An observation deck in Sydney Harbor bears black stenciled letters that read, “This is not a photo opportunity.”
On the door of a trash dumpster, a stenciled arrow points to heaps of trash on the ground with the words “DESIGNATED PICNIC AREA.”
In the Melbourne Zoo, a monkey holds between his teeth a sign reading, “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here.”
All are clearly the work of one man – Banksy. Or are they?
Stencil artist? “Guerrilla” artist? Brandalist? A simple vandal? Arguably some of each; Banksy is not is your average graffiti artist. Forced by a below-average artistic ability to express himself with stencils, the London native has developed a style of art that adheres to few rules and always goes after the rulers.
While some of his pieces are signed at the bottom with a stenciled “BANKSY,” others, such as the Sydney Harbor piece, are anonymous and identifiable only by their block letters and the artist’s signature socio-political wit.
But his work is not just restricted to stencils. On a gate in Soho, Banksy posted a bill containing two stanzas. The bill, poem, artwork – whatever you want to call it – titled “Love Poem,” ends with the lines:
And when I awoke
From a vast and smiling peace
I found you bathed in morning light
All the messages on my phone
Banksy the poet?
In Banksy’s work, the process of artistic creation is just as important as – if not more important than – the final product. Indeed, one of the major thrills of looking at a Banksy is knowing that the artist conspicuously broke the law without being detected.
Even the artist seems to appreciate his feats. His small book, “Cut it Out,” includes stills of him stealthily mounting one of his works on the walls of the Tate Gallery in Britain.
He’s had similar successes in the Natural History Museum in London, as well as the Louvre in Paris.
Banksy also made a possible future contribution to art dictionaries when he coined the term “brandalism.”
“Advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity,” he writes on a page titled “Brandalism.”
“Fuck that. Any advert[isement] in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours.”
On the opposing page is a poster he designed for Greenpeace that depicts the characters of “The Jungle Book” in an area of deforestation. Their eyes are blindfolded, their arms bound and a few feet away an executioner stands casually with an ax resting on his shoulder.
Few people can connect Banksy’s name to a face. The artist has managed to pull off the seemingly impossible task of remaining virtually anonymous while being contracted for high profile art projects.
Rumors, however, circulate.
The artist, who risked his renegade persona by doing ads for Puma, was allegedly photographed by Jamaican photographer Peter Dean Richards.
Though the artist’s agent denied being photographed, Richards continues to insist that the photos are of Banksy.
Richard’s claim is made more credible by one of the pictures that shows “Banksy” in the act of stenciling a Banksy-like piece.
However, there’s no guarantee that this Banksy is the real Banksy. Because he’s anonymous and his depiction of figures is not especially stylized, anyone with a stencil and a knack for socio-political humor could mimic Banksy’s work.
Fans can’t even be sure that all of Banksy’s works were created by a single artist. And with all this doubt, who’s to say that he’s not really a she?