Banksy
Biography, Stencil Paintings of Graffiti Artist.
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Shop Until You Drop (2011)
Stencil graffiti. London.

Banksy (b.1973-4)

Contents

Introduction
Painting Career
Other Artworks
Sales and Marketing of Banksy's Art
Books
Film
Controversy



Graffiti by Banksy (May-Aug 2008)
It depicts a cleaning worker erasing
a mural painting. Note the images
of animals painted to resemble
prehistoric cave paintings.

POST WAR ART
For schools and styles, see:
Contemporary Art Movements.

Introduction

The English artist known as Banksy has become famous for his graffiti art, which has appeared throughout London and other locations, from Los Angeles to Melbourne. Arguably the perfect example of postmodernist art, Banksy's satirical stencilled images are a mixture of pure vandalism, narcissistic posturing, irreverent humour, vivid imagery if rather mediocre painting, and left-wing politics. One of the most controversial of 20th century painters, his identity remains as yet unknown, although media speculation suggests his name is Robert or Robin Banks, or Robin Gunningham. In addition to his mural painting, which he also promotes through a variety of stunts (or happenings), Banksy has been involved in filmmaking and writing. Although, or perhaps because, his avant garde art sells for six-figure sums at Sotheby's and other auction houses, he has become a highly contentious figure within the world of popular culture. Is he following in the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp and Dada, or is he simply an opportunist trying to make a buck out of his stencil painting? Whatever the answer, there is no doubt that he has our attention. Indeed, he is one of the most famous painters in Britain.


Graffiti Art by Banksy (2008)
Park Street, Bristol.


"Follow Your Dreams" (2010)
Graffiti word art by Banksy.
See also Christopher Wool (b.1955)
the leading exponent of tex-based art..

WORLDS BEST PAINTERS
For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

WORLD'S GREATEST ART
For other images similar to those
produced by Banksy, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.

MODERN PAINTERS
For more artists like Banksy,
see: Modern Artists.

Painting Career

According to media sources, Banksy was born about 1973-4 and grew up in Bristol, in south-west England. During his teens around 1992–1994 he became a member of the graffiti group known as the DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ) - a part of the city's underground culture scene - who allegedly used aerosol spray cans, industrial spray paint, acrylics, marker pens, and stencils to daub graffiti on a variety of surfaces. Within a few years, for the sake of speed and efficiency he was using stencils exclusively. Traditionally, these are hand drawn or printed onto sheets of card or acetate, before being cut out, although Banksy's particular artistic methods are unknown.

His work typically combines humorous, striking imagery with some sort of anti-establishment message or slogan - see, for instance, his famous silhouette of a demonstrator hurling a flower instead of a Molotov cocktail. His style has sometimes been compared with that of the Parisian street-painter Blek le Rat.

Since 2000, in addition to adding his contemporary art to streets, walls, bridges and other urban surfaces around the world, Banksy has exhibited in galleries, warehouses and other venues throughout London, as well as places like New York, Los Angeles, and Sydney. His images have also, allegedly, appeared in Birmingham Alabama, Salt Lake City Utah, San Francisco, Detroit, New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Toronto Canada, the Israeli West Bank wall, and London Zoo.

In 2008, Banksy hosted an exhibition of graffiti art in a road tunnel underneath Waterloo station, London. Other postmodernist artists who participated included Broken Crow, Cartrain, Dolk, Dotmasters, Ben Eine, Pure Evil, Jef Aerosol, Mr Brainwash, Blek le Rat and others.

In June 2009, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery staged the Banksy UK Summer show which incorporated over 100 works of art, including works of screen printing, and sculpture as well as animatronics and installation art. Some 300,000 visitors attended the 12-week show.

Other Artworks

As well as mural paintings, Banksy has explored various other genres and media.

