public schoolboy born into a middle-class family, (Queen Margaret University also released a scientific, apparently conclusive, study that points right at the public schoolboy). Anyhow, isn’t it interesting the peoples paper (owned by a multi-billionaire Lord) almost mock his middle-class upbringing, nearly demanding him to be from the lowest economic order to meet his ‘anti-authoritarian renegade’ persona? Although studies seem to be confirming the Gunningham hypothesis, naturally it is all being denied by anyone with any authority on Banksy.

In August 2016 Craig Williams had a stab at finding out the secret identity, throwing the controversy back into the air with traceable solid evidence. Although the base of the evidence was formed from a 2010 rumor that it is actually a group of artists, not a single persona, following around the band Massive Attack on its tour of the United States. Previous dates and drawings were dotted together, including locations and involvement, over multiple years, which show quite the compelling theory. There is also the intimate links of Banksy with the Massive Attack frontrunner Robert Del Naja (graffiti name ‘3D’), believed to be the possible culprit in chief. The varied global brilliance certainly lends its weight to the multiple artist theory.

 

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And so, although accredited as a Champagne Socialist for some of his actions to help the needy of Stokes Croft (a Bristol area), why does he choose to remain anonymous and why does this generate such an appeal? Ultimately, he named the reason being the legality of his occupation (if you can call it that), but on a deeper level he is clearly not a self-serving artist, especially if you look at the messages delivered throughout his work. Each piece of art he delivers is a risk; he can ‘go down’ with the law, so it is necessary to take the correct precautions. Studies and investigations aside, the secrecy and anonymity is all a part of Banksy, and in the globalised age of money and ego’s, the statement he may be trying to make is that his messages are more important than his name.

 

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Banksy Artwork

You will be able to find detailed compilations of the global icon littered throughout the Internet, and a brief google image search will show you nearly all of his known installations. So the aim here will be to focus on a small portion of his work. Not all his messages are delivered through solitary stand-alone art pieces left on derelict buildings, random doors, or war-torn walls in Israel. Although, if it does, the process of operations involves sneaking around in the middle of the night, creating the image with apparently no-one aware, and then uploading the images on his website at some point the next day.

 

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A 2015 exhibition funded by Banksy, featuring 10 originals, included 58 other artists. This exhibition was named ‘Dismaland: bemusement park’ and was located in a small town called Western Super-mere right next to his birthplace. Attracting many celebrities the self-proclaimed ‘UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction’ was a dystopian theme park following the classical Banksy image of pointing out the ills of Western Society.

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The notable feature as you entered, besides the novel artwork, was a purposeful lack of any amusement or helpfulness from any of the bored and distressed staff walking about the park, including an unpleasant greeting from angry doormen. It took the pessimism of the UK’s political and social woes and bundled them into a ‘relatively’ entertaining area of an unused, degrading outdoor pool. Miniature exhibitions, role-plays, talks, discordant artifacts and other interactions attempted to mock the over stimulatory feel of the real Disneyland.

 

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So if you were someone who hates everything, you would have left Dismaland with more than just a smile, and a greater understanding of Banksy’s over-arching directive.

 

However, notably it was his stand-alone pieces that shot him to global fame in 2005, when he went to the West Bank in Israel and drew on the Palestinian side of the 425-mile long wall, messages of destitution and apartheid regime (what can we expect from someone born out of the left-wing hub of an already alternative city?). Pictures included windows to utopia, freedoms and escapism.

 

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Things got interesting when guns were drawn on him as he went to work with his tools.

Soldier: “What the f*** are you doing?”

Banksy: “You’ll have to wait until its finished.”

Soldier (to colleagues): “Safety’s off.”

 

And another interesting interaction from the Middle East recorded by Banksy. An old Palestinian man came over to tell him he thought that the painting made the wall look beautiful. Banksy thanked him, only to hear the response,

“We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall. Go home.”

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Banksy’s most expensive piece sold reached 6 figures and was sold in 2008 – Keep It Spotless was sold in New York City at Sotheby’s charity auction for over $1,870,000. The amusing part is that it was previously only estimated at around $300,000. Created in 2007, it is a defaced Damian Hurst painting of an L.A. hotel maid pulling up the original Hurst piece to reveal a framed window. Although this may be the most expensive piece ever sold, it certainly was not the only one to hit 6 figures. In 2007 the day after Sotheby’s London charity, Banksy’s website hosted an image of an auction house with bidders and the caption, “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This S***”. This was the response to 3 of his paintings hitting the 6-figure mark.

 

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“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish…but that’s only if its being done properly.” Banksy. Anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-government, anti-capitalist, anti-consumerism – with a common subject theme of using rats, monkeys, policeman, soldiers, children and the elderly.

 

 

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