The anonymous mascot of today’s street art movement, Banksy rose to international fame as a self-proclaimed “art terrorist. Banksy (1974) is a graffiti artist from Bristol, UK, whose artwork has appeared throughout London and other locations around the world. Despite this he carefully manages to keep his real name from the mainstream media.
However, many newspapers assert that his real name is Robert or Robin Banks.
Banksy, despite not calling himself an artist, has been considered by some as talented in that respect; he uses his original street art form, often in combination with a distinctive stencilling technique, to promote alternative aspects of politics from those promoted by the mainstream media.
What is certain is that in the early 1990s Banksy’s art, then freehand graffiti pieces, began turning up on train cars and city walls around Bristol.
Heavily influenced by French street artist Blek Le Rat, Banksy began using stencils toward the end of that decade, depicting satirical subject matter that ranged from two policemen kissing to flower-hurling anarchists to his trademark black-and-white stenciled rats (which, as in Blek Le Rat’s work, are meant to function as teasing anagrams for “art”).
Banksy is often quoted calling graffiti the highest form of artistic endeavor and the one with the most potential to effect change. “Graffiti has more chance of meaning something or changing stuff than anything indoors,” he has said. “Graffiti has been used to start revolutions, stop wars, and generally is the voice of people who aren’t listened to.”
Since capturing the public eye, Banksy taken his acid commentary around the world, stenciling works on the wall separating Israel from Palestine–including trompe l’oeil pieces depicting beautiful beaches visible through holes in the wall–and to post-Katrina New Orleans. “The possibility I find exciting,” Banksy explained of his work in Israel, “is you could turn the world’s most invasive and degrading structure into the world’s longest gallery of free speech and bad art.”
These radical gestures have earned Banksy a following among the public as well as among many of his fellow street artists. Shepard Fairey, for instance, has called Banksy “the most important living artist in the world.”
Banksy’s speedy rise to international commercial success has been at the heart of much criticism rallied against him, with many attributing the phenomenon to slick promotion. “I think there’s some wit in Banksy’s work, some cleverness—and a massive bucket of hot steaming hype,” wrote Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones.
As the most famous street artist working today, Banksy also embodies the tension between the “authentic” practice of his peers who work illegally on urban walls and the more market-driven approach of those who aim for gallery success.
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