Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard of Banksy, the prolific street artist whose stenciled and spray-painted illustrations have been celebrated from Paris to Palestine. As a populist hero, Banksy’s anti-establishment themes evoke profound emotion. Part of his allure stems from his evasion of categorization. His graffiti art is a vibrant contribution to political debate and a challenge to long-held prejudices and beliefs.
Fueled by a sense of rebellion, Banksy has a long list of descriptors: graffiti guru, legendary activist, international icon, performance artist, filmmaker and provocateur. Despite his world renown, Banksy fiercely conceals his identity which adds a layer of mystery and curiousity to his work. While he takes refuge behind his anonymity, Banksy advocates for a direct connection between viewers and his art. He rarely makes spoken statements, choosing instead to speak through his work.
Banksy’s stenciled subjects are simple and spontaneous, his muted images are captivating works that speak to people on a foundational level; He is at once abstract and whimsical. The artist’s subjects range from rats to homeless children, and he has traveled the world to comment on war, child poverty and environment. One of his signature subjects is a young girl, with her hair blowing in the wind who appears to have lost her balloon. He has taken on the refugee crisis in a mural at a migrant camp in France and created numerous pieces in Gaza and the West Bank spotlighting military oppression.
Banksy’s take on the human condition and the state of the world, has drawn attention to deep issues and forced viewers to interpret their political views in unexpected ways.
Banksy launched his renegade career in Bristol, England during the 1980’s by evading authorities and stenciling graffiti on urban walls around the city. As his street art appeared in cities across Britain, he was quickly compared to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. He became an international star when he arrived in Israel and painted a series of poignant images on the West Bank’s concrete barrier wall. He progressed to more traditional painting, conceptual sculpture and even film, with the well-received documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” nominated for a 2010 Academy Award. Notably, Banksy has brought his own brand of prankster performance art to major museums, including the Louvre, where 40 works disappeared were whitewashed or destroyed. Among his most famous stunts was the partial shredding of a painting sold at auction for $1.4 million resulting in an entirely new piece.
The impact that Bansky has on the art world is immense. he is a fascinating provocateur whose stature allows him to exist inside and outside the mainstream art world. By revolutionizing a pedestrian art form and circumventing the traditional marketplace – which he considers pretentious and over privileged - Banksy is able to connect directly with his constituents and set the stage for a much larger movement. The ongoing question as to who Banksy is continues to pique interest and make headlines but it’s his provocative art that should remain center stage.