While hiding from the limelight, Banksy has made himself into one of the world's best-known living artists. His pieces have fetched millions of dollars at prestigious auction houses. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his film Exit Through the Gift Shop. Once viewed as vandalism, his work is now venerated; fans have gone so far as to dismantle the walls that he has painted on for collection and sale.
But as famous as Banksy is, he is also utterly unknown—he conceals his real name, hides his face, distorts his voice, and reveals his identity to only a select few. Who is this man that has captivated millions? How did a graffiti artist from Bristol, England, find himself at the center of an artistic movement? How has someone who goes to such great lengths to keep himself hidden achieved such great notoriety? And is his anonymity a necessity to continue his vandalism—or a marketing tool to make him ever more famous?
Now, in the first ever full-scale investigation of the artist, reporter Will Ellsworth-Jones pieces together the story of Banksy, building up a picture of the man and the world in which he operates. He talks to his friends and enemies, those who knew him in his early, unnoticed days, and those who have watched him try to come to terms with his newfound fame and success. And he explores the contradictions of a champion of renegade art going to greater and greater lengths to control his image and his work.
Banksy offers a revealing glimpse at an enigmatic figure and a riveting account of how a self-professed vandal became an international icon—and turned the art world upside down in the process.
It's perfectly true that, as subversive street artist Banksy has said, "Art comes alive in the arguments you have about it." Journalist Ellsworth-Jones (We Will Not Fight) chronicles the Banksy phenomenon from the streets to the upscale auction houses, while exploring the lively issues that Banksy has raised since becoming a novelty in the art market, one who now leads a fairly lucrative operation cloaked in secrecy. Bound to fuel more "sell-out" criticism, Ellsworth-Jones's vivid portrait shows Banksy attempting to hold on to the spirit of the graffiti subculture while simultaneously forsaking it. Banksy once deplored galleries as " trophy cabinets for a handful of millionaires,'" though he is now one of the "trophies." His anonymity has added to his intrigue and become a "marketing tool," according to Banksy's friend and peer Shepard Fairey. Paradoxically, Banksy has used lawyers and contracts like a "control-freak." (Banksy prevented one of Ellsworth-Jones's interviews with another graffiti artist, and through his authentication agency demanded the book be marked "unofficial"). Nevertheless, Ellsworth-Jones clearly respects Banksy's art, and celebrates how the artist ushered the masses out of "the wilderness" and "into the art world." (Some, however, will disagree with his claim that without Banksy "there would be not be a street art market.") Whether a Banksy follower or not, a reader will find this excellent contemporary art story speaks volumes about celebrity.