Since arriving on the Bristol underground art scene in the 1990s, Banksy–whose real identity remains a mystery–has been behind some of the most audacious and witty guerilla art around the globe.
Getting his start in tagged graffiti, the British artist quickly adopted his signature graphic street art style where he spray paints stencils made digitally beforehand. His recurring subjects–rats, police, children–are often presented in ironic juxtapositions that critique political authority, consumerism, and terrorism.
“All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars,” says Banksy, whose most famous works include paintings on Israel’s West Bank barrier wall that imagine an opening to the Palestinian side, and “Rage, Flower Thrower,” a rioter stenciled in black and white whose bomb is replaced by a colorful flower bouquet.
In addition to his distinctive graffiti which has appeared extensively throughout London and Bristol, his stunts include incorporating his own artworks into the collections of major museums such as the Louvre and Tate Modern and selling his canvases, worth tens of thousands of dollars, in New York’s Central Park for $60.
Eschewing the gallery system, Banksy has made a plea to keep artworks outside “on the cave walls of our communities.”
Since 2001, when he presented works in an abandoned subway tunnel that he painted white, the artist has continued to exhibit in unconventional spaces such as industrial warehouses in London and Los Angeles. 2010 saw the artist widening his oeuvre, with Exit Through the Giftshop, a mock documentary on street art, which premiered in a pop-up cinema in a London underpass.
Fellow street artist Shepard Fairey described the film as, “a way for Banksy to tell his story but at the same time critique the street art phenomenon,” proving that for Bansky, even his own art practice is not off limits.