Banksy is one of the most prominent artist of street art but nobody has ever managed to give him a face or an identity. His social-problems-inspired pieces of art became worldwide famous and you can find them almost all over the world. Here a guided tour among the most beautiful works of Banksy you can still admire
If you ever roamed art stands in some local markets, you most surely bumped into a reproduction of a Banksy. And probably you even bought it.
Who is Banksy? Just like a superhero, everyone tried to unmask him, but up to today no one could give a name or a face to the artist, not even The Daily Beast or other newspapers that tried to. What we know for sure is that he was born in Bristol, where he joined the local Dry Breadz Crew. With them, he painted his first freehanded works before changing to stencilling, which made him widely famous. In the book Wall and Piece Banksy himself tells that the idea of using stencils first came to him a night that he was running from the police.
Hidden under a rubbish lorry, he noticed its stencilled serial number and realized how faster it would have been to complete a work. Consequently, it would have been easier to avoid the police, too. That’s how anonymous walls of British suburbs started to be covered by satirical graffiti charged with irony and black humour and treating most relevant social plagues.
Even if Banksy’s graffiti are his most recognisable works, his provocations go beyond street art. In 2005 he got in and out of New York Metropolitan Museum hanging on a wall You have beautiful eyes, a nineteenth-century kind of painting depicting a woman wearing a gas mask. Other major museums share the same fate: Brooklyn Museum, MoMA, New York Natural History Museum, Tate Britain and British Museum all unconsciously displayed a Banksy.
The year after he held in Los Angeles his Barely Legal exposition, featuring a live 37-year-old elephant completely painted in pink and gold, just like the wallpaper of the perfectly British living room it was put in. As in the typical English expression, the elephant in the room represents a problem that, no matter how obvious it is, people keep overlooking. In this specific case, Banksy wanted to draw attention on world poverty.
Besides museums, Banksy also invaded TV in 2010, when he directed the opening sequence of a The Simpsons’ episode. In this first scene, Asian children, helped by pandas and unicorns, are producing in deplorable conditions TV show’s cell-by-cell and merchandising. A few months before, his documentary Exit through the gift shop about street art and market contradictions is presented at Sundance Festival, while it will be nominated as Best Documentary at 2011 Academy Awards. More recently, in August 2015, he opens Dismaland in Somerset.
It’s a dark amusement park featuring a ruined fairy tale castle. It hosts, among other attractions, installations by over 50 artists such as Damien Hirst and Jimmy Cauty. When the park closed his gates after six weeks, all the material was transferred to Calais to build shelters for migrants gathering in the port. Banksy himself visited the French city and painted two graffiti on the so-called Jungle’s walls: one depicts Steve Jobs, son of a Syrian migrant, with an old computer in his hands and the other inspired by The Raft of the Medusa.
War. Poverty. Capitalism. Politics:These are the themes loved by the artist. They are the same topics widely discussed by newspapers and TV all over the world and daily treated by websites. They are the same events under everyone’s eyes and that we know too well. Yet, every new work by Banksy is a total shock. And here lies all the power of his art. His works make us smile and think at the same time. Getting to a sense of immediacy and forcefulness that only pictures can reach. While all the words written or spoken cannot make us feel the same.
Many of Banksy’s works are now covered or vandalized. But some others resist on walls all across the world. The Italian Eye Magazine will escort you into the most important and meaningful of them.
BANKSY IN BRISTOL
A tour through Banksy’s works has to start here, in Bristol. The city where he moved his first steps into street art. In Easton you can find some of his first works. For instance Gorilla with a pink mask, accidentally painted over in 2011 and then partially restored. To get to the centre from here you need to cross Strokes Croft. Here, next to Hamilton House, you will be able to spot Mild Mild West, of his most celebrated works. It’s the picture of a teddy bear throwing a molotov cocktail to three police officers behind riot shields. Its purpose is to represent the spirit of Bistolians: peaceful and friendly people who can be roused to action. The whole neighbourhood around Strokes Croft is worth a visit for its high amount of graffiti. Street art fans will surely love the area.
