Monday, May 11, 2009

Banksy: Did Banksy Reveal His Identity?

Did Banksy Reveal His Identity?

It appears that British street artist Banksy has once again made a visual play on the pop culture mystique surrounding his identity. This time the anonymous-one has allegedly created a self-portrait on the side of an office building in the Shoreditch area of London. The stencil piece involves a necklace wearing rat holding a sign with a face upon it. Some individuals have assumed that the piece is a self-portrait.

Rumor has it that the face upon the sign is from a photo of a man believed to be Banksy that was taken in 2004. The photo, which Banksy allegedly referenced, was taken during a graffiti event in Jamaica. In 2004 the photo spread on the internet like wildfire-- it caused an online media blitz of claims that Banksy’s identity had been revealed. However, if the piece involving the infamous photograph is authentic it is most likely Banksy’s way of poking fun at individuals who try to make his identity known.

The visual play on identity may very well be a response to a recent hoax that involved Banksy’s identity. Earlier this month an elaborate hoax that involved a former chairman of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, an actor impersonating British street artist Banksy, and a celebrity dinner hosted by Joan Collins was exposed. The hoax was masterminded by Ivan Massow, former chairman of London’s Institute of Contemporary Art.

Massow hired an actor, Bryan Lawrence, to dupe his longtime friend celebrity Joan Collins. Apparently Massow had hoped to sell footage of the bogus Banksy attending a dinner party hosted by Collins in order to reveal Banksy’s identity to the masses-- and to profit. After being exposed Massow flip-flopped on the issue by suggesting that actor Bryan Lawrence “could be” Banksy.

Banksy's street work often features humorous images that flirt with serious issues. The images often focus on anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-establishment messages. His collective work is often described as a prime example of creative freedom and as a visual voice for a public that would otherwise be silent. His work has inspired thousands if not millions of young artists. However, some critics suggest that Banksy profits from war, capitalism, and the establishment-- as well as the cult of celebrity. Or is it the cult of anonymity?

Today it is difficult to be anonymous-- there is little room to be mysterious in our online world. Thus, the fact that Banksy has been able to conceal his identity, at least to the masses, is attractive in our social media driven age. Regardless of who Banksy is the mystique has proven to be a key factor in keeping his visual message on bookstore shelves, in gallery exhibits, and in the news.

Hoaxes and ethical criticism aside, Banksy’s choice of anonymity has fostered debate concerning who is behind the persona. For example, several Banksy theories have been expressed on blogs and art forums. Some comments suggest that he is actually a she while others suggest that Banksy is a group of street artists rather than an individual.

On that same note, others have suggested that the ‘real’ Banksy has nothing to do with the commercialization of his work. Some have went as far as to suggest that Banksy’s work has been ‘hijacked’ by art dealers for profit due to the popularity of his art-- or that Banksy was ‘created’ by a group of gallerists in order to ‘legitimize’ street art within the mainstream art world for profit.

The Banksy conspiracy theorists suggest that alleged recordings of Banksy’s voice and his ‘official’ website are not legitimate. Some have noted that the registrant for Banksy’s website ( is Steve Lazarides-- who happens to be Banksy’s agent/ art dealer-- as ‘evidence’. Could it be that Steve Lazarides is running one of the most profitable art schemes in history? Could it be that Steve Lazarides is in fact Banksy? Perhaps the other artists that Steve Lazarides represents are collectively Banksy? Doubtful.

That said, one could suggest that Banksy-- the individual, the myth, the icon-- has found the perfect recipe for fame and fortune (and more importantly a surefire way to keep people focused on his art and social messages) in that he has been able to keep people guessing. Debates about Banksy tend to focus more on who he is rather than the art itself-- at least at first. The motives behind the mystery seep into the dialogue.

Is Banksy nothing more than a paper-tiger provocateur smothered by contradictions and hypocrisy? Maybe. Is Banksy an artist who is more interested in conveying a visual message to the world than basking in the media spotlight directly? Possibly. One thing is for certain-- we won’t know much about Banksy until he reveals his identity and therefore addresses questions more openly. That said, if Banksy reveals his identity would we continue to care?

