Banksy seems to be the most and least well-known artist alive today. On the one hand, he’s extremely popular and almost everyone has heard of him or seen his work at some point or another. On the other hand, no one seems to know his true identity, which he keeps very well hidden. Yet, regardless of who he (Or she? Or they?) is, one thing is certain: that Banksy is as talented as he is controversial. Read on to learn more about the world’s most famous street artist.
1. Sit Down to Be Inspired
Banksy has provided inspiration to many since his rise to international fame, but his inspiration must come from somewhere as well. He says he’s inspired by “3D,” a graffiti artist turned musician who was a founding member of the group Massive Attack.
2. A Pretty Penny
Once Banksy’s work became hyper-famous, the next logical question for most people would be—how do you make people pay for it? That question is not easily answered, because Banky himself does not sell his graffiti reproductions or his photographs and most of his public art is directly attached to permanent fixtures. However, that hasn’t stopped art auctioneers from selling the work on site and letting the buyer deal with its removal.
3. His Freehand Days are Numbered
Banksy’s art career did not start with his iconic stenciling technique. That artistic shift didn’t occur until one night when he was hiding from the police and noticed a serial number stenciled to the side of a garbage truck. He realized that it would be a quicker way to get his art onto the streets without getting caught in the act.
4. A Heist Like No Other
The image of the Queen of England has appeared in Banksy’s work more than once, but in 2004 the artist actually replaced the Queen’s picture with that of Diana, the Princess of Wales—on the £10 note. Banksy printed a bunch of these counterfeit bills which read “Banksy of England” on them and they were thrown into a group of people at the Notting Hill Carnival. Later, some of the recipients of the bills tried spending them. The shops couldn’t take the money, but luckily they are now worth closer to £200 on eBay.
Arguably the best thing about The Simpsons nowadays is the opening couch scene, and Banksy had the honor of stepping in to create one himself. Al Jean, The Simpsons’ producer, had no agenda when he requested Banksy draw up a storyboard for the opening credits, and what he received back was controversial—legions of Korean animators animating The Simpsons and creating merchandise in nightmarish conditions.
Would you expect any less from Banksy? Luckily Jean notes that The Simpsons’ is a place where “edgy comedy can really thrive.”
6. Secret Stencils
Since Banksy keeps everything about himself a total secret, it is not certain exactly what materials or techniques he uses for his art. The most common way of using stencils is to hand draw or print your image onto acetate or card, then cut them out by hand. However, a lot of Banksy’s work looks stenciled from a photograph, so he likely uses computer-generated images for some of his pieces.
7. Let’s Make a Movie!
Banksy has dabbled in some artistic media besides street art, including documentary film. He directed the film Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010 which tells the story of street artist Thierry Guetta and the piece was nominated for Best Documentary in the 2011 Academy Awards. There remains much debate over whether the film is real or fictional.
8. Famous Fans
Banksy has many celebrity supporters, including Christina Aguilera. Aguilera owns approximately ten pieces by Banksy, including one of Queen Victoria sitting on a lady’s face, which she purchased for $40,000 USD. Aguilera likes Bansky’s work because she feels like he doesn’t just paint things to look aesthetically interesting—he always has a motive behind it.
9. Anyone Can Be Artsy
One of Bansky’s notable artworks is a large mural called “Sweeping It Under The Carpet” that was commissioned by The Independent. This piece is one example of Banksy’s many social commentaries and can be read as a critique of the Western world’s avoidance of foreign issues like AIDS in Africa. Banksy has interpreted the image as allowing space in art for the everyday individual.
The subjects of artworks used to be those who were capable of paying for them, but Banksy’s piece showcases a maid who once cleaned his room in a motel.
10. It’s a Zoo Out There!
It’s hard to believe the physical reach of Banksy’s work—he even managed to climb inside the penguin enclosure at the London Zoo. Scrawled in the penguins’ home were the words “We’re bored of fish.” Similarly, in the elephant area, he’s attributed to painting the words, “I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring, boring.”
And I bet that’ll be remembered for a while—an elephant never forgets, after all.
11. Painting in a Birthday Suit
Banksy’s artistic content does not go without controversy. In fact, the presence of one of his pieces was put to a local poll when its appropriateness was heavily debated. The image was of a stark-naked man hanging from a window in Bristol. When the poll results came back it was clear that the painting would be left right where it was—97% in favor of keeping it.
