Banksy: The Elusive Street Graffiti Artist
What is art? Over the years, people have attempted answer this question, with each person providing a different answer. History has taught people that art appears in many forms and styles, from cave paintings and realism to impressionism and abstract. Art can even serve a purpose, from preserving a culture to making a statement. For the elusive street artist known as Banksy, he creates art using satire and relies upon a dark sense of humor to send a message.
Banksy is known for his provocative artwork displayed all over the world. He’s known for his political and social overtones in his art pieces. Although his identity remains unknown, it is believed by many that Banksy was born in Bristol, England possibly in 1974. According to Will Ellsworth-Jones, Bristol during the 1980s was “working-class, run-down, and unwelcoming to strangers.” The article “Banksy” states that a camaraderie with DryBreadZ Crew, a Bristol graffiti group, marks the beginning of Banksy’s artistic career (“Banksy”). As Banksy’s signature style came into fruition, the article “Banksy” declares that during the 1990s, Banksy “began using stencils predominately.” While Banksy began his artistic career as a providential artist, his artwork started to appear throughout England. Banksy pulled an elaborate stunt when he was able to successfully leave his own painting in several museums, including the Modern Museum of Art in New York and British Museum in England.
After a series of art pieces painted on a concrete wall in the West Bank, Banksy became internationally renowned (Ellsworth-Jones). According to an article published by the BBC, Banksy painted nine images on the Palestinian side of the barrier. On one of the paintings, Banksy creates an image of escape, portraying two young boys carrying buckets and the wall stripped off to reveal an island. With this piece, Banksy brings attention to the wall. For Banksy, the wall prohibits children access from the beautiful island. In another image known as Girl and a Soldier, the art piece shows a young girl frisking a West Bank guard. The meaning of the painting reveals the end of innocence for children. For children living in the West Bank, they have become immune to the political conflict. By having the soldier get searched by the little girl, Banksy reveals shows a reversal of roles.
Throughout his artistic career, Banksy has attracted attention from many, including artists, celebrities, and those who believe his artwork vandalizes property. Banksy has stirred controversy, with many of his pieces deemed scandalous. One of his scandalous pieces was created while he was residing in New York City.
In October 2013, Banksy announced that he would soon move to New York City, creating one piece every day. The HBO documentary, Banksy Takes New York, chronicles Banksy’s stay. Unlike Exit Through the Gift Shop, this documentary is in no way associated with Banksy, meaning that the film was neither produced nor directed by Banksy. Instead, the film functions as “a reflection of what New Yorkers experienced that month” (Banksy Takes New York).
On October 9th, Banksy revealed one of his most memorable, albeit controversial pieces. Banksy spray-painted horses wearing goggles and people onto an abandoned car and van. In addition, the piece was accompanied with audio, the sounds of gunshots firing and soldiers communicating through the radio. Banksy’s piece was inspired by a video released by Wikileaks, depicting U.S. soldiers in Iraq accidentally shooting and brutally murdering innocent civilians and children (Banksy Takes New York).
Another popular display that appeared during Banksy’s New York residency features plush bleating lambs in a truck. This piece is known as The Sirens of the Lambs, and is an attack by Banksy upon the meat industry.”
In Boston, Banksy presented a piece with the words “Follow your Dreams,” with a painter standing nearby. Written across the words “Follow your Dreams” is the word “Cancelled.” The exact location of this particular artwork is in the low-income area of Chinatown in Boston, Massachusetts.
Since the artwork is located in a low-income area, the piece provides a profound meaning, allowing Banksy to comment on class. Another memorable event occurred in Disneyland in 2006. In the documentary film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy placed a life-sized replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee near the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride. According to a report by BBC news, a spokesperson argued that Banksy’s purpose “was to highlight the plight of terror suspects at the controversial detention centre at Cuba” (“Artist Banksy Targets Disneyland”).
Apart from raising controversy, Banksy’s artwork also can be playful. A canvas painting known as Dorothy Police Search depicts the character Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz getting her basket searched by a police officer. Another popular piece,The Naked Man, raised headlines, causing people to vote in favor to keep the mural. In the end, the City Council of Bristol approved and ruled in favor to keep the piece. The Naked Man depicts three people: a woman, her husband looking out the window, unaware of the naked man dangling from the window with one hand. It appears the naked man is having an affair with the woman, and her husband angrily searches for her lover.
Over the years, Banksy’s identity has come under question, where fans of his work speculate the artist’s true identity. In a New York Times article, Michiko Kakutani states that Banksy chooses to live an obscure life due to “the illegal nature of graffiti…[and] that authenticating a street piece could be like ‘a signed confession’:” however, Kakutani argues that because Banksy “maintain[s] his anonymity,” he relies on his anonymity “as another tool in his arsenal…to burnish his own mystique” (Kakutani).
In Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy argues that street art is not “all about the money.” Aside from depicting well-known street artists and capturing the street art movement, the documentary film also sheds light into how consumerism ruins art. For example, Banksy explains that most artists undergo a process of steps: starting out small and gradually finding and building their signature style. Banksy, however, argues that his friend and aspiring artist Thierry Guetta (a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash) lacks his own artistic style, producing pieces that are inspired by several of the street artists he met. Finally, Guetta has Banksy and Shepard Fairey, a fellow street artist, provide a quote to promote Guetta’s gallery and also create publicity: if Banksy and Shepard Fairey approve of Mr. Brainwash, then he must be a good artist.
A brilliant and provocative artist, Banksy challenges social norms. Banksy uses irony and satire to make a statement. In addition, Banksy sheds light onto important and serious issues, as seen in his Crazy Horse Riding through the Lower East Side to a WikiLeaks Soundtrack installation. Most people, however, feel his art serves as vandalism, where his installations disrupt order and his artwork either destroys public property or causes controversy. Yet Banksy appears to be aware of world events and social injustice. He skillfully creates intellectually stimulating works of art that provide his audience with a fresh and controversial look at those events and injustices. It is through his art that inspires people to take drastic action.
“Artist Banksy Targets Disneyland.” BBC News. BBC, 11 Sept. 2006. Web.
“Banksy.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web.
Banksy Does New York. Dir. Chris Moukarbel. Home Box Office (HBO), 2014.
Ellsworth-Jones, Will. “The Story Behind Banksy.” Smithsonian.
Exit Through the Gift Shop. Dir. Banksy. Oscilloscope, 2010.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Stalking a Most Prolific Phantom.” Rev. of Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall, by Will Ellsworth-Jones. The New York Times 17 Feb. 2013. Web.
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