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Banksy’s anonymity means that we know very little about his origins. It is believed he was born in Bristol, South West England, around 1974. He started his career in the early ‘90s as a graffiti artist part of Bristol’s DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ), citing the work of 3D—who went on to found the band Massive Attack—as a source of inspiration. Critics have also highlighted similarities between Banksy and French graffiti artist Blek le Rat.
By the age of 18, Banksy started developing his stencil technique, which became his predominant method in the late ‘90s, and made his art more recognisable in Bristol and London. He decided to move to the capital around 2000, where he lived with his friend Jamie Eastman, who worked at Hombre, a record label. Eastman helped spread Banksy’s work around London, and used the artist’s work on the artwork of several of Hombre’s releases. Banksy rapidly gained a notorious reputation for his bold murals which often made challenging statements about war, the establishment and capitalism.
His newfound fame led to a series of exhibitions, like Existencilism at the 33 1⁄3 Gallery, Los Angeles in 2002, and Turf War, held in a London warehouse the following year. In 2005, Bansky travelled to Palestine, leaving nine paintings on the Israeli West Bank wall, including a dove holding an olive branch, and a little girl holding balloons and floating away. This broke major ground in his career, and led to a three-day exhibition called Barely Legal in Los Angeles in 2006. This featured an elephant painted pink—drawing complaints from animal activists—and graffiti symbolizing the world’s poverty—or the “elephant in the room”.
After several of his works sold for tens of thousands of pounds in 2006, journalist Max Foster referred to the transformation of street art to high art as “the Banksy effect”. There was further interest in the artist following the release of Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010, a documentary about the artist which earned an Academy Award nomination.
In October 2013, Banksy undertook a residency in New York City called Better Out Than In, where he unveiled at least one new artwork every day, which he documented online. He also sold some of his canvases on the street for just $60, two of which went on to sell for $214,000 at auction. Back in the UK in 2015, he opened Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare: a pop-up theme park exhibition, which featured work by 58 artists including Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer.
Responsible for triggering a shift in the pop art movement originating from the streets, Banksy has attracted a significant cult following. He is considered a British cultural icon, who used his art to build a foundation supported by his peers, spreading bold statements through accessible work accessible.
There has been intense speculation over Banksy’s identity. A common belief is that he is Robin Gunningham, corroborated by many of Gunningham’s associates and former classmates. This was also the subject of a 2016 study, which showed that Gunningham’s known movements correlated with Banksy’s artworks. Alternatively, it has been suggested that Banksy is 3D, Banksy’s former collaborator in the DbZ Crew, or comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. Another theory is that he is Damien Hirst’s alter-ego. However, to this day, none of these claims have ever been proven.
It’s important to remember that street art is illegal, which may partially explain why Banksy chooses to conceal who he really is. However, there’s no denying that this mystery is largely responsible for the buzz around his brand, with the intrigue around his identity serving to continually boost his profile.
Rats, apes, policemen and children feature heavily in Banksy’s art, with these striking images often combined with slogans to evoke satirical takes on political themes. Aside from his work on the streets, Banksy has also released original prints of his iconic pieces.
One of the most famous Banksy prints is Girl With Balloon, first painted in London in 2002, and once voted the UK’s favorite artwork. It also attracted significant attention in October 2018, when a framed copy shredded itself, moments after selling at auction for over $1.1 million. The partially shredded piece was renamed Love is in the Bin, which Sotherby’s auction house called “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction”. On the same day, Banksy posted an image of the event to his Instagram page, captioned: “Going, going, gone…”.
Other notable pieces include Love Is In The Air, which depicts a man dressed as a militant preparing to throw a bunch of flowers rather than a grenade, and Pulp Fiction, showing Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta as their characters in the Quentin Tarantino movie, holding bananas instead of guns. When the latter was painted over by Transport for London in April 2007, Banksy replaced it with a new work, this time showing the two men now holding guns, but dressed in banana suits. Another famous Banksy artwork is Di Faced Tenner. These fake banknotes, featuring the face of Princess Diana were first created in August 2004, and some people even tried to spend them after a large wad was thrown into the crowd at London’s Notting Hill Carnival. Here at ArtLife, a signed artist proof of this piece is also available for purchase.
It’s believed that there are approximately 30,000 authentic Banksy prints in existence, all of which are in extremely high demand. New releases are very rare, which means that those who wish to buy Banksy art will usually have to do so on the secondary market.
We have an exclusive collection of original pieces created by the internationally renowned artist available to collectors.