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Biography

The art world’s agent provocateur in chief, Banksy has gone from Bristol-based graffiti writer to international street art sensation. In the 1990s, Banksy abandoned freehand painting in favour of the stencil – a quick and simple medium that allowed him to avoid police detection – quickly establishing himself as a major international player in a burgeoning street art scene.

Beginnings

Although the identity of world-famous British street artist Banksy remains the subject of much speculation, the artist’s origins as a freehand graffiti writer in 1990s Bristol is well-documented. Influenced by the work of Robert Del Naja, better known as 3D – a founding member of the Bristol Trip Hop band Massive Attack – Banksy began to make pieces in a style similar to those featured in the first ever hip hop film Wild Style, and the music video for Malcolm McLaren’s 1982 song, Buffalo Gals.

In the early 2000s, Banksy turned to a more time-efficient medium: the stencil. Bristol photographer Steve Lazarides took a shine to Banksy’s early stencil works, later becoming his assistant, collaborator, and agent. In 2003, Banksy held his first gallery exhibition, entitled Turf War, at a warehouse in Hackney, East London, achieving breakthrough success.

First Works

One of the earliest and longest surviving of Banksy’s works, the mural Take The Money And Run, was painted during the early 1990s in collaboration with Bristol graffiti writers Inky and Mobz. It depicts the silhouettes of three thieves and features the New York-inspired graffiti lettering that was extremely popular amongst street artists during that period.

Another notable example of Banksy’s early œuvre is the mural The Mild Mild West. Painted in 1998, it depicts a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at three police clad in riot gear. In 2002, Banksy stencilled the equally well-known image Gorilla In A Pink Mask onto the wall of a social club in Bristol’s Eastville. The work remained in situ for almost ten years before being inadvertently removed in July 2011.

Success

Following the critical success of Turf War (2003), Banksy continued to create subversive art. In 2004, the artist produced around £1 million of spoof British banknotes featuring the head of Diana, Princess of Wales (entitled Di Faced Tenners), some of which he threw into the crowd at London’s Notting Hill Carnival later in the same year.

Following a trip to the Palestinian territories in August 2005, however, Banksy made international headlines for the first time. Painting a series of six pieces onto what fellow street artist Eine has described as the ‘biggest wall in the world’ – the West Bank barrier – this critical moment in the artist’s career saw him achieve global recognition overnight. The massive response to this event from both global media and the art market alike was then described as the ‘Banksy effect’. In 2007, Bombing Middle England was sold for over £102,000, then the highest ever price achieved by a Banksy work at auction.

Most Famous Works

Many of Banksy’s works have become internationally recognisable. In 2017, one of the artist’s stencil pieces, Girl With Balloon (first painted onto Waterloo Bridge, London in 2002 and later released as an unsigned and signed print series in 2004) was voted the UK public’s favourite piece of British art. Another well-known piece, Love Is In The Air, also known as the Flower Thrower or LIITA, first appeared in 2003 as a large format stencilled graffiti in Bethlehem, Palestine, shortly after the construction of the West Bank Wall. It has since gone on to grace the cover of the first major Banksy monograph, Banksy: Wall And Piece, released in 2005. Other famous works by the maverick street artist include Pulp Fiction, which first appeared as a stencilled piece close to Old Street tube station, London, and Queen Victoria, a piece portraying the famously prudish Queen engaged in a sex act.

Influences

Banksy’s early freehand pieces, such as Take The Money And Run, were influenced by the graffiti that had appeared in New York during the 1980s, a style made internationally famous by the hip hop film, Wild Style. Many of his early contemporaries, namely graffiti writers 3D, Inkie and Nick Walker, had attempted to recreate these kind of works in their native Bristol. Banksy’s later stencil works bear striking similarity to the street paintings of Parisian artist Xavier Prou, who operates under the pseudonym Blek Le Rat. One of the first street artists in the French capital and a former architecture student, Prou has been creating stencil-based artworks since the early 1980s and is often dubbed the ‘Father of stencil graffiti’.

A producer of deeply satirical art, Banksy has taken great inspiration from canonical artists and their work, including Keith Haring – whose trademark dog he recreates in the piece Choose Your Weapon – and Andy Warhol.

Style & Technique

Banksy is well-known for his bold, two-tone style, a product of the stencils he uses extensively in his work. When working on the street, the artist targets highly visible areas which often relate to the content of his works. In the case of Love Is In The Air, for example, a piece first installed onto a wall in Bethlehem, Palestine, its subject matter directly references the practice of stone throwing prevalent in the region. In 2017, Banksy painted a large mural depicting a man on a ladder chipping away at one of the EU flag stars in Dover, England, a town on the south coast which hosts a lot of traffic from mainland Europe.

