Who is Banksy? Although his identity remains a mystery, Banksy’s graffiti, paintings and prints are among today's most iconic images. His faceless persona is as much a part of a witty commentary on the world as his anti-establishment street art.
Banksy first began tagging during Bristol’s urban-culture renaissance of the 1990s. By 2000, he had taken his place on London’s graffiti scene, using stencils as his signature medium. Over the following years he began to capture the world’s imagination. Early street art included Girl with Balloon on London’s Southbank, and Love is in the Air (‘Flower Thrower’) on the Israeli West Bank wall. During this period, he began adding art interventions to his oeuvre, with pieces such as the guerrilla-hanging of a yellow smiley-face version of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. His Crude Oils confronted the Western canon, parodying artworks by Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and others.
Over the following decades, Banksy would establish himself as a major cultural commentator. His artworks have addressed issues from police brutality and global political tensions to climate change and Brexit. Underpinning his graffiti is a belief that art should live among the people, and speak truth to power. However, Banksy also produces art for sale through his authentication site, Pest Control. His artworks featuring rats and chimps are among the most recognisable and sought-after at auction.
The irony that the ‘Establishment’ has embraced his anti-authoritarian art is not lost on Banksy. His screenprint Morons lampoons the auction world: the image parodies Christie’s record-breaking sale of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers in 1987. Headlines were made around the world when another work, Girl with Balloon (later rechristened Love is in the Bin) was half-shredded by remote control while on the auction block in 2018. Yet Banksy has also harnessed the power of the art market. In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he painted Game Changer in tribute to NHS workers. Banksy gifted the painting to Southampton Hospitals Charity, with the intention that it would be sold at auction. The painting realised £16,758,000 at Christie’s London in March 2021 — then the world auction record for the artist — with proceeds used to support University Hospital Southampton staff and patients.
Banksy has an Academy Award-nominated documentary (Exit through the Gift Shop), a pop-up ‘bemusement park’ (Dismaland) and a dystopian hotel (The Walled-Off Hotel in Bethlehem) to his name. In 2019, he was voted Britain’s favourite artist, beating Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet to the title.