• In 2003, at his Turf War exhibition, he showed images painted on animals.
• In 2004, he produced a number of 'subverted' oil paintings, including reconstructed replicas of Monet's Water Lilies and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, to which humorous content has been added in the style of Duchamp's Dadaist picture LHOOQ (1919), a parody of the Mona Lisa.
• In 2004, he produced a large number of spoof £10 notes on which the picture of Queen Elizabeth II was replaced with that of the Diana, Princess of Wales. The words "Bank of England" were replaced by "Banksy of England."
• In 2006, he produced six silk-screen prints of the supermodel Kate Moss, in the manner of Andy Warhol's prints of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis.
• In 2006, his Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles, featured a live elephant painted in a floral wallpaper pattern.
• In 2006, Banksy produced a sculpture featuring a beaten-up red phone box complete with a pickaxe embedded in its side, apparently bleeding, and abandoned in a central London side street.
• In 2010, Banksy created his first work of word art, consisting of the phrase "Follow Your Dreams" with the word "Cancelled" superimposed.

Sales and Marketing of Banksy's Art

Over the years, Banksy has proved to be an extraordinarily effective self-publicist. As well as using gallery exhibitions, he has staged several clandestine stunts - better described as examples of performance art - which involved the hanging of his own artworks in London's Tate Modern Gallery and the British Museum, and also in New York's MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History. His use of props like a painted elephant (the elephant in the room represents the issue of world poverty), and an inflatable doll dressed like a Guantanamo Bay inmate (representing the loss of human rights), helps to associate himself and his art with anti-establishment causes. These clever marketing ploys have led to greatly increased prices for his work, with other artists like Brad Pitt and Christina Aguilera forking out large sums to acquire Banksy originals. NOTE: For a comparison with American street artists, see Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88), Keith Haring (1958-90) and David Wojnarowicz (1954-92), the three most successful graffiti artists who went mainstream.

Other auction records include the following:

• In 2006, a set of six silk-screen prints featuring Kate Moss sold at Sotheby's London for £50,400, setting an auction record for the artist.
• In Feb 2007, also at Sotheby's London, his work Bombing Middle England went for £102,000 (a new record); while Ballerina with Action Man Parts sold for £96,000.
• In April 2007, at Bonhams of London, his work Space Girl & Bird was bought for £288,000 ($576,000) another new record.

Books

Banksy has also written several books which include photographs of his artworks around the world, as well as some of his paintings, prints and other exhibition pieces. His first three books, all self-published, were Banging your head against a Brick Wall, Existencilism, and Cut it Out (2004). The following year, Random House published his fourth book Wall and Piece.

Film

Banksy is known to have produced at least one film. This was entitled Exit Through the Gift Shop, and first appeared at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. In January 2011 it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

 

 

Controversy

One of the most notorious postmodernist artists, Banksy's art is fundamentally political art and raises a number of social and ethical issues, including the following:

Graffiti Improves the Aesthetic Quality of Urban Surroundings

Not true. According to most statistics, graffiti is associated with urban decay, anti-social behaviour, and general lawlessness. Which is why, in 1995, New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani established the Anti-Graffiti Task Force to eradicate graffiti vandalism in the city, while the sale of aerosol spray-paint cans to persons under the age of 18 was made a criminal offence. Similar measures were introduced in Britain under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2003.

Graffiti Artists Are Entitled to Freedom of Expression

Perhaps. But not at the expense of others. Who, for instance, would like a contentious slogan painted on the side of their house or apartment block? Supporters of Banksy might enjoy his particular images and text, but would they allow other graffiti artists to use walls and public buildings to publicize subversive right-wing messages?

Besides, what is so special about graffiti artists that they can't publicize their work through art galleries? After all, many galleries are devoted solely to avant-garde art. Which brings us back to Banksy himself. Despite his overt political agenda, one might be forgiven for thinking that the only true beneficiary of his graffiti is Banksy himself. Like his celebrated predecessors Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Andy Warhol (1928-87), the more famous and controversial his art becomes, the more money he makes. He must be the ultimate embodiment of postmodernism: he is famous, highly influential as an artist, and presumably extremely wealthy - and we have no idea who he is!

• For more details of street painting, see: Homepage.


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