One of the most recognised names in the world of art, he is also perhaps one of its best-kept secrets. As speculation around the real identity of Banksy continues, a new BBC podcast and Radio 4 series claims to have revealed his voice.
The 2005 recording, which has only previously been broadcast in the US on the All Things Considered news show on NPR (National Public Radio), has the artist on air for around three minutes, introducing himself as a “painter and decorator”. On being questioned about the legality of his work by the host, he reportedly states: “That’s what makes it good fun.. You can’t make an omelette (without breaking some eggs), can you? But it’s not in my interests to get arrested very often. It’s all about keeping going as long as you can. So, yeah, you have to think about these things. That’s the thing: mindless vandalism takes a lot more thought than most people would imagine.”
The public sharing of the voice comes at a time when the artist’s first authorised solo, after more than 14 years, is on at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). Titled “Cut & Run: 25 Years Card Labor,” the show includes never-before-seen stencils for some of Banksy’s iconic works, including Kissing Coppers, and a recent work in Ukraine.
Who is Banksy?
Bansky is known to work under the night sky, without permit. There is no formal confirmation on Banksy’s identity but his nationality is British and the artist is believed to have been born in the 1970s.
Though some believe that Banksy is a collective of artists and not an individual, two names are often proposed as possibilities — first is artist Robin Gunningham, former pupil at Bristol Cathedral School, and second is Robert Del Naja, a freehand graffiti artist in Bristol who worked with the name 3D, and is the founding member of trip hop collective Massive Attack.
The rise and rise of Banksy
Part of the larger Bristol underground scene in the 1990s, one of his earliest known large wall murals was The “Mild Mild West” in the late 1990s in his hometown. With a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at the police, it was made in response to the police crackdown against unlicensed parties.
Often making a political comment through his work, his depictions are often anti-establishment and anti-war. Having moved to stencils by 2000, some of his popular motifs on the streets have included subjects such as rats, policemen, soldiers, children and a girl with the balloon. If in his 2003 exhibition “Turf War” he painted on the bodies of live pigs, at an exhibition titled “Crude Oils” in London in 2005 he tweaked replicas of masters such as Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh for an exhibition at a small store where he also released more than 200 rodents. The same year, he also painted “Love is in the Air” on a wall on the Palestinian side of the West Bank.
Some of his prominent works have included “Napalm” (2004) with Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald flanking a naked, crying young girl, from the 1972 photograph from Vietnam, and the installation “Dismaland” (2015), modelled on Disneyland, which commented on the failings of the modern world.
For a work at the Barbican Centre in 2017, he borrowed elements from American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 work Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump, and his 2002 street art “Pulp Fiction” in London referenced a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film.
Coming under the hammer
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The street artist who works underground is also part of the mainstream art circuit, with several exhibitions to his credit and his works fetching astounding prices at auctions. The most expensive, till date has been the sale of the shredded version of “Girl with Balloon”, which initially sold at an auction in 2018. The hammer had just come down when a shredder hidden in the frame was switched on. The shredded work, subsequently retitled “Love is in the Bin”, sold for USD 25.4 million in 2021.
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Another Banksy sale that made news recently was the sale of “Game Changer”, donated to the Southampton General Hospital in Southampton, Hampshire, England, in May 2020, as a tribute to healthcare workers. The black-and-white sketch of a boy playing with a doll dressed in the Red Cross uniform fetched USD 23 million at Christie’s in London in March 2021.
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The sale of his artwork has attracted attention for reasons beyond the millions they have fetched. For instance, just before the 2021 sale of “Love is in the Air” — depicting a protester about to throw a bouquet instead of a molotov cocktail — auction house Sotheby’s announced that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether will be accepted as modes of payment. This was the first instance when a recognised auction house accepted cryptocurrency at a major sale, and the work sold at USD 12.9 million, with the payment made in cryptocurrency.