Link of Interest:

Fake Banksy Infiltrates Celebrity Dinner

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter


Linda Armstrong said...

I love this essay! You make some wonderful points. Andy Warhol and Salvidor Dali also played on the Cult of Celebrity. It is a huge issue which relates to basic perceptions of identity and self-worth. What if people suddenly started yawning when Branjolina's (spelling?)latest endeavors were being discussed?

I'm sure it's not the case, but, just sayin', there would be another very witty layer to this if Banksy were actually a woman. You know the saying "Anonymous was a woman." Women still have a rough time in the arts. You'll notice that J.K. Rowling stayed out of the spotlight until boys loved the books too much to refuse to read them because they were female-authored. Maybe that wasn't her reasoning, but it sure worked.

unurth said...

i cant believe how much is written about this. No, banksy hasn't revealed his identity. Yes, we would care about him if he was known, because he's very influential - anonymous or not.

he doesn't want to be known. simple. forget the conspiracies, and enjoy or hate his art.

this identity story is just being stirred up to promote that crappy-looking 'dinner with banksy' film.

Balhatain said...

Unurth, if in fact this is a work by Banksy could it be that he is responding to that hoax? I suggested that in the post. If so, he did it knowing it would be picked up by the press. So in that sense one could say that he did it knowing that it would promote himself. Which is exactly why some people are critical of his work in general.

I’ll play Devil’s advocate and say that being anonymous does not necessarily make one noble. Do I agree with the Banksy conspiracy theorists? No, as I pointed out I doubt their claims. However, when someone suggests that people should forget the conspiracies it seems to me that maybe the theories should be investigated further.

You have to keep in mind that there is a debate within the street art community itself about the fact that specific artists seem to have been the driving force in the recent commercialization of street art boom. The criticism of the Phantom Street Artist and his challenge to Shepard Fairey comes to mind.

For some the recent boom does not add up-- or should I say the obvious dollar signs do add up. Especially since those involved have had direct support from publishers and editors of counter culture art magazines and others who need a 'holy grail' in order for their business to remain marketable.

The majority of people probably don’t care if specific artists are being cultivated, so to speak, as being the most influential street artists. However, others do care. If there is something to the theories it will come out eventually. Someone will talk-- or write a book about how 'street art was stolen' in order to make further profit.

Interesting debate.

unurth said...

balhatain -

most likely this is the 'not banksy' group. I think Rj at Vandalog put it well... 'Daily Mail Desperation':

Unfortunately (and understandably) Banksy doesn't get involved in this kind of 'debate', so I'm sure some people will continue the debate, as dull as it is.

Banksy's rationale for being anonymous in the Swindle article is reasonable enough (see below). The only other 'proof' that I need is having witnessed Banksy's popularity grow organically; people talked about him because of the quality of the art, not because a marketing genius created a Britney-style hollow phenomenon.

"I have no interest in ever coming out. I figure there are enough self-opinionated assholes trying to get their ugly little faces in front of you as it is. You ask a lot of kids today what they want to be when they grow up, and they say, “I want to be famous.” You ask them for what reason and they don’t know or care. I think Andy Warhol got it wrong: in the future, so many people are going to become famous that one day everybody will end up being anonymous for 15 minutes. I’m just trying to make the pictures look good; I’m not into trying to make myself look good. I’m not into fashion. The pictures generally look better than I do when we’re out on the street together. Plus, I obviously have issues with the cops. And besides, it’s a pretty safe bet that the reality of me would be a crushing disappointment to a couple of 15-year-old kids out there."

AnnoyingMouse said...

What - you're not going to rake Banksy over the coals for stenciling a photo that may or may not be of him, taken by a photographer who's not getting his fair credit? Isn't that right up your anti-copyright-infringin' alley?