Who Is Banksy Cultural Studies Essay

"Banksy is the most exciting artist to come out of the UK for more than a decade - or so many people on both sides of the Atlantic will tell you (Jones, 2010)" 

In this essay I will be looking at the artist who is unknown to the public formally, but publicly known as Banksy.  He is a pseudonymous artist based in the UK, more so in England. Not only is he a talented graffiti artist but his work suggests that he is also a political activist. Furthermore the release of a movie in 2011 (which he directed) re-affirms his artistic talents. A lot of his work can be looked at as dark humour which some people find offensive.  However, some of his work of social and political commentary has been used on worldwide building structures, walls and streets. He addresses modern day activities within the news and throughout the world in an articulate yet controversial manner, ranging from issues such as the government, to social class, capitalism, war and poverty.  

Banksy first began in Bristol in an urban scene which allowed him to join forces with other artists and musicians. Although some people know Banksy, they refuse to disclose any information about him. The book "Home sweet Home, Banksy" allowed the audience an insight into aspects of his life, stating that he was born in 1974 and raised in Bristol, England. His father was said to be a photocopier technician and Banksy himself was trained to be a butcher; but instead, he was fond of graffiti and heavily involved during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980’s. Banksy’s style has been compared to artists such as ‘Blek le Rat’ who started working in Paris, predominantly on stencil drawings, in addition to Jef Aerosol who is also based in Paris. He has refused neither to be interviewed in person nor to disclose his name or any information which could lead police his whereabouts, which both captures and fascinates art lovers with his mysteriousness. Many people have claimed to know his real identity, including local newspapers, some which have published his speculated location. Many people have theorised that Banksy is not in fact an individual but rather a number of multiple people working in collaboration, with the idea stretching so far as to say it may be a group of political active street artists which spread their messages through their images. Regardless, Banksy has shown dedication, making him the most famous anonymous artist to date.  

Banksy’s art has resulted in thousand’s visiting the city of London in order to admire this consensus of public art. It is unlikely, worldwide, that one will be unfamiliar with the hard hitting images of graffiti and stencilled drawings on the streets of London.  Peter Gibson, a spokesman for Keep Britain Tidy, declares that Banksy’s work is vandalism. Furthermore, in his column for The Guardian, satirist Charlie Brooker wrote that Banksy’s "work looks dazzlingly clever to idiots." Although Banksy’s work can be classed as graffiti, he does not consider it a crime due to the fact that he receives no financial income from it, but it is nonetheless still considered as vandalism in the eyes of the law. "Most people think of art as a way of conveying emotions, as opposed to language, the means by which we express ideas. Whatever line there is distinguishing art and language; BANKSY paints over it to make it disappear, then stealthily repaints it in the unlikeliest of places (Sheppard, 2010)". Without the public attention derived from street art, Banksy’s message would not be portrayed as he intends. He does not wish for his paintings, nor art, to be displayed in museums as they attract a limited scope of visitors. He wants his images to be public to the world. Public art is presented as part of ‘making’ places and giving them purpose and meaning. Lippard (1997) argues that public art is a direct response to the site in which it is situated.  Yet it can add social dimensions that refer to history and human memory, land use and political agendas relevant to that specific place. However, public art could run the risk of losing its radicalism by asserting a conservative or a reactionary notion of place.  Kwon argues that public art therefore needs to reflect democratic ideals, especially those of the public realm: notions of identity, authority and social reality.

Public art has grown vastly in the past year due to its association with regeneration schemes. For Banksy’s sake almost 60% of local authorities adopt a public art policy of some kind. It has become a key role in ‘culture led regeneration’ and through that to be the subject of some ambitious claims.

Banksy’s work is greatly appreciated and admired by the youth of this generation, mainly due to the message which he spreads through the specific art form, which was only regarded as true in certain margins of society. Banksy is not merely considered an artist, but a philosopher and spoke person for political activities such as: capitalism, war, religion, totalitarianism and fascism; bringing the youth on broad with explicit artistic statements. Banksy has developed a large group of followers by inspiring direct statements towards youth and his constant dodging of authority, he is adored and idolised by individuals.

The luring nature of Banksy’s work within the hip-hop community is quite simple to understand and is linked with two significant factors. Firstly, graffiti has never had a universal flag-bearer which Banksy has now taken upon himself to represent. Secondly, the ease of his artwork, graffiti is included within a quarter of the so-called hip-hop culture, (but similar to breakdancing) it is largely disregarded by musical talents such as "MC’ing" and "DJ’ing".It would be inappropriate to disregard it, but some may argue that the hierarchy is equivalent to that of hip-hop elements, controlled majorly around media. Even though there are various graffiti artists who have come from this scene, none have had a similar universal attention to that of Banksy.

Banksy’s designs are nothing less than his best. Like a artist has to sign their name on the piece of art when finished, Banksy doesn’t need to as his images and work are so hard hitting and bold that people will instantly recognise his work to someone else’s. Through his combination of elements within the unconscious mind, for example  a dog which is shooting a record player, Banksy encourages fresh ideas and visions. The originality in his work is what attracts him to a worldwide audience. His intellect mixed with the witty sense of humour also favours him with the public. Banksy’s street art often revolves around a single key idea. Instead of existing as art in itself, his work tends to be founded on external concepts. Banksy’s perspective of the world is simplistic and somewhat uncomplicated, a manner which many can relate to, especially youth. He has the skills set to take broad extractions and making them into smaller size artwork. Rather than the use of pretext for his art, his artwork is used as a excuse of his imagination. Banksy’s expedition into social criticism expresses strongly in relation to this issue, where his art has become a gathering for his statements.

Merli (2002) argues that public art may change how people feel but not change the material conditions of their lives. Regeneration projects produce superficial change over which local people feel they have no control.  It can therefore be argued that Banksy’s work has become more complex, it is no longer ‘the simple dressing’ of a public place but reflects the specificity of place and seeks to connect with the people living there.

Overall Banksy’s work has brought financial income to the city of London and his ideas are looked more as a freedom of speech and a voice for the voiceless.  Though he is unknown, his form of public art is well known even on the other side of the globe as his images, thoughts and ideas are influential and powerful. His identity will probably always remain anonymous, but we can conclude that we know what he stands for and see’s himself as a social and political activist, opening people’s eyes to capitalism and other major social and political subjects.

"The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little." (Banksy, Wall of Piece)