As one of the most elusive figures on the contemporary art scene, Banksy continues to be the subject of speculation around his identity, background and net worth. Here we take a deep dive into what is known about the street artist and try and answer some of the burning questions that follow his every move.

Choose Your Weapon by Banksy - Lemon

Who is Banksy?

While some believe him to be Bristolian Robert del Naja of the band Massive Attack, others have speculated that he is not, in fact, one person but many; meanwhile there are still those who believe the artist to be a woman, the writer Will Ellsworth Jones (who published a book entitled Banksy: The man behind the wall) or even the beloved Neil Buchanan of Art Attack fame. Many theories are ridiculous, but really the answer is probably, do we really want to know? There are too many theories to count and the true magic of Banksy as an icon is that he could be anyone. His voice, and the message behind his work, resonates all the more because of this very fact.

Meanwhile the theories continue. Recently criminologists at Queen Mary University used a geoprofiling to map the movements of suspects according to where Banksy’s latest murals had popped up. Banksy and his lawyers have never accepted or rejected any claim, preferring to leave the papers and the public guessing.

As the artist himself has said, “If you want to say something and have people listen then you have to wear a mask. If you want to be honest then you have to live a lie.”

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What does Banksy look like?

As for what Banksy looks like we have little to go on except for a few times he has been ‘spotted’ near his graffiti sites, and more recently a video posted by the artist himself on Instagram where he is seen in full protective gear spraying his famous rats – now covered with covid-19 masks – on the walls of a tube carriage. From this it was possible to glean that Banksy is a tall white man but it’s hard to say more beyond that. Occasionally there are clues from interviewers such as when Guardian journalist Simon Hattenstone described Banksy in 2003 as “white, 28, scruffy casual – jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring. He looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of The Streets”. If this is correct then Banksy would be around the age of 45 today.

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How does Banksy make money?

While much of Banksy’s art is free to view on the street or online the artist makes a roaring trade through limited edition prints and products, sold through exhibitions or ventures such as Gross Domestic Product, which saw him add his own satirical twist to upcycled products and home furnishings. He is also set to launch his own outlet for secondary market sales, named BBay, but no date has been confirmed yet.

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How much is Banksy worth?

Estimates for Banksy’s net worth range from $100,000 to $50 million, however it’s hard to know for sure given the artist’s secret identity and the fact that he makes no money from his murals – even if they are signed or claimed by the local council as public artworks – or secondary market sales. And while pop-up shops such as Gross Domestic Product can be hugely successful, other experiments have proved less profitable, such as the time when the artist set up an anonymous street stall in New York which was largely ignored by passers-by and ended up making just $420 from works of art that would now be valued at around $225,000.

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Where is Banksy now?

It is thought that the elusive artist moved from his hometown of Bristol to London in 2000. Since then his artworks have appeared all over the world including Palestine, the US, Australia and Italy, suggesting the artist is constantly on the move. His most recent Instagram post, a video of himself graffiting a tube carriage, places him in London, suggesting that the artist too has been limited by the nationwide lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Has Banksy ever been caught?

In 2014 a story broke out saying that Banksy had been arrested by an ‘Anti-Graffiti Task Force’ and his identity revealed as Liverpudlian Paul Horner. In fact Horner engineered the whole thing but the news quickly gained traction and before you could say ‘fake news’ a number of newspapers and websites had begun broadcasting the story without fact-checking it first. Interestingly, in his book Wall and Piece Banksy writes that when he first began graffiting he would never be able to finish an artwork before he had to run away from the police or local authorities. It was during one such moment, when he was hiding under a rubbish truck, that he came up with the idea to use stencils to minimise the time spent spraying, ensuring he remains free to paint another day.

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How do I contact Banksy?

While many leave hopeful comments and questions on Banksy’s Instagram posts, it’s hard to know if they ever hear back from the anonymous street artist. The official way to get in contact is through the Banksy authentication service Pest Control at [email protected].

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Has Banksy sold out?

While some see his growing interest in selling his work himself as proof that he wants to make art more accessible to the general public, others see ventures such as BBay and Gross Domestic Product as further signs that the once renegade artist is joining the establishment and selling out his hardcore fans who never thought they would see the day when Banksy homewares were being recommended by the Evening Standard. And while previously he has stated that ‘copyright is for losers’ the artist recently sued a museum for using his name to sell products, showing that the artist does believe in intellectual property after all and is not quite so invested in the open source ideology of his youth.

Most art market commentators were unsurprised at the launch of GDP, which saw Banksy take sales into his own hands after a second company attempted to sell a range of ‘Banksy’ merchandise. For them Banksy was merely following in the footsteps of figures such as Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol, who thought art and commerce were ideal bedfellows. As art market adviser and analyst Ivan Macquisten commented, “Damien Hirst has always said that the marketing of his art is part of the artistic process – in fact possibly the most important part. With Banksy, this whole idea about control is becoming part of the artwork itself.” Meanwhile on social media, some of Banksy’s most avid fans had something to say about his latest commercial venture, asking “Wasn’t Banksy supposed to be art for the people without the need for payment? We all need money to survive I suppose…” and “All of this is really cool stuff but doesn’t the online website kinda go against the whole anti-consumerism idea portrayed in all his art?”

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Why is Banksy called Banksy?

In Banksy Myths & Legends, Marc Leverton writes that Banksy earned his ‘tag’ through his skills as a goalkeeper, receiving the nickname ‘Banksy’ by his teammates after the England goalkeeper Gordon Banks. Other sources claim however that his earliest tag was ‘Robin Banx’ which later became the more catchy ‘Banksy’.

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Why is Banksy so famous?

When Banksy first broke onto the scene in the early 2000s it seemed like he had sparked a revolution, bringing the medium of graffiti – traditionally associated with vandalism – to the forefront of contemporary art. His work, which ranged from satirical jibes at society to outspoken critiques of capitalism, made headlines, appearing overnight on London walls and causing heated debate over his true identity.

As well as pointing fun at individuals in positions of power, Banksy has also been known to target large corporations such as Tesco and Apple, in the tradition of ‘brandalism’. In this way Banksy has earned himself a reputation as a kind of Robin Hood or Guy Fawkes figure, inviting the viewer to enjoy an uncomfortable humour where they are both in on the joke and find themselves to be the butt of it.

Over the years he has also aligned himself with famous names such as Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer and David Shrigley, with whom he collaborated on his 2015 venture, Dismaland, which has pushed his work to the upper end of the art market. And though he has been around for almost three decades, his particular brand of street art has never really fallen out of fashion. Whether commenting on Brexit, global warming or the Coronavirus pandemic, Banksy brings to his art biting wit and a refreshing perspective that remains relevant and appealing to fans around the world.

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