Banksy was probably born in Bristol in 1974. His rise to prominence was sparked when a series of provocative images appeared, suddenly and unannounced, in public spaces during in the early 1990s. Often containing elements of political and social commentary, his creations range from murals to sculptures to large scale installations. Banksy’s anonymity has always been central to his persona as an artist.
Evolving out of Bristol’s underground art scene, Banksy’s work – informed by a need to create large works in limited time-frames – initially combined freestyle graffiti with stencilled spray can work. His first solo show was held in Los Angeles in 2002. In 2003 he designed the cover of Blur’s seventh studio album, ThinkTank. In 2004 he faked a series of £10 notes – the Queen’s head had been replaced by that of Diana, Princess of Wales. In the summer of 2009 he attracted over 300,000 visitors to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery for a free exhibition of his work. In May 2012 a mural depicting a young child sewing Union Jack bunting appeared on the side of a Poundland store in Wood Green. In February 2013, the same mural, entitled Slave Labour was removed and put up for auction, eventually selling for $1.2m. Today his work often appears in places of conflict, such as on the Palestinian side of the Israeli West Bank barrier.
As his creations appeared on the international stage, so Banksy garnered attention worldwide. This international fame transformed his creations from discreditable acts of vandalism to highly desirable works of art. The subsequent level of interest in and value of street art is now unprecedented – a trend described as The Banksy Effect by art journalist Max Foster. With the release in 2010 of Exit Through the Gift Shop – his feature documentary which premiered at Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award – the hype surrounding Banksy only escalated further.
From modifying street signs to printing his own currency to illegally hanging his work in prestigious institutions such as the Louvre, Banksy often uses ‘guerrilla’ tactics to bring his art to his audience, thus consciously opening up a conversation about the way in which art is selected and what constitutes art in the first place. Often combining striking stencilled images with political or satirical slogans, Banksy’s images critique the violence, greed and hypocrisy of modern society. He is also known for his subversive take on classic images: two shopping trolleys floating incongruously below Monet’s famous bridge in a renowned series aping the ‘Water Lilies’ for example. There have been numerous supposed revelations of Banksy’s identity, but he remains anonymous and continues to spread his idiosyncratic, thoughtful, provocative images across the walls of our cities. ‘TV has made going to the theatre seem pointless, photography has pretty much killed painting’ he has said, ‘but graffiti remains gloriously unspoilt by progress.’