12. Pop Art
Not just a wall artist, Banksy has dabbled in other genres of social commentary. In 2006 he reimagined Paris Hilton’s album Paris with remixes by Danger Mouse and cover art he had designed. Some of the art featured Hilton with the head of her chihuahua or her surrounded by homeless people with the words, “90% of success is just showing up.”
The songs also had satirical titles and the albums were secretly placed in music stores and sold to the public. That is, up until they were found out and the CDs were removed from shelves. After the fact, the albums were being sold on eBay for up to £750!
13. Explosive Strength
Bansky’s social commentary has a wide reach, including the 2012 London Olympic Games. One of his pieces for the event critiqued the missile sites in Stratford set up to defend the games. The painting depicted a javelin thrower tossing a missile into the air instead.
14. A Child at Heart
Banksy may seem like a mysterious lone wolf, but he’s open to collaboration as well. He once left a painting in a primary school in Bristol to thank them for using his name for one of their houses. He also noted that if the painting of a child chasing a burning tire was not to their liking, then they should contribute to it!
15. Take from the Rich
Banksy is a regular modern-day Robin Hood in some respects. Using graffiti as his weapon of choice, he believes to be engaging in a kind of guerilla warfare that takes power and glory from the rich and passes it on to the working class.
Absurdity, poverty, alienation, and other aspects of the human condition—this is the content of Banksy’s work. He uses these concepts to discuss and speak out against a wide range of phenomena including consumerism, fascism, war, existentialism, and authoritarianism.
17. Gotta Love the Biebs
Banksy’s most famous artwork—“Girl with Balloon”—can be found in many places, like greeting cards and mugs. But while street murals and collectibles may not last, the version tattooed on the skin of Justin Bieber is permanent.
18. Coming Out on Top
“Girl with Balloon” by Banksy is so popular and well-known that it was voted the UK’s favorite work of art in 2017. It was voted on by about 2,000 people and beat out some long-standing paintings, including ones that are hundreds of years old.
19. Tagging the Tagger
Banksy is most certainly NOT universally loved. In fact, many of his acts of vandalism get vandalized themselves, sometimes by competing artists. One of Bansky’s murals, a red balloon covered in band-aids, was tagged within a few hours by “OMAR NYC” also known by the name “SWATCH.”
20. Jam Sessions
Some people call what Banksy and others like him do “subvertising”—a combination of the words “subvert” and “advertising.” This is when an artist takes an existing brand or icon and alters it as satire. The art style is part of a culture of “social hacking” or “culture jamming.”
Keeping in line with his Robin Hoodedness, for a time, Banksy “sold” his artwork for free on his website by telling people they should print them out at work on the company’s dime when no one else is around.
22. Fake Facts
For three full days, an artificial artifact sat in the halls of the British Museum, courtesy of Banksy. The “artifact” was a piece of rock with a cavemen-esque drawing of a shopping cart on it. The museum dealt with it lightheartedly when they finally found it, and Banksy has done similar pranks in museums in London and New York.
23. Books by Banksy
Banksy has written several books: Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall, Existencilism, Cut it Out, and Wall and Piece. The latter is a compilation of work from his previous books, all of which are now out of print.
24. Banksy Bites Back
Why not make money for your art? Banksy is decidedly against the organized art world and its auctions. One of his own artworks depicts an art auction with the words, “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this s***.” But, if you ask me, speaking out against something is exactly the perfect way to make people do that thing, so maybe Banksy is even smarter and more conniving than we think…
Since Banksy’s designs are available for free online, they’re very easily accessible for things like, you guessed it, tattoos. Banksy tattoos are pretty common—at least some artist is getting paid for Banksy’s work, even if it is the tattoo artist.
26. I’ll Be in My Trailer
Banksy is the artist that will speak out for the trailer trash. No, literally—before Banksy was a household name, he met a couple who lived in an old trailer and they allowed him to paint on the side of it. The piece was called “Fragile Silence,” and it suited the couple fantastically. It also made them a nice bit of money when it went for £445,000, trailer and all!
27. Living in a Masterpiece
Speaking of houses converted into expensive pieces of art, another homeowner in England was ready to sell, but didn’t want the Banksy piece on their wall to go to waste. So, rather than selling their house as a house, they sold through the Red Propeller art gallery as a piece of art, and tossed in a house for free. As a canvas for the mural, the house ended up earning them more than it would have as a house.
Banksy is not in the business of selling or formally exhibiting his artwork with anyone, especially not his former manager Steve Lazarides. Despite this, Lazarides set up the biggest Banksy art exhibit ever, called “The Art of Banksy,” which is widely marketed as “unauthorized” for a little extra street cred. It was initially set up for public viewing in Toronto, Ontario, before moving to Miami, Florida.