Not so far away, the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery still displays Paint-Pot Angel. A work that Banksy made for an exhibition. Heading south, you will reach the river Avon. There you can visit the M Shed museum: over 3000 works by more or less famous Bristol citizens. Such as Massive Attack, Andy Council, Luke Palmer and, of course, Banksy. He contributes to the collection with Grim Reaper. This work was originally painted on the side of a boat but then it was removed and displayed in the museum. A few steps from the museum there’s Girl with a pierced eardrum: one of the most recent of Banksy’s works dating back to 2014. The graffiti is clearly inspired by Vermeer. But it has the building alarm box where the pearl earring used to be in the original masterpiece.
BANKSY IN LONDON
In London Banksy painted some of his most beautiful and representative pieces. But most of them don’t exist anymore since they have been painted over by other writers. Or buffed by the building owner. It happened to Sweep it under the carpet: the Chalk Farm maid hiding the dust under the curtains. Or Peel Fiction: a tribute to a scene Pulp Fiction scene where the two guns originally held by the two characters are replaced by bananas. In Southwark, in The Grange more precisely, you can still admire Choose your weapon. Probably the most enigmatic piece of Banksy: depicting a hooded man leeching a dog in Keith Haring style.
On the other side of the Thames, Falling shopper still stands on an anonymous wall with no windows on the small Bruton Lane. The stencil represents a woman falling down the building with her cart. In some sort of critic to consumerist society. You need to move to the east side of the city to find a discoloured Yellow Flower Painter: the flower is still well preserved while the man next to it almost completely faded away because of time. Not so far from here, in the garden of the Cardo in Rivington Street, you can find Guard Dog and His Master’s Voice. Behind a Perspex screen. It is a satirical revision of the famous gramophone brand His Master’s Voice. Twisted as a comment on music industry.
BANKSY IN NAPLES
The only proof of Banksy’s visit to Italy is in Naples. A city rich in contradictions and, probably for this same reason, loved by writers. Here Banksy painted two pieces. One of which has been painted over by another graffiti. It was an interpretation of Bernini’s holy sculpture Ecstasy of Ludovica Albertoni. But with cheeseburger and french fries in the hands: symbols of consumerism. The other work that still survives is in Piazza dei Gerolomini, where there is one of the most beautiful churches of the city.
Here, between an antique shop and an actual niche, there is the stencil of the Holy Virgin with a gun replacing her halo. Even if still intact and untouched, this work could easily fall apart. For this reason, in January, INWARD launched a petition to defend The Holy Virgin with the gun. In order to protect it as a real work of art would deserve.
BANKSY IN NEW YORK
In New York, in October 2013, Banksy made one work per day in his longest running installation: Better out than in. Many Of these pieces disappeared. But those who were immediately protected still exist. And they can be seen on the walls across the Big Apple.
In Manhattan Upper West Side, between 79th and Broadway, there is still the perfectly intact graffiti Hammer Boy. Because it was promptly put under a glass screen by the building owner. In Coney Island, in the south of the city, Tagging Robot still survives: a robot using a spraying bar code on a wall. Other lucky survivor is Ghetto 4 Life in the Bronx: here a young writer is helped by a butler who passes him a spray can.
The 2013 New York adventure became a movie: Banksy does New York. The movie tells the story of the whole project from the beginning. Including the daily research of new piece by fans.
BANKSY IN NEW ORLEANS
In 2008 Banksy paints 14 works in New Orleans. To remember Katrina hurricane. Today only three still exist: many were destroyed with the buildings during last years. Others were painted over or buffed. The well-known Flying Fridge, where a kid flies a fridge like a kite, doesn’t exist anymore. While Umbrella Girl, one of the most moving work of the artist, is still at the beginning of Kerlerec Street.
Both with a painter as main character, Grey Ghost and stick figure in Jackson Avenue and Grey Ghost and buffed sunflower between Clio Street and Carondolet Street are still visible. The last one, though, is not in its original conditions, since the sunflower was only partially buffed when first painted, while today it is completely covered.