Banksy is an anonymous England-based street artist, vandal, political activist, and film director, active since the 1990s. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. His works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Banksy’s work grew out of the Bristol underground scene, which involved collaborations between artists and musicians. Banksy says that he was inspired by 3D, a graffiti artist and founding member of the musical group Massive Attack.
Banksy displays his art on publicly visible surfaces such as walls and self-built physical prop pieces. Banksy no longer sells photographs or reproductions of his street graffiti, but his public “installations” are regularly resold, often even by removing the wall they were painted on. A small number of Banksy’s works are officially, non-publicly, sold through Pest Control. Banksy’s documentary film Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) made its debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. In January 2011, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary for the film. In 2014, he was awarded Person of the Year at the 2014 Webby Awards.
Banksy’s name and identity remain unconfirmed and the subject of speculation. In a 2003 interview with Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, Banksy is described as “white, 28, scruffy casual—jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring. He looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets”. He began as an artist at the age of 14, was expelled from school, and served time in prison for petty crime. According to Hattenstone, “anonymity is vital to him because graffiti is illegal”. For 10 years in the late 1990s, Banksy lived in Easton, Bristol, then moved to London around 2000.He does all this and he stays anonymous. I think that’s great. These days everyone is trying to be famous. But he has anonymity.
Banksy is often assumed to be Robin Gunningham, born on 28 July 1973 in Yate, 12 miles (19 km) from Bristol. Several of Gunningham’s associates and former schoolmates at Bristol Cathedral School have corroborated this rumour, and in 2016, a study found that the incidence of Banksy’s works correlated with the known movements of Gunningham. Lawyers representing Banksy commented on this study, but did not suggest that the paper’s conclusions were flawed.
There has been alternative speculation that Banksy is:
- Robert Del Naja (a.k.a. 3D), frontman of the trip hop band Massive Attack. Del Naja had been a graffiti artist during the 1980s prior to forming the band and had previously been identified as a personal friend of Banksy. Yet the study of the two artists’ lives suggests that this is not likely.
- Jamie Hewlett, English comic book artist and designer best known for the comic Tank Girl and the virtual band Gorillaz. Joanna Brooks, Banksy’s publicist, denied this claim.
In October 2014, an internet hoax circulated that Banksy had been arrested and his identity revealed.
On 16 April 2020, in an Instagram post, Banksy referred to the necessity for staying isolated at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, by showing pictures of rats running amok drawn on the walls and toilet seat in his bathroom; and, he raised new speculation about his private life by saying, “My wife hates it when I work from home.”