Who is Banksy?

Bristol is a great city which in recent years has become somewhat of a cultural mecca for modern music and art. On my way back to my country retreat I pass this amusing Banksy mural which is across from the Bristol Children’s Hospital.

Banksy has become something of a cult hero though his cult status is somewhat behind him as his work has reached the heady heights of Sotheby’s/Christie’s prices for modern art. His murals are witty but not exactly technically demanding and yet, the queues for his Bristol exhibition in 2009 were unprecedented. Part of his appeal must be his “scarlet pimpernel” approach of maintaining anonymity. Who is Banksy?

Well if you have a spare $1,000,000 you can discover the true identity of Banksy which is currently being offered for sale on eBay. According to the seller,

If you win this auction I will mail you a piece of paper revealing the true identity of “Banksy”.

I have uncovered his identity by matching up the prices of his sold pieces to corresponding tax records. I will reveal no more details.

The winner of this auction is the only person I will ever share this information with. The piece of paper will say his name, nothing more.

I give you 100% assurance that it is most certainly the full name of the street artist known as “Banksy”.

Ebay previously ended this auction because I was selling something that was not “tangible”.
It is now tangible.

Currently there are 38 bids.

I wanted to blog this story because it raises so many interesting issues about authenticity and art. For many, possessing art is a status exercise – a public display of wealth signaling success to others. But there is also an essential element to art – the idea that there is some property that makes an original irreplaceable. Paul Bloom wrote about this in his book, “How Pleasure Works” and of course, I developed the idea in the context of sacred objects and repugnant items.

However, I have to accept that the essentialist stance towards Banksy art is somewhat of a stretch. His murals are spray-painted templates that could be easily produced and duplicated. That’s not to say that they are not clever and ingenious. It’s just that you don’t get the impression that his essence is in the work in the same way that seeing a Van Gogh in reality is an awe-inspiring experience. This is compounded by Banksy’s anonymity. Also, the fact that eBay insists that information is not enough and that a tangible piece of paper qualifies as a commodity for auction is also ironic.

I don’t know who Banksy is but I am reliably told that he has red hair. You can make your own GinGer jokes in the comments.


UPDATE: Just checked back to discover that eBay have removed the auction… oh well.


Filed under General Thoughts

27 responses to “Who is Banksy?

  1. Jim

    Whoever is running that auction is probably Banksy. That piece of paper with a name on will become a “Banksian Artifact”. :oD

  2. I think the appeal of Banksy is that (in part because of the whole Scarlet Pimpernel thing you mention) he epitomizes the democratization of art, much as YouTube does in the arena of popular media. It’s clever “outsider art”, but differs from past outsider art in that it’s not some hillbilly who was “discovered” by the art community, but rather the outsider himself did his own self-promotion.

    For better or worse, there’s a seismic shift towards the democratization of media (*cough*blogs*cough*), and everybody wants to say they are on the forefront, that they have a piece of it. That, I think, is what the rabid pursuit of Banksy works represents.

    Of course, it rather defeats the purpose, then, when his works are auction at Sotheby’s, doesn’t it? So much for democratization and authenticity… heh…

  3. I’m with Jim. It would be a very Banksy thing to do, in many respects. In fact, if it’s NOT Banksy, I will be hugely disappointed.

  4. Rox

    I suppose you wouldn’t be allowed to sell a thought on eBay, but you would be allowed to sell a small piece of brain .

  5. Gammidgy

    Banksy’s anonymity is interesting but paradoxically, the thought of his identity being revealed bores me. I think I know who he is – I believe he is a friend of a friend of mine – but I’m not sure that I care.

    It seems to me that his anonymity is an important part of the art. Because it is stenciled, because it seems to appear overnight in a public space where anybody could have painted it, it is as though any of us could have done it. It therefore has a power to speak for all of us.

    By pure chance, it was Banksy that was gifted with the wit to create these images, but had it been created by somebody else the work would still be the work. Why does his name matter?

