He can perhaps be most thanked for widening the audience to graffiti or, what it is now becoming more popularly known as: "street art". However, there is a famous problem with our famous stenciller: we say his name like we are familiar with him, we nod in understanding at his understated but strong political messages but, and most importantly, we do not have the slightest clue who he is.
Who is Banksy?
This post has been inspired by an impromptu visit to an exhibition close to Tottenham Court Road station showing the creations of one street artist named Mr. Brainwash. The work involved stunned me. A portrait of the Beatles made from cut up pieces of vinyl set on an uber-trendy Union Jack background? A gigantic gorilla made from tyres? Random white horses doused in paint? Yes, Please.
|Life sized taxi|
As I had no idea what the exhibition was all about but was loving every moment of it, I had to ask visitors what the hell I was seeing. Whilst I queued patiently to receive my free posters, one woman introduced me to the name "Mr Brainwash" but she firmly believed it was Banksy. I nodded eagerly in agreement like I totally knew about the whole Banksy argument.
But who is our favourite graffiti artist of the present day? Despite all the international recognition and the fact that he must have to create his graffiti masterpieces out on the open road in public, Banksy has never been named. The most we are told about him from interviewers is that he is from Bristol, born in 1974 and wears tracksuits. The most he himself will ever say, judging by his minimalist website, is that he comes from a dysfunctional family and doesn't want an intern thank you very much.
Not only can we ask Who is Banksy? But who is Mr. Brainwash? The creator of this amazing exhibition I visited. The styles were so eerily similar. Thierry Guetta, who goes by the moniker Mr. Brainwash, has a very different persona to Banksy. For instance, he has a biography. According to LA Times: Guetta was born in 1966 in Garges-lès-Gonesse, a seedy suburb a half-hour drive north of Paris, the youngest of five children of Tunisian Jews who had moved to France to escape persecution. His mother died when he was a child, and when Guetta was 15, his father moved the family to Los Angeles.
From this, he sounds as real as can be. The story is surreal, about Tunisians that were Jewish and ended up living in LA but it has been concretly supported by public records and accounts from friends, past employers and family. This appears to support the argument that Guetta is real and does exist but it does not prove whether he is the alter ego "Mr. Brainwash". Guetta himself is not clear about this and only goes on to add that "in the end, I became his biggest work of art."
Whatever that means.
Perhaps its just my paranoia and distrust for everything I'm told, but I refuse to believe it all. Isn't Banksy/Mr. Brainwash a street artist? Where has all these differing mediums come from? I mean, one person who can create a gigantic tyre gorilla AND paint a replica of one of my favourite paintings but doctored into the modern age (look below)? I find it hard to believe. But if this really is all possible from only one pair of hands, I want to meet this person.
|Edward Hopper Chop Suey updated|
He must be an amalgamation of artists. Perhaps a certain crowd from Bristol Arts School all cleverly conspiring together, you know, like they do at the Pentagon and Area 51 . They have a clever link of artists across the globe thus can perpetuate the myth to places like LA. It is perhaps a response to the modern day which asks the question: who buys art these days anyway? These are tough times. For many, paying the mortgage and buying food in a time of job scarcity tends to take more presidency over art pieces. However, artists need food too. What else can they do rather than simply create a pretty yet satirical piece of work that is only admired and never purchased?
For me, this is where art becomes clever. Banksy would never have become such a hit if we knew everything. Curiosity is human nature, intrigue of the unknown is what we crave. It is easier for many to fall madly in love with the unattainable: "I want that Cartier watch!" "Why doesn't my ex-girl/boyfriend want me back?" "Her food choice looks better than mine, I wonder if she'll mind if I take some?" It drives us mad but its what we believe is best for us.
I, for one, enjoy the conspiracy around it. There may, by all means, be just one artist taking to the streets with a hoody and spray can and perhaps also I could follow suit and remove my "About Me" page..
Or, ermm, on the other hand, nahh thanks! Its a conspiracy and my "About Me" page will remain as is!
More conspiracy hunting can be done by watching the film "Exit Through the Gift Shop" featuring Banlsy and Mr. Brainwash which I am yet to watch, so haven't included in this blog.
INTERVIEWER: Are you still friends with Mr. Brainwash?
BANKSY : I like to think so. When I asked him what he thought about the film he said "This is a cult movie, this is a classic movie, this movie stands alone, like The Godfather."