Banksy's Portrait Of An Artist

Year: 1998
Medium: Oil
Dimensions: 100 x 141cm
Last Hammer: £50,000 (Bonhams New Bond Street, 2011)
Signed/Unsigned: Unsigned
This work by Banksy shows a painter creating on a large canvas. A dragon-like creature poses for him in front of a red curtain, but the artist is painting a human-like figure on the canvas instead.Portrait Of An Artist © Banksy 1998
Joe Syer

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Throughout Banksy’s oeuvre, one would be hard-pressed to find a work as remarkable as his Portrait Of An Artist, created in 1998. This oil painting delves into the self-reflective realm that has long fascinated creatives throughout art historical tradition. With a visual pun characteristic of Banksy, it depicts an artist at the nascent stage of composition, his subject a peculiar juxtaposition of a dragon-like entity and human fragments. This piece challenges our perceptions of artistic identity and perception, as well as the dichotomy of high and low culture – all wrapped in Banksy's quintessential humour and flair for the unexpected.

Portrait Of An Artist: Meaning & Analysis

The striking oil painting is a dialogue between the artist and his craft, executed with an intellectual complexity that belies its initial visual simplicity. Said to be Banksys’ first work created explicitly for sale, this piece stands as a testament to his fascination with the artist's psyche and the cultural significance of creative self-portrayal. The male painter in the artwork, ensconced before a large canvas, is caught in the delicate endeavour of creation. The canvas, a meta-commentary within itself, showcases fragments of a human figure in the throes of being brought to life. It is here that Banksy's characteristic wit takes centre stage: rather than a conventional muse, an alien creature, reminiscent of dragons from mythological lore, holds court as the sitter. This unexpected muse suggests a lightness to Banksy's work, a playful nudge at the seriousness often associated with the art world. It also begs the question of artistic perception, presenting the artist as a deeply unreliable narrator.

Portrait Of An Artist metaphorically invites viewers into the sacrosanct space of an artist's workshop, illustrating the conscious and subconscious process of artistic expression even as the anonymity of the painter's figure is preserved. This is in itself a clear nod to Banksy's own concealed identity, cleverly intertwined with the artwork's narrative. The work seems to ask the viewer to interrogate their relationship with the artist: if we do not know who he is, how can we trust his perception? Or perhaps do we trust him exactly because of his anonymity?

Portrait Of An Artist is a compelling exploration of the artist's relationship with his craft, blending Banksy’s trademark wit with a reflective look at artistic creation.”

Joe Syer
Joe Syer,Co-Founder & Specialist,MYArtbroker

Banksy and (the Disruption of) Artistic Tradition

Banksy's selection of oil as a medium is itself a dialogue with art historical canon. Oil painting is often associated with the Old Masters and the classical tradition of art – a contrast to the ephemeral nature of street art for which Banksy is renowned for. By choosing this medium, Banksy bridges a gap between permanence and transience, between the established canon of fine art and the rebellious streak of street art. This choice also speaks much about the stage of the career he was in, as the year 1998 marks an interesting period that saw the artist honing his craft and exploring new terrains as he solidified his name in the art world. Portrait Of An Artist is indicative of this exploratory phase, where the artist pushed the boundaries of his expression and challenged the viewer to keep pace with his evolving narrative and methodology.

This artwork, while rooted in humour, is a complex study of the artist's role in society. It is a typically self-aware piece, one that both criticises and reveres the act of artistic creation and human responses to it. Banksy's use of a traditional art form to express a theme he often explored in street art demonstrates a convergence of worlds, a melding of disparate elements into a cohesive whole. His wit, coupled with his technical skill, creates a multilayered narrative that resonates with viewers on multiple levels despite mediums. It is this depth that has allowed Banksy to maintain his relevance and provoke thought decades after first breaking out into the graffiti scene in Bristol.

Ultimately, Portrait Of An Artist is a multifaceted examination of self-image and the contrasts of the artistic journey. While Banksy engages with historical motifs and cultural commentary, he maintains his signature anonymity and biting humour, and this piece encapsulates the artist's playful interrogation of creative norms and the arbitrary divisions within the art world. It remains a compelling piece of Banksy's oeuvre, encapsulating the humour, depth, and critique that define his career – all while inviting viewers to question the layers beneath the surface of both art and artist.

Portrait Of An Artist: Exhibition History

Easton, Bristol, 1999

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