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Contemporary Art

21 Facts About Banksy

By Annikka Olsen
Find out more about the elusive British street artist and take a look at a selection of his works at Sotheby's Banksy Online sale.

1. Although there has been a great deal of speculation over the years, Banksy’s true identity has never been revealed.

2. It is known that he is originally from Bristol, England, and that fellow Bristolian street artist Robert del Naja a.k.a. 3D served as a source of inspiration to Banksy.

3. Much of his street art and “urban interventions” act as critical commentary on major global issues, including terrorism, political authority and capitalism.

4. Initially, he preferred drawing and producing freehand, but in 2000 he began using stencils, in part due to how quickly they may be produced.

5. He also had his first formal exhibition in 2000, at a restaurant in Bristol that was owned by friends.

6. At one of his most infamous exhibitions, Crude Oils, held in Notting Hill, he displayed iconic paintings that he had “re-mixed,” adding various elements and motifs of his own. Most notably, however, was the inclusion of 200 live rats that roamed freely within the gallery space.

An installation view of Banksy's Crude Oils exhibition in London in 2004 with adapted versions of the Venus de Milo and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks.
Installation view of Banksy's Crude Oils exhibition in Westbourne Grove on October 23, 2004 in London. Photograph courtesty of Jim Dyson/Getty Images

7. In 2004, he produced what were later identified as Difaced Tenners—a play on words with “defaced”—which were fake ten pound notes using Princess Diana’s face in place of the Queen’s.

8. His 2006 exhibition Barely Legal, held in a Los Angeles warehouse, featured an elephant painted red and stenciled with gold fleur de lis to match the wallpaper. Animal rights activists petitioned the use of the elephant, and they were eventually ordered to hose it down.

9. For the 2006 film Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuarón approached Banksy for possible collaboration. Banksy ultimately declined the invitation, however, allowed his the reproduction of his work Kissing Coppers to be used in the background of one scene.

Banksy's work Kissing Coppers shows two UK police officers kissing.
Banksy, Kissing Coppers, Brighton, now in the collection of Moco Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photograph courtesy of Alamy Stock Photo

10. The work of Banksy has developed a celebrity following, with many world-famous actors, athletes, musicians, and fellow artists, including Damien Hirst, Justin Bieber, Serena Williams and Angelina Jolie, having acquired his work.

11. Musician Bono commissioned the artist to produce a work titled Sweeping it Under the Carpet while Bono was a guest editor at the Independent. The piece was a commentary on Western inaction to AIDS and other major issues in Africa.

12. The 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop was directed by Banksy, and was nominated for an Academy Award.

13. Despite remaining anonymous, he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2010, alongside Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. For his profile, he provided an image of himself with a paper bag over his head.

14. Also in 2010, he created the opening-credit sequence, or “couch gag,” for the episode “MoneyBart” on The Simpsons.

15. British journalist and writer Simon Hattenstone held a face-to-face interview with Banksy, and describes the artist in his 2003 piece for the Guardian as “white, 28, scruffy casual – jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring. He looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets.

16. A considerable amount of Banksy’s fame and notoriety stems from his urban interventions, including hanging his own works among masterpieces at major museums such as the Louvre, Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

17. Despite many artists craving it, Banksy has expressed reservations about the degree of commercial success he has garnered, saying to the Village Voice, “Commercial success is a mark of failure for a graffiti artist. We’re not supposed to be embraced in that way.”

A fountain by Banksy, made from an abandoned police riot vehicle, is displayed in front of the fairy castle as Banksy's Dismaland Bemusement Park opens to the public, on August 28, 2015 in Weston-Super-Mare, England.
Banksy's Dismaland Bemusement Park opened to the public, on August 28, 2015 in Weston-Super-Mare, England. Photograph Courtesy of Jim Dyson/Getty Images.

18. In 2015, he opened Dismaland, in Weston-super-Mare, England. A full-scale, temporary amusement park, which also displayed artworks by other artists, was largely conceptual in intent, and he described it as “a family attraction that acknowledges inequality and impending catastrophe.” It included fake security checkpoints, replete with cardboard x-ray scanners, and also served as a music venue.

19. In 2017, he opened his second major-scale project, The Walled Off Hotel, in Bethlehem. Built alongside the barrier wall that separates Israel from Palestine, it advertises itself as having “the worst view of any hotel in the world.”

Banksy, Love is in the Bin, 2018
Banksy's Love is in the Bin was created at Sotheby's London Contemporary Art auction on 11 October 2018 when his painting Girl with Balloon passed halfway through a shredder hidden in its frame.

20. During the Contemporary Art Evening Auction held at Sotheby’s London in 2018, Banksy’s Girl with Balloon, a canvas iteration of his famous motif, the work passed halfway through a hidden shredder in the frame once the night's final hammer fell. Later, Banksy uploaded a video to his website where he indicated that the shredder had malfunctioned, and the entire work was meant to have been destroyed. The artist christened the newly shredded work Love is in the Bin.

21. The term “Banksy effect” was coined in reference to both increasing critical and commercial interest in, specifically, street art, but more generally work done by artists whose purview is outside the cultural mainstream, as a result of Banky’s wide popularity.

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