Aside from the humor and poignancy of Banksy’s work, what people find alluring about the artist is his mystique. There have been numerous claims as to who he really is. Since his rise to fame, several newspapers have proclaimed that that they now had Banksy exposed. However, none of these claims have been confirmed or denied unequivocally by the elusive artist and those connected to him. Even today, people are not sure who Banky is. Most assert, though, that his identity is not really important. They are satisfied with his art and his reputation.
There are two supposed pictures of Banksy that gained a lot of attention from the news media”one taken in Kingston, Jamaica and another taken in Bethnal, East London. Other pictures supposedly of the artist have popped up here and there, but these two are the most credible ones. Various news agencies have used them, especially the one taken in Jamaica, to trace the real identity of the artist.
One of the earliest supposed photographs of Banksy is the one that appeared on a Jamaican website. The face on the picture is clear, unlike other pictures where what is shown of the face is not enough to identify the person in it. The photographer reportedly claimed that Banksys arrogance” pushed him to expose the artists face.
In 2007, another picture of Banksy was purportedly taken by a passerby who saw someone painting graffiti in Bethnal Green, East London. The mural is a piece Banksy claims that he did. It depicts a painter and a simple depiction of a yellow flower as a continuation of yellow London street markings. Some people say that there are similarities between the man in this photograph and the one in the Jamaican picture.
The most recent picture of the artist that has surfaced was taken in 2001 in Mexico. Banksy is shown painting a mural. The lower portion of his face is covered by what appears to be a red bandana. The rest of it has been intentionally pixelated to obscure who he is. The artist himself released this image in his book Freedom Through Football.
The earliest Banksy identity” with a biography attached to it is the Robert Banks identity. He is said to be someone from Bristol born between 1974 and 1978. This bio of the artist says that he did not undergo formal training in art. He was said to have learned his craft by doing rock memorabilia. His anti-establishment image was said to have started when he was in school and was rewarded with detention and, finally, expulsion. Graffiti began to be of interest to him at the age of 14.
The person who is most likely to be the real Banksy is someone named Robin Gunningham, according to the British news agency The Daily Mail. A reporter for this agency went around Bristol and showed the Jamaica picture to the people there. The answers he got led him to Robin Gunningham, whose father was a contracts manager and whose mother was a secretary. This Banksy was said to have gone to an expensive elitist high school, the Bristol Cathedral School. The Daily Mail published this claim in 2008.
The writer of the expose, James Tapper, said that he believed this was the real Banksy because when he traced where Gunningham went, Banksy had been there at about the same time period. Gunningham even lived in places close to places where Banksy did some of his shows. A classmate of his said that he was already good at art when they went to school together. He also stated that Banksy was also a member of the school rugby team. Tapper stated that both Banksy and Robin Gunningham are elusive. There are also many parallels between what the reporter discovered and what Banksy says about himself in his books, films, and interviews. This, in the reporters eyes, strengthened his claim even further.
In 2011, the Daily Mail introduced another figure in Banksys life, his wife. Actually, that was Robin Gunninghams wife. Her name is Joy Millward. She is said to have met Banksy in 2003 while she was working as a researcher for a Labour MP. They got married in Las Vegas in 2006. The article states that she, like Gunningham, was raised in a comfortable lifestyle far removed from the implications of Banksys art. She is also a very elusive person, like Banksy.
These articles by the Daily Mail created a storm of controversy from those who admire Banksys art. The reports are seen as crude attempts to diminish the artists credibility as an anti-establishment graffiti artist. Many felt that the lives of private citizens were unduly invaded for the very superficial reason of trying to pull down the famous artist a peg or two. A considerable number expressed their opinion that they are not interested in who Banksy is in real life because they know him through his work and through his various escapades.
He is a Group, Not One Person
There is another strong speculation aside from the two mentioned. One is that Banksy is not a single person but a group of street artists. This is based on pictures of Banksy putting up graffiti on the walls in the West Bank. Other people, whose identities are hidden, are seen working with the one actually painting the image. They may be assistants or some of Banksys street artist friends, but they all also might be the artist known as Banksy.
The Real Banksy
People who have inadvertently conversed with the artist while he was working on a piece uniformly say that he is a nice, likeable person. There is only that one instance where someone claimed he was arrogant. This is not surprising. No one can be pleasing to everybody. There is always someone out there who will be put off by even the nicest person. In Banksys graffiti war” with Team Robbo, the artist is seen as taking the first steps to de-escalate things between them. This hints at the person behind the mystique.
People who claim to know Banksy and wrote books about him give an inkling of who he is through their eyes. For Robert Clarke, who wrote Seven Years With Banksy, the artist appears as a crusader who works at bringing the woes and contradictions of this world to light through art. He is depicted as someone who has made it a way of life to stay away from public view by being as unremarkable as possible. On the other hand, in Will Ellsworth-Jones book The Man Behind The Wall, he is shown as a person with his own dilemmas and inconsistencies, the most telling of which is his succumbing” to the lure of commercializing his work and becoming more mainstream” by entering them in art galleries and auctions.
So, who is Banksy, really? Is he Robert Banks or Robin Gunningham or someone else entirely? Does the news media truly have Banksy exposed? Maybe. Of course, none of the claims have been explicitly confirmed or denied. Even Steve Lazarides, Banksys agent, claims he does not know who the artist is. Thus, the Banksy mystique remains and the majority of people like it that way. The Banksy they know is the one they see in the satirically ironic and subversively anti-establishment graffiti of the artist.