Banksy

▪ 2008

born 1974?, Bristol?, Eng.

      In April 2007 London city workers painted over a mural by the graffiti artist Banksy near the Old Street Tube station in Hackney after the Transit Department determined that the 2003 mural—featuring American actors John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as gangsters in the film Pulp Fiction, holding bananas instead of handguns—contributed to the shabby appearance of the neighbourhood. That same month one of Banksy's works sold for £288,000 (£1 = about $2), breaking the sales record at Bonhams Knightsbridge auction house.

      Though Banksy's identity was well guarded, he came to notice as a freehand graffiti artist in 1993. Using stencils since 2000 to enhance his speed, he developed a distinctive iconography of highly recognizable images, such as rats and policemen, that communicated an antiauthoritarian message. With wry wit and stealth, Bansky merged graffiti art with installation and performance. In the 2003 exhibition “Turf War,” Bansky painted on the bodies of live pigs. At his “Crude Oils” exhibition in London in 2005, which featured altered replicas of the works of Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Edward Hopper, he released 200 live rats in the gallery. Fully disguised, in 2005 Banksy installed his own works on the walls of major museums in New York City and London, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Tate Britain.

      In 2005 Banksy also painted a wall on the Palestinian side of the West Bank; on the viewer's side, children play on a forelorn patch of earth, while through an apparent hole in the wall there is a scene of a perfect tropical beach. Banksy described himself as a “quality vandal,” challenging the authority of political and art institutions on both the right and the left. In September 2006 his one-weekend Los Angeles warehouse installation Barely Legal, for which he decorated a live elephant, attracted large crowds despite a lack of publicity. In Bristol in 2006 he depicted a naked man clinging to a window sill on the side of a public family-planning clinic; local residents voted to keep the mural.

      His books—which included Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall (2001), Existencilism (2002), and Wall and Piece (2005)—documented his projects; iconic examples of his work, including a life-size image of two policemen kissing, were featured in the bleak futuristic film Children of Men (2006).

      Although he was increasingly famous, Banksy remained anonymous; his rare interviews were conducted via e-mail or with responses delivered by an altered voice on tape. He remained committed to street art, declaring that life in a city in which graffiti was legal would be “like a party where everyone was invited.”

Debra N. Mancoff

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Universalium. 2010.

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