Banksy is one of the most famous unknown person in the world. He (or could it be a she?) is a mysterious graffiti artist, with a secret identity and recognized works. Banksy’s new art comes when you least expect it, and it automatically drives the attention of the world to that spot.
While Banksy can arouse the ire of authorities and some owners of the wall chosen as canvas, he’s also able to increase the tourism of a place as it attracts the interest of street art fans and people curious to understand what’s going on.
Who is Banksy?
In a nutshell, we can say that he’s a street artist whose extremely politicized graffiti have become so well-known that they have ceased to appear exclusively on walls and now occupy the interior of galleries. His real name and face, however, were never revealed.
The artist’s early works began to pop up in Bristol, southwest England, in the 1980s. Because of that, he’s believed to be an English artist of about 40 years-old. He is said to be the son of a photocopier technician and would’ve worked as a butcher before engaging in graffiti, but it’s impossible to confirm this information.
Although the truth is unknown, there’s no shortage of speculation about who is the person behind the drawings. The most famous and, so far, considered the most plausible hypothesis was revealed by the Scottish reporter Craig Williams, who crossed dates and places of the Massive Attack band with dates and places where new works attributed to Banksy appeared. For the journalist, these data point to Robert Del Naja as Banksy.
Corroborating this theory, DJ Goldie has given interviews in which he talked about the graffiti artist and used Naja’s name to refer to him. There’s also the fact that Goldie and Naja made graffiti together in the 1980s. However, both Banksy and Robert Del Naja denied the information.
Another possibility that has many supporters is that Banksy is actually a collective of people. This hypothesis is supported by the argument that his works are too complex (even while made with stencil) and too scattered around the world to be done by only one person.
Banksy and Europe, Europe and Banksy
Banksy’s story blends with the history of England itself. The graffiti artist’s early work began to appear in the late 1980s when Europe was experiencing the rise of aerosol. During this period, street artists found very fertile ground to spread their art on walls.
In the same period, Frenchman Blek Le Rat gained space by working with stencils in Paris. Experts point to the Frenchman as an inspiration to Banksy, as their styles are very similar.
Since the content of his work always carries strong political content, he continues to associate himself with major historical events. One of Banksy’s most recent works to appear in Dover, for example, shows a man breaking with a hammer one of the stars of the European Union flag, in a reference to Brexit.
The story before fame
Like every graffiti artist, Banksy wasn’t always liked. Much of his drawings have been erased – sometimes more than once when he was insistent and re-did the piece.
Besides the uncomfortable format, his work also took a long time to be recognized as art. As we already mentioned, the work carries a strong political content, with harsh criticism of capitalism, prejudice, and the destruction of the environment.
From the late 1990’s onward, his work began to be seen differently as his style consolidated. The images he paints today are rarely erased and oftentimes are even preserved with glass so that they don’t spoil.
In 2010, Banksy’s work reached a new level with the premiere of his documentary “Exit Through The Gift Shop.” His works today are not limited to the streets and can also be seen in museums and art galleries.
A number of thematic exhibitions of the author take place around the world, but not all of them have his consent. On his website, Banksy denounces and discourages visiting exhibitions without his participation.
Banksy’s critical attitude and transgressor vibe, however, was not lost upon the acknowledgment of his work. Proof of this is the “trick” he played at an auction at London’s famous Sotheby’s house when a painting with one of his drawings self-destructed shortly after being sold for a million pounds. However, some say that the alleged protest only served to further value the work in question.
But after all, where to find Banksy’s works and murals?
Okay, now that you guys know all about the artist, you might be wondering how to see his murals, after all. His works are scattered around the world, but most of them are concentrated in Europe.
The best choice for those who want to see a large volume of the artist’s works is to go to England. London and Bristol are the cities with the most graffiti of the mysterious artist. In Bristol, his supposed hometown, is the famous “The Mild Mild West,” which shows a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at police officers, and “Man Hanging From Window,” to name a few. In Bristol, we recommend that you take one of the 3 tours about Banksy’s art or follow the tips of the official Bristol tourism agency. There are also some works by the artist at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
In London, “Sweep it Under the Carpet” and “There’s Always Hope” (the one of the little girl trying to hold the heart-shaped balloon) are some of the main graffiti, besides the classic little rats, found in different walls around the city.
Paris is another place with a large concentration of Banksy arts, including the famous painting of a girl painting a wallpaper over a swastika. This drawing, while still there in the 18th arrondissement, lost part of its character when someone partially painted over it. The best website to find Banksy’s works in Paris is this one.
But if you’re looking for quantity over quality, you might want to consider a trip to Palestine. There you will find some of his most iconic designs, such as “Rage, Flower Thrower” and “Stop and Search (Girl and a Soldier).”
The artist’s drawings can also be seen in droves in Madrid, Lisbon, at several cities in the United States, in Palestine, among many others. This or this website can help you find his works in England, but our tip is to google “where to find Banksy in ___” and fill the gap with the city you’re going to. As street art is always subject to interference, it’s good to check the info before you go so as not run the risk of arriving and staring into a white wall.
European museums to find Banksy
For those who want a little more comfort to admire an original Banksy, there’s always the possibility of doing so in a museum. The Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is the main one, as we said before.
Besides, there are Banksys at the Moco Museum in Amsterdam, at the Port Talbot Street Art Museum in Wales, and at the Frieder Burda Museum in Baden Baden, Germany – there you will find that painting that was destroyed after the auction.
Banksy Hotel? Yes, it’s a thing!
If you want to immerse yourself even more in a “bansksyan” experience, you can choose to stay at his hotel in Palestine. Nicknamed by the artist himself “the hotel with the worst view in the world”, The Walled Off (a name that makes a pun on The Waldorf, a luxury hotel in Manhattan, New York) is right in front of the wall that divides Israel from Palestine in the city of Bethlehem.
All rooms overlook the wall and are decorated with the artist’s graffiti. The decoration of the hotel was also made by artists Sami Musa and Dominique Petrin.
The Walled Off opened in 2017, the centenary of the occupation of British troops in the West Bank, which may have intensified conflicts in the region. Despite the strong message, the hotel is open to welcome people from anywhere in the world, including Israelis and Palestinians.
While a little contradictory to what the artist himself preaches in his works, those visiting England can see Banksy not only in walls or museums but also in a multitude of souvenirs. The pop artist’s work is on T-shirts, bags and fridge magnets, in a movement that somewhat resembles the diffusion of Frida Kahlo’s image.
If you, like me, don’t mind a little contradiction and want to bring a small gift from the artist back home with you, the best places in London for that are the Portobello Road market, em Notting Hill, and the cool-vibes regions of Camden Town and Shoreditch.
In Bristol, you can find things stamped with works of the artist all over town, but especially around the M Shed. In Palestine, next to his hotel, there’s the Wall*Mart store, which sells Banksy products.
The most enthusiastic ones can already plan a whole trip around Europe and the world to follow the artist. For those who haven’t yet reached this level, trying to fit in some well-thought stops to get to know some of his murals is a great idea. One thing is certain: for those who like street art, seeing an original Banksy up close is really exciting.
This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)