Banksy is an anonymous British graffiti artist, political activist, film director, painter and print maker. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine irreverent dark humour with graffiti in a distinctive stencilling technique. Such artistic works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world as well as in original signed Banksy prints and canvases.
Banksy’s work was born out of the Bristol underground scene which involved collaborations between artists and musicians such as Blek Le Rat and Shepard Fairey. According to author and graphic designer Tristan Manco, Banksy ‘was born in 1974 and raised in Bristol, England. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980s’.
Known for his contempt for the government in labelling graffiti as vandalism, Banksy displays his art on public surfaces such as walls and even going as far as to build physical prop pieces. Banksy does not sell photos of street graffiti directly himself; however, art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art on location and leave the problem of its removal in the hands of the winning bidder. Banksy’s first film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, billed as ‘the world’s first street art disaster movie,’ made its debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and in January 2011, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary for the movie.
Demand for artwork and prints are unprecedented, with Bombing Middle England selling for over £102,000 at Sotheby’s London in February 2007. Banksy’s response to this was to update his website homepage with an image depicting an auction house scene with people bidding on a picture that read ‘I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit.’ Despite this nonchalant jest, he is an exceptionally successful artist, having provided the album cover artwork for Blur’s 2003 Think Tank and attracting celebrity collectors such as Damien Hirst, Christina Aguilera, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Wall and Piece, a book published in 2006 attests to the prolificacy of this mysterious legend as does 2005 Pictures of Walls, a collection of graffiti from around the world. Some of Banksy’s most famous work includes Bomb Hugger and Balloon Girl, which shows a young girl holding her arm out to a red balloon. Banksy often uses symbols to show his ideas about society, and has frequently featured rats, apes and cats in his artwork.
Banksy was also credited with the opening couch gag for the 2010 The Simpsons episode MoneyBART, depicting people working in deplorable conditions and using endangered or mythical animals to make both the episodes cel-by-cel and the merchandise connected with the programme. His name appears several times throughout the episode’s opening sequence, spray-painted on assorted walls and signs.
His grafitti art features in the streetscape of hometown Bristol as well appearing in London, Los Angeles and many other cities around the world. Banksy’s first major exhibition Turf War was staged in a warehouse on Kingsland Road in London’s East End. Banksy also had a major solo exhibition at the Bristol Museum in 2009.