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Elusive and provocative are probably the best words to describe Banksy’s work. The UK-based street artist has remained anonymous throughout his decades-long career. However, his unique stencilling technique and dark yet humorous subject matters make his art effortlessly recognisable.
Part of the allure of Banksy is the speculation over his true identity. His name has never been made public knowledge, although there are numerous theories. As well as creating subversive street murals that typically have a political or social message, he’s also been involved with several performance art pieces and worked as a film director.
Although not much at all is really known about Banksy, it is widely thought that he first emerged on the graffiti art scene in Bristol. In fact, you’ll spot 11 Banksy artworks scattered around the city, including the comical Well Hung Lover on Frogmore Street which depicts a naked man hanging out of a window while his lover and her partner look on.
Banksy was likely part of the Bristol underground scene during the late 1980s. The movement had strong links to music, with many of its artists – including Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack – creating various album artworks for bands. Banksy is also rumoured to have collaborated with several graffiti artists in the city.
Wondering where he got the idea of stencilling his graffiti instead of drawing it freehand? Supposedly, he nearly got caught ‘vandalising’ a public building by the police during his youth, so decided to come up with a faster way of creating street art.
Towards the end of the 2000s, it’s believed Banksy moved to London as more and more of his works began to spring up around the UK capital. In more recent years, his street art has been spotted on buildings all across the world, with many pieces popping up in response to certain world events.
Banksy’s iconic stencilled graffiti is celebrated across the globe for its clever wit and often thought-provoking subject matters. His past works have addressed issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and global poverty.
Some of his most famous pieces have appeared overnight in both busy city locations and some very unlikely destinations. Most recently, his work has been seen on a tiny house in a model village in Norfolk, next to beaches in East Anglia and even on the side of Reading Prison.
When it comes to Banksy’s best-known works, it would be impossible not to mention Balloon Girl. The image of a young girl reaching out towards a heart-shaped balloon is widely thought to be either a message of hope or symbolic of her losing her innocence. It forms part of a series of stencilled murals that Banksy has repeated in various locations over the years.
In 2018, a framed copy of Balloon Girl sold for over £1 million at auction. Unbeknown to the buyer, the frame had been fitted with a shredding device which was activated as soon as the hammer came down. The artwork was magnificently destroyed in front of an audience, becoming a piece of experimental performance art.
It’s not always obvious if a piece is a genuine Banksy or an imposter imitating his style. Because of this, Banksy always claims the work for his own via his social media pages or Pest Control – the official authenticating body for his art.
It’s not just buildings that have been given the Banksy stamp. The artist is also well-known for creating immersive art experiences which sometimes poke fun at certain elements of pop culture. Other times, they have been in response to a specific event – either global, national or personal.
In 2015, Banksy opened a theme park-style exhibit in Weston-Super-Mare titled Dismaland. The temporary show put a sinister twist on the popular Disneyland theme parks with its range of eerie sculptures and kooky memorabilia created by both Banksy and 58 other artists. It opened for just five weeks before the structures were donated – at Banksy’s request – to the refugee camps in Calais.
Elsewhere, Banksy famously opened up a shop in Croydon called GrossDomesticProduct. It was in response to a trademark dispute he had with a greeting card company. Within it, he sold a collection of alternative ‘homeware’ items, from a baby mobile made up of CCTV cameras to purposefully impractical handbags crafted from hollowed-out bricks.