In 2003 and 2004, Banksy used ‘guerrilla’ tactics to hang his own paintings on walls at the Tate Britain gallery, London’s Natural History Museum and The Louvre in Paris. Commenting on one of these stunts, Banksy’s former agent Steve Lazaris commented: ‘I saw a member of staff walk up to it, check it was attached properly, read the text and walk away’.

Life & Times

Little is known about the identity of Banksy, with some even claiming that the artist is not one person but rather a collective of individuals. In 2010, Banksy directed the film Exit Through The Gift Shop, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Following the story of Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in Los Angeles who sets out to make a documentary about Banksy, many have speculated that the film itself was a publicity stunt, designed to make viewers question the commodification of art in recent years.

On The Market

The artist’s work continues to perform extremely well both inside and outside of the art market, with the value of Banksy prints more than doubling in 2020-21. In 2020, there was an 85% year on year increase in the average value of Banksy prints.

In 2018, an auction at Sotheby’s auction house in London featuring one of Banky’s Girl With Balloon works saw the painting sold for a grand total of around $1.3 million. Within seconds of the gavel drop, the artwork unexpectedly shredded itself. It was later revealed that Banksy had built a shredding mechanism into the frame, which was then triggered by an unknown member of the audience. This hybrid piece, entitled Love Is In The Bin, sold again for a staggering £18.5 million – a record for the artist – in October 2021.

Prints and Editions

Around 70 Banksy print releases have taken place over the last two decades, comprising an estimated 30,000 individual prints. It is assumed that around 10,000 of these are signed by the artist and unsurprisingly, Banksy’s signed works sell for significantly higher than those that are not. It is almost laughable today that back in 2004, upon the original release of his Girl with a Balloon print, 150 signed copies of Banksy’s preeminent motif sold for only £150, with the 600 unsigned going for only £75. In contrast, an edition from this very same series sold for £438,500 at Sotheby’s in 2020, demonstrative of the consistent interest and increase in value ascribed to the artist’s work and his ability to remain relevant.

While Banksy has not released any new prints since Sale Ends V2 in 2017, there is a huge secondary market for both his signed and unsigned works. Another of his popular motifs, the Rat, seen in prints such as Gangsta Rat, (2004) originally released in 2004 as a 750 print series, has only grown in popularity - increasing in value by over 1000% between 2008 - 2020.

Love Is In The Bin by Banksy

Image © Sotheby's / Love Is In The Bin © Banksy 2021

1. £18.6M for Banksy's Love Is In The Bin

What is the key to making returns on a Banksy? Destroying it apparently. Love Is In The Bin had an incredible increase in value when it returned to auction, in it’s half-shredded condition, at Sotheby’s London on 14 October 2021.

Back in 2018, Banksy pulled one of the most famous stunts in art history, when he tried to destroy his painting Girl with Balloon, now Love Is In The Bin, at a Sotheby’s auction. As the hammer went down Girl with Balloon slid through a hidden shredder in the frame and produced an altogether new work. Love Is In The Bin is the only work of art to be created live at auction and is Banksy’s all time highest record sale, achieving a staggering £18,582,000.

Game Changer by Banksy

Game Changer © Banksy 2020

2. £16.8M for Banksy's Game Changer

Banksy’s Game Changer raised £16,758,000 for the NHS when it was sold at Christie’s 20th Century Art Evening Sale in London on 23 March 2021 – exactly one year after the UK’s first national lockdown. The price started at £1.6 million and skyrocketed as the 15-minute bidding battle unfolded, with the work eventually selling for almost seven times its £2.5million low estimate.

Banksy had donated the painting to Southampton General Hospital in May 2020, in recognition for the front-line workers’ tireless work during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. A reproduction of Game Changer now hangs in the same place at the hospital.

Sunflowers From Petrol Station by Banksy

Sunflowers From Petrol Station © Banksy 2005

3. £10.7M for Banksy's Sunflowers From Petrol Station

On 9 November, 2021, the iconic painting Sunflowers from Petrol Station sold for $14.5million (£10.7million) at Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale in New York.

The work came directly from the private collection of the high profile British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, and transports Vincent Van Gogh’s world famous series of Sunflower paintings into the contemporary context of the climate crisis. Not only does this work exemplify Banksy’s skill as a painter, but it is also exemplary of the artist’s unmatched ability to use wit and humour to point to pressing global issues. 

Devolved Parliament by Banksy

Devolved Parliament © Banksy 2009

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