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Banksy Showcases Guerilla Art

Banksy is a world-wide phenomenon... yet with all this, Banksy remains elusive and unnamed. No one knows who he is, where he came from, or even what year he was born.

By: Randi Spray

  The first time I heard the name Banksy, it was in the context of a British newscast on a series of graffiti images that had been done on Israel's West Bank barrier wall.
  What followed was a series of pictures: a young girl in a pink dress patting down a soldier, a dove in a flak jacket, a soldier checking a donkey's papers. That was my first encounter with the guerilla artist and international man of mystery.
  Banksy has a unique and instantly recognizable style consisting of a blend of photo-like stencils, often in black and white, with messy, runny messages more commonly associated with graffiti.
  His subjects are usually controversial: two British policeman passionately kissing, a homeless Abe Lincoln pushing a shopping cart through post-Katrina New Orleans, a young girl faced with a tree that turns into a telephone pole, and rats, lots and lots of rats. Rats several stories tall. Rats with messages like "Let them eat crack" and "Because I'm worthless." He even has a gallery exhibition filled with 200 of these live rodents.
  Every image is a social-political protest; a punch in the face to all our assumptions and hypocrisies. His art has been called anti-authoritarian and part of the "discontent industry." Banksy's art deals with global issues: war and peace, technology and surveillance, the underside of big cities.
  Banksy is a world-wide phenomenon. While he started in Bristol, UK around 1993, where his work is common, he's spread out into Paris, Los Angeles, Jamaica and Palestine. He has published a book through Random House called “Wall and Piece,” as well as several pamphlets: "Existencilism," "Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall" and "Cut it Out."
  Banksy has had gallery showings on two continents. His paintings have sold to famous movie stars such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. He has generated tons of news articles and casts.
  Yet with all this, Banksy remains elusive and unnamed. No one knows who he is, where he came from, or even what year he was born, though it is rumored that he was born in 1974 or 1978, in Bristol or Yate in the UK.
  In 2004, a Jamaican photographer, Peter Dean Rickards, claimed to have caught him on camera, and in July 2008 a British paper, “The Mail on Sunday,” declared they had used the picture to identify him as Robin Gunningham. With nothing proved, however, the mystery of Banksy’s identity remains.
  The only reality with Banksy is that he knows how to make a scene. Besides his stunts in the Holy Land in 2005, he mounted several of his own artworks in museums such as London’s Tate, the Metropolitian Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum. He put a Mona Lisa with a yellow smiley face and crime-scene tape in the background in the Louvre.
  In June 2006, a painting of a naked man hanging out of a window was found on the side of a Bristol sexual health clinic. The city council hosted a public vote on whether or not to keep the painting; out of a thousand respondents, ninety-three percent voted to keep it.
  Later in 2006, Banksy came to Los Angeles, where he replaced nearly 500 copies of Paris Hilton’s debut CD with his own cover art and song titles such as "Why Am I Famous?" He put a blowup doll dressed like a Guantanamo Bay detainee in Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride and opened a gallery featuring a live elephant spray painted red with gold fleurs-de-lys to match the wallpaper.
  One of the many issues surrounding Banksy is whether his work is vandalism or art. Some, like anti-graffiti officer Colin Saysell, have been trying to get a hold of Banksy for years. However, with increasing public support for Banksy and his art works selling from $200,000 to $575,000, it seems like the public may have decided this conflict for the officials.
  Banksy himself has some pretty interesting ideas on art and fame. “The art world is the biggest joke going," Banksy said, and after his works sold for huge sums at Sotheby's, he posted a painting of an auction scene with the words, "I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit." To Banksy, Hollywood is nothing but "a town where they honor their heroes by writing their names on the pavement to be walked on by fat people and peed on by dogs."

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