Considered today one of the 100 most influential people, according to Time, Banksy, the artist with a mysterious name and hidden face, has become a true international superstar from ordinary street artist. Born in Bristol, probably in the seventies, he began to “smear” walls in his teens. Once he moved to London, his graffiti art began to gain more and more notoriety. His black humor achieved international fame when, in 2005, he painted nine images on the Palestinian side of the wall built in the West Bank, as protest against the oppression represented by the barrier.
In the same year he hung some of his works among the artworks of some o the most prestigious museums in New York, including the MOMA and the Met, and of British art galleries and museums, accompanying the gesture with very sharp words: “When you go to an art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires”. This description has become an expression of his unique vision of the tormented relationship between art business and street art. Banksy made his mark not only thanks to his murals but also to his controversial installations. In 2006 he exhibited a live Indian elephant at the Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles, United States, introducing the work on flyers with these words: “There is an elephant in the room. Twenty billions of people live below the poverty line”.
Among his most ingenious ways to bring the public closer to his art, in 2008 together with 39 other artists he painted (legally) a London tunnel. While exhibitions with thousands of visitors began to take place around his figure, which yielded thousands of pounds, of which the artist did not perceive anything, Bansky set to work to create what would have represented the culmination of his stunts: Dismaland, a dystopian theme park inspired by Disneyland, created in 2015 and built on public space with the aim of exhibiting socially conscious works of art. Many accuse Banksy of denouncing capitalism but at the same time having made his fortune with art. In 2007, his piece Bomb Middle England was sold for around 200,000 euros, a ridiculous price compared to the nearly 2 million euros paid for Keep it Spotless, the work created in collaboration with British artist Damien Hirst. The business of his works has expanded so much that the artist has formed a group of experts called Pest Control, the only organization authorized to authenticate his works. But Banksy justifies himself by pointing out that he has also given thousands of paintings to charity. With his graffiti that are free for anyone, and exhibitions that are also accessible for free, he is able to stimulate the public’s interest in art, creating a real “Banksy effect”. What he creates goes beyond the character of Banksy himself: this artist has changed the art landscape forever, making it more accessible and supporting public debate. Whether he’s a salesman or a Robin Hood, it doesn’t matter.
Banksy has recently made a lot of talk about himself both for the stunts on the subject of Covid and for having financed the rescue boat Louise Michel, engaged in helping people in the Mediterranean Sea. The British artist’s offer is to be interpreted not as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist struggle. During the months of the lockdown, the walls of the cities were filled with murals in honor of nurses and doctors. Banksy also expressed his sensitivity in this regard, donating, as his personal tribute, a one meter by one meter work, all in black and white, except for the detail of the red cross symbol, to Southampton University Hospital. The mysterious artist, who had already made his voice heard during the Covid-19 emergency with a creative gesture in his bathroom, delivered it in person dressed in an anti-contamination suit and wearing a mask. The work shows a young boy kneeling by a wastepaper basket dressed in dungarees and a T-shirt. He has discarded his Spiderman and Batman model figures in favour of a new favourite action hero – an NHS nurse. The nurse’s arm is outstretched and pointing forward in the fashion of Superman on a mission. She is wearing a facemask, a nurse’s cape, and an apron with the Red Cross emblem (the only element of colour in the picture). The artist left a note for hospital workers, which read: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if its only black and white”.
And actually the work stands out as a sign of hope within a purely medical environment and gives smiles moving those who pass by that room, giving support and cheering up all the staff involved in this emergency. Like everyone else, even Bansky was forced to stay at home during the lockdown. During those days he didn’t give up on striking again, expressing his genius inside the bathroom of his home, then using the network and social media to share his action with the public. The work depicts his traditional rats that continue to reclaim spaces, despite efforts to make them disappear, just like graffiti on the streets. And this is how Banksy showed his new work on his Instagram account, made with the technique of tempera on wall, where rats are performing an impressive array of acrobatic feats and defiling the bathroom. The street artist from Bristol admits: “My wife hates it when I work from home”.
