In Depth

Who is Banksy? Everything we know about the elusive street artist

Anonymous artist reveals artwork in support of Black Lives Matter

Banksy has unveiled a new artwork on Instagram in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The elusive artist posted photos of the piece on Instagram with a statement in which he said “people of colour are being failed” by “the white system”.

The painting is of a vigil of flowers and a picture in a frame, next to a candle which is setting the corner of a US flag alight. The anonymous graffiti artist wrote alongside it that: “At first I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem. It’s mine”.

In a post that has since been liked more than two million times, he goes on to say that racism is a “white problem” that is making life for people of colour “a misery”, and that white people must work to fix it.

Since the lockdown began, Banksy has also revealed a painting at Southampton General Hospital of a boy playing with an action hero of an NHS nurse, and painted a series of rats causing chaos in his bathroom.

Has anyone ever met Banksy?

Here are some of the key Banksy “sightings” over the years:

Banksy meets The Guardian, 2003: One of the only journalists to have met Banksy is The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone. He described the artist as “white, 28, scruffy casual – jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring. He [Banksy] looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets.”

Banksy in Bethnal Green, 2007: A passer-by “familiar with Banksy’s work” snapped the artist and an assistant painting a mural in Bethnal Green, east London. The picture “could show the reclusive artist at work”, said the BBC.

Banksy is “nice middle-class boy”, 2008: The Mail on Sunday broke the mould by running a sharp picture of a smiling, curly-haired man it insisted was Banksy. His real name is Robin Gunningham, said the paper, which also claimed he was a public schoolboy educated at the £9,240-a-year Bristol Cathedral School. Fans of the artist’s “anti-establishment stance” would doubtless be “shocked” to learn of his true identity, the Mail added.

Banksy self-portrait, 2009: When a Banksy “self-portrait” appeared on the side of an office block in east London, the Mail on Sunday felt vindicated. “The image is almost identical to the Mail on Sunday’s picture [of Gunningham],” it said. “It is possible the graffiti art was created by someone else,” the paper admitted. “But evidence compiled in a Mail on Sunday investigation suggests that Banksy is indeed Robin Gunningham – and that in his latest graffiti he has coyly acknowledged his unmasking.” 

Banksy goes to the Playboy Club, 2011: Was that Banksy wearing a vicar’s outfit and a skull mask to a celebrity bash at the Playboy Club in Mayfair, London? Members of the paparazzi insisted it was, Digital Spy wasn’t so sure.

Banksy unmasked in Santa Monica, 2011: Another grainy, out-of-focus picture, this one taken in Los Angeles, was published in the Daily Mail. It showed a man wearing a green baseball cap who the Mail says has just painted the words “This Looks a bit like an Elephant” on a container near a busy motorway.

Banksy in New York, 2013: One of the pictures claiming to unmask the reclusive millionaire street artist was taken in New York in October 2013. It shows a gaunt-looking man wearing a flat cap and “paint-spattered overalls”. The snap, taken by one of the stencil artist’s fans, was captured as a delivery truck being used to display one of his art works was parked on a Manhattan street. When a battery failed and the lights illuminating the picture of a lush garden went off, the man in the cap “sprang into action”. There were several men at the scene, but the one in the hat “stood out from the group”, said the Daily Mirror.

Banksy in Tel Aviv, 2017: A woman claimed to have spotted the artist at an Israeli shopping centre just north of Tel Aviv. It came just days after Banksy had opened an exhibition in Bethlehem. Video footage shot on a mobile phone shows the mysterious man, wearing a white hat, blue shirt and camouflage trousers, carrying a stencil before putting up a hand to cover his face. Israeli newspaper Haaretz cast doubt on the report, saying the man caught on camera was indeed a British graffiti artist, but James Ame, who is married to an Israeli woman.

Banksy ‘spotted’ in Hull, 2018: Footage recorded by a scrap dealer in Hull is said to reveal the “original” Banksy – believed to be Gunningham. The man, who bears a striking resemblance to Gunningham, was caught on video in Hull at the same time that three “Banksy” artworks were discovered in the city. According to The Independent the artist was spotted wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses to shield his identity, metres from a daubing that was later confirmed to be genuine.

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Is Banksy another well-known artist?

Perhaps rather than holding a Clark Kent-style ordinary day job, Banksy’s alter ego is already well-known in the art world. The Daily Telegraph suggests “Banksy” could be an alias for trailblazing British artist Damien Hirst. “The pair collaborated for the piece Keeping It Spotless, which features a French maid sweeping under a spot painting,” the paper says.

Is he really multiple people?

One theory that has long done the rounds is that rather than being a single lone artist, Banksy is in fact a number of people.

In his book The Unusual Suspects, William Kasper claims he is actually four people. One of the “Banksys” he unmasks is James Hallewell, “a British born street artist believed to have earned his chops in the northern town of Sheffield in the late 1990s”, says the Daily Beast.

“While there is plenty of doubt that Hallewell is the ‘original’ Banksy, it is very likely that he is one of Banksy’s key assistants and collaborators,” the Beast adds.

According to The Independent, journalist Craig Williams has suggested that Banksy “is really a collective of artists associated with Massive Attack rather than one person, cross-referencing the sudden appearance of Banksy murals with the band’s tour dates in a viral blog post of August 2016, finding a number of matches”.

“The ‘multiple Banksys’ idea… provides a simple explanation for how a graffiti artist who has daubed tens of thousands of images on walls around the world and even built mock theme parks has managed to avoid identification by mainstream media and hipster blogs,” says the Daily Beast.

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