A Creative Profile: Banksy

Work by Banksy

Work by Banksy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Profile:

  • DOB: unknown (1974?)
  • Place of Birth: Unknown (Bristol, UK?)
  • Years Active: 1992-present
  • Occupation: Graffiti artist specializing in political activism and social commentary

Assignment Questions: Why is Banksy is an important model of creativity? Where did Banksy’s ideas come from? What is Banksy’s particular struggle?What creative qualities does his display?

I chose Banksy as a creative person to profile because he works within the confines and constraints of a structured system and society. Banksy continues to create work that is considered by some to be illegal, and he realizes the risks he takes–of being charged with vandalism, or more likely the very real possibility that his art will be painted over. Banksy knows that in most cases his art is temporary but he still chooses street art as his medium; in a sense, bringing art to the masses. It is interesting that although Banksy’s art is often temporary, being whitewashed by officials, the pictures remain, not just on Banksy’s website, but permeated so deep within popular culture that I couldn’t even find a photograph of an original piece that I was looking for, yet I could buy the image on any number of websites on my choice of mug, hat, or t-shirt.

Banksy’s art is about more than re-claiming public space—his painting of the Segregation Wall in Palestine, the Designated Graffiti wall pieces, and his penchant for painting over/altering advertisements are three examples of the social and political commentary that Banksy’s pieces are known for. One of my favourite Banksy quotes is about advertising and billboards: Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It’s yours to take, re-arrange, and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. (Banksy 196)

Most observers and critics say that Banksy’s style is similar to a French graffiti artist named Blek le Rat who is known for working with stencils in Paris in the 1980s, but Banksy cites 3D (Robert del Naja) from the band Massive Attack  (who was a graffiti artist prior to joining the band) as his major influence. Banksy’s idea to use stencils was borne out of necessity and serendipity.  When he was 18 trying to paint large bubble letters onto a passenger trains, he had to escape from the police and spent over an hour hidden under a garbage truck. While underneath the truck, he noticed a stencil on the bottom of the fuel tank and decided that might be an efficient way to install his pieces.

The obvious struggle that Banksy has is one that many people have—working creatively within the constraints of a structured system. I would recommend reading the opening page of Banksy’s Wall and Piece  for further insight into this struggle. In the beginning Banksy often used the image of a rat in his pieces. Regarding rats, Banksy writes: They exist without permission. They are hated, hunted, and persecuted. The live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilizations to their knees. (Banksy 95) Could the same be said of Banksy and his art? Definitely his art is capable of bringing people into discussions about art, politics, and society.

An ethical dilemma that Banksy now faces since his work has become more well known is the fact that his art is now commanding high prices on the auctioneer’s block. His anti-establishment pieces are now being sold for anywhere between L30 000- L500 000, in a way making him part of the capitalist art world he decries. Banksy has written that “the Art we look at is made by only a select few. A small group create, promote, purchase, exhibit, and decide the success of Art. Only a few hundred people in the world have any say. When you go to an Art Gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires. (Banksy 170) Banksy now finds himself in a position to have some of his art be in a trophy cabinet of millionaires, yet continues to anonymously create art on public spaces around the world. Banksy acknowledged this dichotomy when following a Sotheby’s auction of 3 of his pieces, Banksy updated his website to feature a new image of an auction house scene showing people bidding on a painting that said, “I Can’t Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit.”

A curious thing about Banksy is his success at remaining anonymous. Although there have been speculations as to his identity, nothing has been confirmed. He works with a crew of people, and must instill a great sense of loyalty. No one has betrayed his confidence, which is quite remarkable, considering the amount of attention his art has been garnering in the last few years. Working in London, where the number of CCTV cameras is one of the largest in the world he has managed to remain faceless.  Installing art work in museums such as the Louvre, Tate Modern, and MOMA in New York without being discovered is a testament to his great talent as not only an artist, but at his ability to blend in with his surroundings.

I think perhaps the most creative quality that Banksy displays is his ability to get people engaged and talking about his work. Whether it be public officials who deem his work to encourage “a general atmosphere of neglect and social decay which in turn encourages crime” (source: Wikipedia) or city councils who allow their citizens to vote on whether or not to remove a Banksy piece from a public building, people are engaged.

Banksy’s acceptance and understanding that his art is not guaranteed any permanence is an interesting concept. He understands the fluidity and flow that sometimes accompanies art. It is also interesting that although his work is often very solitary, he encourages collaboration with others, even those he doesn’t know. By installing Designated Graffiti Areas in cities around the world, he invites others to join him in his quest to reclaim the space.

The creative quality that I like best about Banksy is his belief in art being accessible to everybody. Banksy is a dreamer, a thinker, a doer: Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that. (Banksy 97)

References:

Banksy. Banksy Wall and Piece. London: Century, The Random House, 2005. Print.

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