Girl with Balloon - Banksy

How Does Banksy Stay Anonymous and Make Money?

Banksy is one of the few living artists who can truly be called a household name. His satirical, politically-charged graffiti can be found everywhere from New York City to the Gaza Strip, and his immediately recognizable works such as Girl With Balloon have earned him a loyal worldwide cult following. Yet, despite his fame, Bansky’s identity is still a complete mystery.

People have been speculating over who he could be for years, but none of these theories have ever been proven. And despite this anonymity, the verified works attributed to him continue to sell for huge sums of money. Which begs the question — if no one knows his real identity, how does Banksy actually make money?

Who is Banksy? 

Banksy’s identity has never been officially confirmed but that hasn’t stopped many from speculating over who he could be. There has been intense speculation over Banksy’s identity. London’s Mail on Sunday identified the artist as a man named Robin Gunningham from Bristol in the UK, and this was corroborated by many of Gunningham’s associates and former classmates. This was supported by a 2016 study showing that Gunningham’s known movements correlated with Banksy’s artworks. Others believe that Banksy is 3D, Banksy’s former collaborator in the DryBreadZ (DBZ) Crew of graffiti artists, while comic book artist Jamie Hewlett is a suspect too. Another theory is that he is Damien Hirst’s alter-ego. None of these claims have ever been proven, and given how much the mystery feeds into Banksy’s brand, he won’t be giving up his identity in a hurry.

How has Banksy concealed his identity for so long?

Banksy kicked off his career in the 1990s, and has managed to keep his identity under wraps in the decades since. His signature stencil style has been key in allowing him to preserve his anonymity, as he can complete his work much more quickly by following this method compared to painting freehand.

In this day and age, it seems almost impossible that somebody so famous has managed to escape detection for so long, but according to his former agent Steve Lazarides, Banksy has used some very creative methods to stay anonymous. “It’s amazing what you can do with a high vis jacket and some cones. Obviously, he couldn’t do it now. But then, I never saw him paint at night. Never,” he told Sky News in 2019. Another one of their tricks involved a fake film where “Banksy would have a piece of paper, purportedly from [Lazarides] as a producer, telling him where to go and paint and that he had permission to paint there for this fictitious film”.

Love is in the air - BanksyThis mystery has undoubtedly contributed to his success, a remarkable USP that Banksy is very much determined to maintain. Having taken legal action against a greeting cards company for using images of his famous Love Is In The Air mural on its products, Banksy ended up losing his 2014 EU trademark of the artwork in September 2020. As he refused to reveal his identity, the court ruled that he couldn’t truly be identified as the owner of the artwork. Although this decision could put other parts of his trademarked portfolio at risk, Banksy’s clearly sees his anonymity as a priority.

How does Banksy make money?

Seeing as nobody knows who Banksy is, it begs the question: how exactly does he get paid? Like the majority of street artists, he doesn’t actually make any money from most of his work due to the fact he paints onto walls rather than canvases. In this respect, his anonymity makes no difference to his profits. However, his fame means that other people have tried to cash in where he cannot. It has become common for art dealers and property owners to remove and sell entire walls which bear an original Banksy.

Because I’m Worthless (Red) - BanksyThe elusive painter has been able to make money by selling prints, which were previously distributed through a website called Pictures On Walls (POW) until it stopped operating in 2017, and often featured the same iconic images he previously painted on city walls. The site’s founders wrote: “Despite attempts at price fixing, regrettably some POW prints have become worth tens of thousands of pounds. Either unable or unwilling to become part of the art market we once so self-righteously denounced – we called it quits.” It’s also worth noting that, although Banksy would take a cut of POW’s sales, he wouldn’t profit if these same prints were later resold to dealers and collectors.

Now, Pest Control — a website dedicated to authenticating alleged Banksy pieces — is the only point of sale for his new work when it’s available, although new releases are extremely rare. In addition, Banksy has made money from other projects, including his best-selling book Wall and Piece, and the Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop.

How much money does Banksy make?

Banksy originals are worth staggering amounts of money, but as they are generally sold on the secondary market through auctions, the artist himself doesn’t get a cut. In fact, when Devolved Parliament sold for a record-breaking $12,142,893, Banksy himself commented: “Record price for a Banksy painting set at auction tonight. Shame I didn’t still own it.”

Laugh Now - BanksyIn spite of this, it’s thought that he enjoys a substantial income from the sales he does oversee. Celebritynetworth.com claims his net worth as $50 million, though this should certainly be taken with a pinch of salt, as the platform doesn’t cite any sources as evidence, not to mention how difficult it is to put a monetary value on the work of someone so enigmatic. However, what we do know is that Banksy is not money-driven by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, there have been many times he has sold his work for a shred of its market value — and, in one notable case, shredded work of high market value. For example, in October 2013, he sold some of his canvases for as little as $60 from a street vendor stall in New York’s Central Park, while in 2017, he offered low-cost prints through a tightly controlled online lottery. 

Banksy may not approve of his own commercial value, but as new releases are so rare, those who want to own one of his pieces will usually have no choice but to turn to the secondary market. Current estimates suggest there are only around 30,000 authentic prints in existence, all in understandably high demand. Please contact us if you have any questions about the Banksy artwork for sale here at ArtLife.