A Bristol-based street artist Banksy who’s been active since 1990s is a household name. There is hardly a person who either has not seen his artwork or has not heard his name. Why do people love Banksy paintings and pay thousands of dollars for them?
Banksy: Who Is?
Despite the worldwide fame of his artwork, paintings and sculptures, Banksy’s biggest achievement to date is his complete anonymity. Nobody still knows either his real name, or his date of birth, or other personal trivia. He was inspired by such artists as 3D of Massive Attack and Paris-based Blek Le Rat, whose stenciling technique he borrowed. However, the overt political and social spin he gives to even the simplest of pieces has put Banksy in spotlight, where he confidently remains. Some critics argue that Banksy’s work lacks originality, others claim that it is mere vandalism. Banksy himself admits that he is forced to remain anonymous because he has broken the law too often. Yet the ‘Banksy effect’ has propelled street art to new heights, and Banksy is the one who deserves the credit.
Some works by Banksy are no longer there. The works he produced in 1990s – Madonna in Red Bed (1994) and Lady Macbeth (1996) – exist only in memory. Banksy rose to fame in 2000s when his work in Bristol and London began to draw attention from both the public and the authorities.
Love Is In the Air (2003)
Banksy paintings often speak against violence and war. The influence of Mid-Eastern and Vietnamese conflicts on his art is obvious. In this piece a street protester is throwing a bouquet of flowers instead of the Molotov cocktail. This is a strong reference to the anti-Vietnam war protests in 1967 where the protesters carried flowers. Banksy titled the picture after a famous pop song by Paul Young. Years later, the piece made its return as a sculpture by Brandalism and Medicom Toy. Rage, Flower Bomber (2017) is an exact 36-mm Polystone resin copy of the rioter.
Napalm girl (2004)
With this work it is easy to notice how much inspiration Banksy takes from the 20th century photography. Napalm takes the central image from the award-winning photo The Terror of War by Nick Ut during a napalm attack of 8 June, 1972. Banksy’s piece, known also as Can’t Beat That Feeling, shows a naked 9-year-old girl Phan Ti Kim Phuc escaping the attack, accompanied by the key figures of American pop-culture, Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald. An array of meanings in the picture includes the fate of innocence and childhood at the hands of oppressive, neurotic Disneyland culture.
Yet another piece from mid-2000s gives an antiwar twist to a well-known image of ex-president George W. Bush deploying a bomber. A fighter jet is shown on the runway of a massive aircraft carrier. The entire work is monochromatic, except for two air traffic controllers in yellow high visibility jackets. One of them carries a poster with the word APPLAUSE printed in red ink. Here Banksy mocks the usual press support of any governmental military move, as well as the way military conflicts become trivial. The entire scene resembles a live show where the audience sees posters asking to cheer on cue. This was the artist’s way to protest against the war in Iraq championed by the President Bush.
Banksy paintings all have a different fate. The famous piece, Pulp Fiction (2002), was painted over by Transport for London, for being “an act of vandalism promoting neglect and social decay”. Naked Man (2006) on the side of a sexual health clinic in Bristol is now protected by both the clinic and the city. The only known work by Banksy in Italy, Madonna with a Pistol, is in Naples and also under protection.
Sometimes the artist willingly effaces his own artwork, as it happened to one of his most famous paintings, Girl with Balloon. During an auction at Sotheby’s in 2018 a shredder was activated within a frame, and the piece, was partially destroyed, presumably by Banksy himself. The artist claimed thus creating a new piece, Love Is in the Bin, clearly a reference to Love Is in the Air.