The elusive British street artist Banksy – Pioneer or hack?

enhanced-buzz-14340-1286822207-18Rarely is there a person (interested in street art) that has never heard of Banksy. Considering all the controversy around his art and persona, that is not surprising. He is a well-known pseudo-anonymous British graffiti artist.

He is believed to be a native of the Bristol area and to be born in the 1970s, but there is a substantial public uncertainty about Banksy’s identity or origin. In 2008, The Daily Mail (supposedly) unmasked the infamous and elusive artist to be Bristol resident Robin Gunningham. I am seriously questioning TDM’s story, as both Banksy and his closest friends seem to deny the allegations. Trying to predict who the mysterious artist is proves to be as difficult as predicting the location of his next artwork. His graffiti could be spotted in cities all over the world – Bristol, London, Brighton, Berlin, Boston, LA, Melbourne, Sydney, Mali and even Palestine.  You could have a look at his art in these cities and more on this neat tumblr website, dedicated to Banksy’s work – http://banksystreetart.tumblr.com/locations

thumbbig-166041Typically, his art features striking and humorous images occasionally combined with slogans. His messages are usually focused on the anti-war, anti-capitalism and anti-establishment thematic. Subjects of his artwork become children, the elder, most often rats, police officers, soldiers and apes.

Banksy uses a distinctive stencil technique. Apparently, he first employed this technique back in the 2000s since it saved him lots of time. He mentions in his book, Wall and Piece, that as he was starting to do graffiti, he was always too slow and was either caught or could never finish the art in one sitting. So he devised a series of intricate stencils to minimise time and overlapping of the colour.

The street art community challenges the legitimacy of the stencilling, used by Banksy and calls him out as a “cheater”. In the end, as the man said it himself – Efficiency is the key.

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As one can expect, Banksy isn’t everybody’s favourite. The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker once wrote of Banksy “…his work looks dazzlingly clever to idiots.” Keep Britain Tidy’s spokesman Peter Gibson has asserted on one occasion that Banksy’s work is simple vandalism.

To the enigmatic Brit, himself, graffiti is a form of “guerrilla” warefare and underclass revenge, which enables the people to snatch away the power from a bigger, richer and better equipped enemy.

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All’s well, until someone gets offended– in our case, that is the famous Blek Le Rat. A person who could rightfully be mad about Banksy plagiarising his work and stealing away his stencilling technique. If you make a direct comparison between the former French art student and the young Brit’s work, you’d see what I mean. Blek expressed his opinion of Banksy in Graffiti Wars in the following way:

When I see Banksy making a man with a child or Banksy making rats, of course I see immediately where he takes the idea. I do feel angry. When you’re an artist you use your own techniques. It’s difficult to find a technique and style in art so when you have a style and you see someone else is taking it and reproducing it, you don’t like that. I’m not sure about his integrity. Maybe he has to show his face now and show what kind of guy he is.

Banksy doesn’t sell directly photos of street graffiti, however, auctioneers often try to sell his street art on location and leave the collection problem to the winning bidder.

What must be noted is that dozens of celebrities collect Banksy art – celebrities ranging from Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera.

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Apparently, street art wasn’t enough for Banksy, seeing as he turned to film making. His documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, made its debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film was released in the UK on 5 March 2010. In January 2011, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary for the film. You can find the whole documentary at the following link –

And here is a really cool documentary, outlining the different approach to art by Banksy and Robbo –

This C4 documentary shows us the full on graffiti war, which raged for quite a while, between King Robbo and Banksy. After watching this, it became very clear that there is a self-imposed, but very strict graffiti code of conduct that each writer has to abide by, which Banksy boldly went against – and that rule is to never incorporate another writer’s piece into your own without the other artist’s explicit permission.

Banksy’s act could be dubbed a “calculated diss” – he went and incorporated King Robbo’s historical and last standing graffiti at Regents Canal. This quite offensive act called out King Robbo out of retirement and a full-fledged graffiti war was into the works – what started off as a tit for tat, turned into a graffiti battle like none other. A battle that still rages between Team Robbo and Banksy’s fans up till this date.

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You can have a look at this really nifty interview with Robbo about his encounter and consequent war with the elusive Banksy here – http://sabotagetimes.com/people/king-robbo-exclusive-interview-my-graffiti-war-with-banksy/

But what do you think – isn’t it double standards to take down all other graffiti down and leave only Banksy’s pieces? The British authorities’ hypocrisy in that regard has provoked a wave of discontent and hatred towards Banksy from the graffiti community. Many writers started to routinely attack Banksy art, in that way clearly showing their opposition to the double standards.

After reading all of this, tell me, is Banksy still a pioneer in the graffiti world to you or a less than original hack? Isn’t it unfair how his pieces are protected because they add “artistic value”? What would you say? What is your final verdict In the King Robbo vs Banksy war? And finally – does Banksy have any artistic integrity? I’m absolutely keen on hearing what you have to say, so please, don’t shy away 🙂

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3 thoughts on “The elusive British street artist Banksy – Pioneer or hack?

  1. Really awesome post man, I’m a big bansky fan! He is a true pioneer in the graffiti world and is mostly responsible for bringing the world of street art to the public eye through all of the controversies, high profile sales and general mishaps, which gets peope talking about the art and the fact that no one still knows he is makes it even more awesome! I’ve got the Wall and piece book myself, which is a really good profile of his work and the documentary is probably one of the most interesting i’ve ever seen, it certainly gets you thinking!

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