The exhibit website swears that it is extremely unlikely so many Banksy pieces will be in one place at one time again. All of the works are to be sent back to their rightful owners around the world after the exhibit ends.
29. After Banksy’s Own Heart
The Toronto Banksy exhibit was met with disgust by many, and some have taken actionable measures to prove their point. One Toronto-based artist protested the commercial nature of the exhibit (tickets are a whopping $35) by hanging up his own art outside the exhibit. Another artist hung up a piece of art in protest of charging to witness street art as well, but he stuck his work directly inside the gallery, alongside the Banksys.
“The Art of Banksy” exhibit in Toronto was a controversial and messy affair all told. ANOTHER art duo opened up an entire second exhibit across the street to parody what Lazarides was doing. They called their exhibit “The “Banksy Exhibit” Exhibit” and it featured photos of people lining up to see the original Banksy exhibit.
31. Save Banksy 2k18
You aren’t truly famous until someone has made a movie about you. And for Banksy, that is a reality. The movie Saving Banksy is about a Banksy mural that was set to be destroyed. According to the film’s website, it asks the question, “What would you do if you owned a million-dollar painting that the artist doesn’t want sold?”
32. Room Service, Please
In 2017, Banksy got into the hospitality industry when he opened the “Walled Off Hotel,” five meters from the wall separating Palestine and Israel. The hotel has rooms to stay in, an art gallery, a tea shop, and an art supplies store. Everything you could need to welcome new graffiti artists into the area, honestly—a place to stay, spray paint, and a giant wall.
33. All Are Welcome
The Walled Off Hotel is symbolic of many of Banksy’s ideals. He says that it’s not affiliated with a political party and has no secret agendas. It’s in an area of Israel that welcomes both Israeli and Palestinian people. It also includes budget room options with bunk beds salvaged from army barracks.
34. Support Local
The interior of the Walled Off Hotel features many of Banksy’s artworks, but it also has a separate gallery space to show the work of local artists.
35. Have an un-Magical Day
In 2015, Banksy opened up Dismaland in the UK as a much sadder, pathetic parody of Disneyland. His amusement park may not have been amusing, but it did attract about 150,000 people over the course of five weeks.
36. The Ultimate Upcycle
When Banksy shut down his “bemusement park,” Dismaland, he sent a lot of the materials used to build it to a refugee camp that holds about 7,000 people. He also painted an image of Steve Jobs as a refugee on one of the walls to remind us his father was a Syrian migrant—a not-so-subtle reminder that if we didn’t accept refugees, we wouldn’t have Jobs and many other important, intelligent individuals.
37. What a Steal!
Among Banksy’s many antics pointing out the hypocrisy of the organized art world was a small art stall he set up one day in Central Park, New York City. The stall sold Banksy prints, signed by Banksy, for $60 each. And without the artist’s fame being obvious to buyers, there were very few bites. However, the few people that did buy a print ended up making a LOT of money off their original $60 purchase.
38. Doesn’t Look a Day Over, er…
Most people have to lie about their age when asked, but Banksy has it good. Since his identity remains a mystery, so does his age. He is expected, though, to be around 44 years old.
39. The Five Ton Canvas
One of Banksy’s most controversial—and most illegal—pieces was not painted on a wall at all. Rather, it was pink wallpaper painted onto a live elephant named Tai. The elephant was painted to match the décor of the room it was in, referencing world poverty as “the elephant in the room.” The artwork was titled “Barely Legal” and sanctioned by the LA Animal Services Department.
They later regretted granting a permit at all, though, because they considered the whole thing unsafe for the elephant, although non-toxic paint was used.
40. Music in the Park
While Dismaland was still standing, it wasn’t all bad. Banksy had the musical group Run The Jewels play a concert at the theme park. Now that’s a collaboration I would’ve loved to witness.
41. Mr. Mystery Man
Probably the most well-known fact about Banksy is more of a non-fact: Banksy’s true identity remains a mystery. There has been some speculation about the real name of this anonymous artist, though. Many believe he is Robin Gunningham because of an investigation involving the man’s past classmates. Gunningham was known to be in the same location as Banksy on numerous occasions, though we may never know for sure if they’re one and the same.
There must be some people on board with that controversial Toronto Banksy exhibit, because they had over 70,000 attendees. In fact, one person liked it so much that they came in wearing a hoodie on the first day and stole one of the prints! Some people speculate that Banksy himself was responsible for the theft, though no one knows for sure.