Last summer in Ferrara (Italy) the British artist was celebrated at Palazzo dei Diamanti, with an exhibition entitled “An artist called Banksy”, a path of over 100 works from private collections, which explores the Banksian imaginary, through numerous references, anecdotes, considerations and relationships between the elements. At the center, the themes dear to the street artist: war and peace, social control, freedom and all the paradoxes of our time. Among his most iconic images there were Girl with Balloon (the most loved artwork by the British according to a survey conducted by Samsung in 2017), but also Love is in the Air, the representation of the famous boy who throws a bouquet of flowers as if it were a hand grenade. This artwork appeared for the first time in 2003 in a mural in Jerusalem, on the border line that separates Israelis and Palestinians. Banksy’s uniqueness lies in questioning concepts such as originality and authorship, and in outlining a new vision on the relationship between work and market, establishing, in fact, a new statute of the work of art, a new truth of art itself, that is, the original non-marketable work. Banksy uses simple tools and materials, resorting to almost banal forms and to an easy-to-understand meaning of objects. His messages feed on news and reality, his stories affect the whole of humanity. Hence the secret of its success.
Until next April 2021, 100 works by the mysterious street artist will be exhibited at the Chiostro del Bramante in Rome, works that tell the way in which the British artist has dealt with political and denunciation issues with irony and intelligence (“Banksy A visual protest”). The exhibition “The world of Banksy: the immersive experience” reopened in Paris in June, after being closed during the Covid-19 lockdown. The exhibition is split into three main geographical regions: UK & US, France, and the Palestinian territories, places where Banksy has been active since the 1990s. All exhibitions are all “unauthorised”: nobody knows who Banksy is and at the same time he is known for not approving any initiative showing his work. He only agrees with the goal of the exhibition, an event created to spread his message, understand the man and the artist and make people know about street art.
His message – For Bansky, the art market is speculation and he denounces it every day. When he makes a profit he gives it back, to buy a boat to help migrants in the Mediterranean for example. For Bansky, the message is different depending on where he paints: in France, the US, the UK or the Palestinian territories. In each geographical location you understand the message better. Banksy is denouncing what is wrong in a society.
The meaning of the animals, rats and monkeys – Most likely, the rats are the street artists. They go out at night when the sun is down. You never see them but you know they are there, generally they are underground. For the monkeys we can assume – without insulting the country – they are symbol of the UK.
The painting Devolved Parliament (2009) depicts the House of Commons populated by chimpanzees. In 2019, in full Brexit – a delicate moment in which the English parliament was under the eyes of the whole world – the work went up for auction, beating all records. Starting at an estimate of 1 million pounds, at the end of a long auction it was sold for over eleven million euros.
At the end of October another work by Bansky will go on sale at Sotheby’s London gallery for an estimated £3-5m. The painting, “Show me the Monet”, created in 2005, is framed around Monet’s famous water lilies picture but is filled with jarring images of upside-down shopping trolleys and a traffic cone bobbing in the water. The Banksy’s version of Claude Monet’s impressionist masterpiece was first shown 15 years ago as part of Banksy’s second gallery exhibition in London.
It hails from a series collectively known as the Crude Oils, which include what Banksy has termed “remixes” of canonical artworks. In it, the artist takes and subverts the language of art history to recreate renowned artworks with his own style.
Banksy’s Rapidly Rising Market Explained – When you think of Banksy you think of “Girl with Balloon”, you think of rats, it’s those sorts of images that sell really well. It’s mainly the image and the message behind the image that people are attracted to. Another factor that can influence the value of a Banksy is the seemingly endless cycle of news related to the artist and his work. The steadily rising demand and prices for Banksy’s works are also influenced by the very limited supply. Typically, Banksy creates 150 editions signed by the artist and another 600 unsigned works. His artist’s proofs are now becoming more and more sought after.
Finally, his appeal has spread across the globe, it’s not just in Britain and Europe, noting a prevalence of buyers from the Middle East and Japan. People are very much connecting with his work at the moment.