With his artistic origins rooted in the subculture of graffiti, Banksy aims to provoke by making his audience reflect on social and political issues. He started his career with stencils, and has since explored other art forms, including documentary-making. The British artist – whose fame is enhanced by his anonymity – has become the most expensive and sought-after street artist in the world; his work sells for millions of dollars.
Sotheby’s Auction 2018
Banksy’s latest prank took place in front of a live audience. At a Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction in October, a famous Banksy piece, Girl with Balloon, sold for $1.4 million. No sooner had the hammer come down than the piece was automatically fed through a shredder that was concealed in its frame. The video went viral and speculation has already begun as to whether the stunt has increased the value of the artwork further. Banksy has since released a video of him installing the mechanism a few months previously. The artist wants to criticise the commercial aspect of the art market which is based on profit and speculation.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
On the same topic, Banksy explores the relationship between street art and its commercial value in his first feature-length documentary. In it, he retraces the life of the artist Thierry Guetta and his success in the art world. Ex-owner of a vintage shop in Los Angeles, Guetta began filming street artists, including Banksy, and ended up as a painter himself. The most interesting and controversial thing about the movie is the fact that Banksy uses videotape from the protagonist not only to create a biography but also to level a stinging critique at the art world. He shows how easily Brainwash has created his identity as an artist with money.
His earliest work is still among his most powerful. The stencils he has created have exposed a variety of social and political issues on the walls of various cities in the world. Through the use of provocative images and phrases, Banksy has often created polemical debates. A famous image of pigeons holding signs such as ‘go back to Africa’ and ‘migrants not welcome’ in front of a small exotic bird were painted in Claction-on-Sea, England, a week away from elections. Offended by this mural and to protect their campaign, local authorities have denounced him for racism, presumably without understanding the perspective of the artist.
Better Out Than In
In 2013, Banksy took part in a residency programme in New York. For his part, he undertook a project per day in the public space over the course of a week. From stencils to moving installations, the artist transformed the city into a controversial gallery of street art. As part of his residency, he positioned a fibreglass sculpture of McDonald’s mascot Ronald in front of one of their restaurants each day. The sculpture was having his shoes waxed by a real boy to depict the reality of a consumer society. On other days, he sold his artwork in Central Park for $60 to highlight the absurdity of the art market.
Copyright and subversion
As part of his artistic output, Banksy likes to play with others’ work and objects. A few years ago, he replaced the portrait of the Queen with a picture of Princess Diana on £10 notes, at the same time changing the phrase ‘Bank of England’ to ‘Banksy of England’. After releasing them to the public, their value shot up on eBay. This kind of stunt – featuring an illegal action that could lead to prison – makes his work even more collectible and prestigious. Also, using black humour, Banksy has adapted Monet’s famous Water Lilies painting by adding garbage and shopping trolleys to the canvas.
Featured image: © Dominic Robinson