In the colorful streets of the southern part of London, Bristol is home to one of the most controversial graffiti artists, Banksy. Or so this is what we believe to be true. Beginning his career as a graffiti artist in the early 1990s, Banksy rose to his fame by using stencils to paint images on public walls. The paintings depicted mostly controversial political messages that often-poked fun at big companies. 20 years later, many have conjured up theories on who the mysterious street artists could be. However, none of them are really being confirmed or denied. With the media and his supporters always questioning Banksy’s identity due to a variety of identity claims, let’s question ourselves, does his identity truly matter and who is Banksy?
The graffiti artist’s early life:
Banksy started his career in the early 1990s by spray-painting trains and walls in his home town. His artistry and images drew inspiration in a French graffiti artist’s work by the name of Blek Le Rat. As a result, the city of Bristol today earned its reputation for its heavy color adapted art and street art.
Early works show Banksy pieces were largely freehand. Although often in the form of multi-layered stencils and combined with other media sources, such as spray-paint. He would include anything found in the streets such as street signs and other objects to convey his messages by creating street art installations. His work is often mocking and merges dark humor with wall drawings and spread messages across art, philosophy, and politics. Switching to using stencils predominately, in the late 1990s is where he started to develop his own signature style. This signature style is well seen along the streets of Bristol and London today.
Early 2000s: Banksy becomes a bankable artist
Relocating to London in the early 2000s, Banksy began to gain notoriety and even worked on a series of international exhibits. Also beginning to retreat into anonymity, hiding from authorities. Reportedly staying in a flat in London’s Hackney neighborhood when numerous works of art began appearing in the area.
In 2002, Banksy participated in his first international exhibition entitled Existentialism that was held in L.A. Following that, in 2003 he attended an exhibit in London entitled Turf Wars, which was held at a secret location in an East London warehouse. Then, a variety of popular paintings followed ll these popular exhibits. Showcasing his unique way of satirizing the works of the great masters while paying homage to their acclaimed pieces. Banksy’s silkscreen prints and stencil paintings were racking up record-breaking sales in storied art auctions. These successful sales officially broke the graffiti artist into the commercial business.
Theories and Percentages:
We know very little about Banksy himself. He always refuses to comment or claim his identity and keep carefully maintained instead. A world-renowned mystery man, the graffiti artist has risen through the ranks to become one of the world’s greatest street artists partly by creating an urgency to understand his character.
Through the years, many have come up with plausible theories on who Banksy really is. Although he tries to hide and maintain himself anonymous, there are people that declared to have met him in person. Identifying him as an unassuming and typical-looking man that sports a silver tooth.
Mc Cormick Theory: Graffiti artist Banksy is ONE person
In 2008, a newspaper revealed Banksy’s real identity as Robin Gunningham, although this was never confirmed to be factual. However, the theory of Carlo McCormick, a street artist, seems to be the most plausible. He explained what he believes to be the most accurate theories on Banksy’s identity, rating them by percentages. McCormick believes that Banksy is one person not a team of artists like many people theorized. He also believes there’s a 75% chance that the Bristol resident, Robin Gunningham is possibly the real Banksy.
Is Robin Gunningham Banksy?
Robin Gunningham was born in Bristol in 1973. He moved to London around 2000, which aligns with the timeline of the progression of Banksy’s artwork. If this is theory holds true, it will allow even greater insight into the artistic world Banksy inhibits. To this day, although this being the most credible and possible theory on who Banksy is, nothing is for factual and has been debunked by the graffiti artist himself. Managing to completely conceal his identity from his family, no Banksy identity claim has ever been definitive. In the end, maybe that’s the idea of the mystery behind the character.
Many people argue that his identity doesn’t matter. Many think it doesn’t need to be a face to place on the artworks gracing the walls around the world.
Banksy Undying Mystery:
Over the years there have been multiple theories about the identity of the graffiti artist. One-week Banksy is a woman, the next week Banksy is an entire art collective. But does this all matter and would the identity of the artist change the perceptive of the artwork for the people? The answer is, it shouldn’t be able to.
Actually, it’s very hard to separate the art from the artist. One of the main reasons is because customers want to know what goes on behind the artwork these days. There’s a whole ecosystem of content cataloging how art creation works and the magic behind each piece; how the artist crafted their artwork from initial idea to finished product. The whole process is documented, and a story is spun. Maybe that’s what makes Banksy’s art so appreciated and admired worldwide. In fact, the idea of having a story attached to the art piece to rely on to base our own notions is not good. Instead, we are left with nothing but our own imaginations and ideas to fabricate whatever we decide is true.
After all, the uncertainty of the real graffiti artist identity gives us the freedom to make up our own minds. That gives us the power to interpret whatever Banksy piece pops up. That is what art is based on, the foundation of being able to freely interpret a piece. Realistically speaking, Banksy tries to make it possible without allowing the perception of the artist’s identity cloud our judgment. The anonymity behind Banksy makes the artwork that much intimate for some, allowing the freedom of perception to hound in.
By Karen Pasos.