British mystery artist, Banksy, started his career as a freehand graffiti artist during the 90s and since then there has been no stopping him. 30 years of satirical art coupled with dark humour and socio-political commentary; Banksy is the world’s most famous street artist who makes graffiti using his distinctive, iconic stencil style. His works have been sold for millions and new graffiti has popped up all across the globe, especially during the pandemic. So, who is Banksy and is he really the greatest artist of our generation?
His anonymity is one of his biggest strengths, as it should be since graffiti is illegal and he could be arrested if his identity was revealed. His followers too do not want his identity to be out in the open. They care more about his work, the art that gives voice to the voiceless.
Starting out as a freehand graffiti artist, Banksy was initially a member of a graffiti crew in Bristol called DryBreadZ Crew or DBZ. He used to sign his name as Robin Banx which was later shortened to Banksy. When he was around 18, he was almost caught vandalizing public space, but managed to hide under a dustbin van, while the rest of his crew fled. This was when he decided he would stencil his art since it was faster than freehand spraying. Thus evolved Banksy’s art style and his popularity grew in the Bristol-London underground graffiti scene.
He began collaborating with other graffiti artists, created drawings, paintings and art installations, not just underground but on bridges, walls and even live animals! He painted his first large wall mural, The Mild Mild West, in 1997 – depicting a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at three riot police. It was in response to the growing police crackdown on underground raves and parties, where the police began attacking the party goers.
Some of his most famous works include:
Banksy: Girl With Balloon
A series of stenciled mural started in 2002, it depicts a girl whose hand is extended towards a red heart shaped balloon that is floating away. One can find the original mural at Waterloo Bridge. In 2018, during an auction this painting got self-destructed as soon as it was sold, a stunt planned by Banksy who had attached a shredder to the frame, himself. The shredded artwork is now called “Love is in the Bin” and was termed as the first artwork ever created live during an auction.
Banksy: Love Is In The Air
Also known as the Flower Thrower or LIITA, it first appeared in 2003 as a large stenciled graffiti in Bethlehem shortly after the construction of the West Bank Wall, depicting a masked protestor throwing a bouquet of flowers. It was one of his artworks in favor of Palestinian rights.
Banksy: Devolved Parliament
It is a 2009 oil-on-canvas painting which portrayed chimpanzees debating in the House of Commons, instead of British parliamentarians. It was auctioned off at $12.2 million at Sotheby’s in London, becoming one of his most costly work till date.
Banksy: If You Don’t Mask, You Don’t Get
A newer pandemic related artwork done in the London Tube; Banksy disguised himself as a cleaner and went ahead to paint rats inside one of the carriages – rats sneezing, parachuting with masks and so on. He also wrote his name on the driver’s door.
One of his more recent works, Achoo features an old woman sneezing out her false teeth, on the walls of a semi-detached house in Totterdown. The houses in front were all built on a steep road and are leaning towards the right, making it seem as if her sneeze knocked down the other houses in front.
Banksy is known for his stunts, much like “Love Is In The Bin”, he has pulled off quite a few ones in the past. In 2004 Banksy put up his own version of Mona Lisa in Paris’ Louvre, showing Mona Lisa with a yellow smiley face, dubbing it Mona Lisa Smile. The painting was sold for more than £56,000.
Another time he snuck the “Peckham Rock” in The British Museum, a normal piece of concrete showing stick figures with a shopping cart. The piece sat there for about three days after which the authorities realized it wasn’t a part of the cave painting exhibit and was in fact a mocking piece of art. Although, it had been taken down, the museum decided to put it back up as a part of the exhibition by Ian Hislop.
Banksy is loved by all as well as hated by some. Several celebrities have come out in support of his work like Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt, Drake, Chris Martin, Jake Gyllenhaal, etc. They have managed to grab some of his art pieces, prints or like JB, straight up gotten a tattoo of their favourite artwork.
The public’s opinion about this mysterious tag artists keeps changing, some love his works and some loath it. He has been in numerous controversies but has subsequently given rise to the “Banksy Effect”, an international army of amateur as well as professional graffiti artists who have been inspired by Banksy’s work and have come out with their own art portraying the changing socio-political atmosphere of the world.
In an era governed by the internet, any stunt pulled by Banksy has the potential to go viral in seconds and with a medium like graffiti, and millions of lovers all over the world, it is hard not to dub him as one the most influential artists of this generation.
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