  6. Rox

    Yes indeed. Mysteries have to be mysteries. There are countless books of mysteries, often offering explanations to many of them, but if they were really explained, there would be no books of mysteries, and this is something that people want. If somebody caught the Loch Ness Monster and put its skeleton in the Natural History Museum, it would be a scandal and a disaster.

  7. I don’t want to know who he is. His work is amusing but nothing more.

  8. I love that street art has become so much more interesting in recent years, but am a bit dumbfounded that Banksy has reached such heights. Hamilton Yokota (aka Titi Freak) is a Brazilian born artist who works predominantly in Japan now. His street art appeals to me more as art in that he does not rely solely on templates. The images are an incredible mix of urban and traditional (elements of Hokusai).
    Having said that, I do understand that Banksy is the more mysterious of the two because he is anonymous. But mystery does not equate greatness.

    • I think Banksy himself is kinda dumbfounded that he’s reached such heights. It’s part of the point of his recent efforts – focussing his audience on the extraordinary absurdity and hypocrisy of the ‘art’ world.

      It’s not correct to say that Banksy ‘relies solely on templates’, either. He creates a huge range of one-off and sometimes spontaneous artworks. And, like many artists, his ‘greatness’ (whatever that really means) is found not so much in the works themselves, but in the ideas behind them.

      Plus (and this carries a lot of weight with me), he has a sense of humour and mischief. If there’s one single thing I hate about modern art, it’s the po-faced worthiness that seems to come with so much of it. I always like it when someone pisses in the fireplace.

  9. Rox

    When Nurse Myra writes “Hey I’ve seen the film Exit Through the Gift Shop”, what is the function and meaning of the “Hey” ? I am not American, and this is a genuine query. Americans say lots of things which we don’t really understand, and most people just keep quiet about it and guess, or don’t bother to guess.

    • Except that Nurse Myra is not an American…

    • I meant Hey! as in a reply to Bruce and Anaglyph who seemed to be implying I hadn’t heard of the artist Banksy when what I was really saying was I don’t know the real identity of the man.

      I think he’s clever and amusing but I don’t lie awake at night pondering the mystery.

      For the record I also think anaglyph is clever and amusing 🙂

      xx to you both

      • Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that you hadn’t heard of him – I know you’re very well read on such things. But to think the mystery of his identity is even remotely important to his work is to kind of misunderstand him, I believe. If I had to pick five important artists of our time, I would place Banksy in there. And you know I wouldn’t make such a claim lightly.

      • Rox

        Hey, I never said that nursemyra was American, did I ?

        I suppose it is correct to use Hey at the beginning of many (if not most or all) replies on fora. It is rather like the upside down exclamation mark at the beginning of Spanish sentences.

        Hey, you could often translate it into English as “Look here” !

  10. I know who he is I am sueing him and his little friends. The name will be available for free at Bristol’s court room.
    C ya there.

  11. Rox

    Presumably that’s the “courtroom” in Bristol, Florida.

  12. the fizz

    i know the truth about banksy and its coming out soon people… i know him..

  13. Anonymous

    Banksy is Bruce M. Hood.
    I am Banksy.


    I’m halfway through “The Self Illusion”. I must say when I saw that book I was so excited I couldn’t wait to get sit down and gorge it. I loved it as I ploughed through it like a starving cat. However, I was so disappointed I wanted to burn it or ask you for my money back until I got to Chapter 4.

    However, as I read through it, I’m seeing typos and editorial changes that I would like to send to you. Did Harper Collins not give you a hefty advance to pay for a really good editor? Just joking. I’d like to email you what I’ve seen if you’d like. It’s saved on my 16gb dIephone and I would like to send it over to you so I can I can have some room back again on my dinosaur phone.

    I wish the North American issue of the book had the same cover as the UK one!

    Can I get an autographed copy of that?

    Have your heard or read any of Jed McKenna’s books?


    • brucehood

      Heh Banksy,
      Thanks for the slap-down. Remind me to give you a critique of your spray work the next time you are back in Bristol. You of all should know that so long as the audience gets the message, the details are less important.
      (but no, I did not have a copy editor)

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