Banksy is undoubtably the world’s most sought-after and talked about street artist, his work represents his political and social commentary on the world, and has appeared on city walls throughout it – from London to New York, from Jamaica to the Gaza Strip.
Banksy is not only known for his high profile murals, he has been releasing limed edition prints for over 18 years, produced in various formats, including signed and unsigned works, as well as artist proofs. However, only a very select number of people know exactly what the elusive street artist creates and how many he releases. Some editions, for example, are only made available to VIPs, collectors and friends of Banksy’s who are part of the much-coveted inner circle. This has only made the demand for his limited edition silkscreen prints and artists proofs in circulation, grow in popularity year on year.
The question on everyone’s lips has long been – who is Banksy? In fact, this has been the biggest question since first Banksy appeared on the street art scene over 20 years ago. The answer is – we still don’t know. Speculation is rife as to the identity of the most elusive urban artist in town.
He has been ‘outed’ as Robin Gunningham by scientists claiming to use ‘geographic profiling’ to determine his identity. He has been named as Robert 3D Del Naja (the frontman of the Bristol band, Massive Attack) by journalist Craig Williams; which has been more recently approved by Goldie, the British DJ and artist who was part of the graffiti scene with Del Naja in the late 1980s.
There is even speculation that Damien Hirst is Banksy and Banksy is Damien Hirst, one and the same. To this date, however, no Banksy identity claim has ever been proven.
So, here is what we do know; Banksy wants to remain anonymous, he is British, and from Bristol, in the South West of England, and that he was likely born between 1970 and 1974. His focus is to create provocative stencil designs and murals that are politically and satirically minded. We also know, the artist was inspired by Blek Le Rat and similar provocative artists of the time, and that he was part of a graffiti crew: DryBreadz, in his home-town of Bristol in the early 1990s. The assumption is that Banksy is a man, not a woman, or a collective, but we can't be sure. We also know that it was at the age of 18 that Banksy had begun to develop what would become his trademark stencil technique and in the very early 2000s, he moved from Bristol to London, where he began to gain major notoriety and a reputation for his bold, challenging and humorous murals.
Everything else is speculation.
So why does Banksy seek to remain anonymous, refuses to be interviewed and apparently even conceals his artistic identity from his family? On one hand, the reasons are self-explanatory, street art is illegal. In order to keep creating his works in the public domain, with works still popping up on walls around the world. Reportedly, most recently, at the Venice Biennale with his work dubbed Barca Nostra - depicting a migrant child wearing a lifejacket holding a fizzing neon pink flare above he head.
In short, Banksy needs to stay out of trouble. An unmasking might not only be detrimental to his brand but also his freedom. Ultimately though, being anonymous is integral to the Banksy brand, there's no denying the intrigue and mystique around his very identity boosts the artist's profile further.
When it comes to print releases, one of the most famous Banksy artworks is undoubtably Girl With Balloon, in recent years voted the UK's most favourite piece of art - nominated months before the same work became the subject of the most talked about public art stunt in history, when it self-destructed in front of the entire saleroom, as the hammer came down on the final £1.4 million bid. Banksy posted an image of the work shredding itself on his own Instagram feed the same day, with the caption: 'Going, going, gone … '. The original work which appeared in London in 2002, depicts a young girl losing a heart-shaped balloon to a gust of wind, alongside the text: 'There is always hope.'
Opinions differ wildly between collectors, fans, experts and the lay-person on the most popular Banksy. Some cite Keep it Spotless as the favourite, not only is it one of his most famous, but it is also the most expensive Banksy piece to date. It was auctioned on 14 February 2008 at Sotheby’s in New York. The artwork, which began life as a work by Damien Hirst was 'defaced' by Banksy, it's pre-sale estimate was $350,000, it sold for $1,700,000. The work depicts a stencilled hotel chambermaid - Leanne, on top of an iconic Spot work by Hirst, she appears to be pulling up Hirst’s original piece to sweep something behind it.
There's no denying that the price of Banksy prints continues to grow to astronomical heights, particularly on the secondary market. It is estimated there have been around 70 Banksy print releases over the past 18 years, amounting to some 30,000 prints by the British street artist in homes, private collections, galleries and museums around the world. Of those 30,000 only around one third are signed by Banksy, these are much sought after whilst the unsigned versions - still in high demand - make up a vast percentage of the work in circulation on the secondary market.
If you want to buy a Banksy, right now, whether signed or unsigned you will likely have to make a foray into the secondary market with new print releases available to the public are few and far between. Buying on the secondary market means buying from someone (an individual or gallery) that has a piece to sell.