Arguably the most controversial street artist in the world, Banksy has become synonymous with graffiti culture, modern art and record-breaking sales. His subversive and satirical epigrams often use dark humour to provide social and political commentary, and regularly feature anti-war, anti-capitalist or anti-establishment slogansThe artist keeps his name and identity a closely-guarded secret – even his parents think he is a painter and decorator – and his anonymity has created an air of mystery which has helped him to become one of the most successful artists of his generation.
Banksy’s work started to appear on the streets of Bristol in the early 1990s. An admirer of the work of French graffiti artist, Brek Le Rat, and inspired by 3D, who later became a founding member of Massive Attack, he was part of the Bristol underground and hip-hop scene, initially collaborating with DryBreadz crew (DBZ). He later partnered Inkie, another notable street artist, before moving to London in the early 2000s. His decision to relocate was largely to preserve his anonymity, which was vital in order to elude the police since, as a graffiti artist, much of his work was illegal. His anonymity created a buzz around his work as his notoriety grew and more and more people became intrigued by the mystery man and his art.
Banksy’s street art incorporates freehand painting, spray painting and his signature stencils, which have become his trademark. In his book, ‘Wall and Peace’, he claims the idea to use stencils came to him when he noticed the stencilled serial number under a rubbish lorry whilst hiding from the police after nearly being caught vandalising a public space. Stencilling presented a practical solution for creating and replicating his work quickly, thereby keeping one step ahead of the long arm of the law.
Banksy’s works are now regarded as highly sort-after pieces of art rather than acts of vandalism. Many have been moved from the street into the investment market, and Banksy art that appears at auction often surpasses all high estimates. Ever the audacious prankster, he caused a sensation at Sotheby’s London in 2018 when a framed copy of his work ‘Girl with Balloon’, originally stencilled on Waterloo Bridge in 2002, spontaneously started to shred moments after it was sold for £1.4 million. He authenticated his responsibility and uploaded the incident to Instagram with the caption, “going, going, gone”, later renaming the piece ‘Love is in the Bin’. Sotheby’s responded by saying that it was the first work in history ever created during a live auction an indication that it is now viewed as a new piece in itself.
Over the years, Banksy has also undoubtedly had a huge influence on public perceptions of graffiti and the way that many people view street art altogether.
Thanks to Banksy, street art is becoming more widely accepted as a form of contemporary art, and the continued evolution of his work is not only fascinating to watch but also adds to an already impressive collection of investment assets.