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Millions of inquiring minds would like to know.
Who is this anonymous guerilla graffiti artist known as Banksy?
Aside from displaying his craft on building walls, bridges, and streets throughout Bristol and London where his art started, the famed artwork appears in random locations around the world. You never know when or where it’s going to happen, but when it does - it draws public notice right away.
He does all this and he stays anonymous. I think that's great. These days everyone is trying to be famous. But he has anonymity.
— Brad Pitt
Banksy: That's Who
Banksy is not just your everyday street artist.
For more than a decade, his iconic stenciled epigrams have caused quite a stir, the inflammatory political and social satire he depicts. Banksy’s distinctive stenciling style leaves the viewer with mixed feelings, mulling over his spoof contextual messages.
- First, street graffiti is an unlawful act.
- Second, the opinionated style might appear offensive or bombastic to the viewer when not in alignment with the artist.
- And last, the act itself encourages even more abomination by unwanted copy-cat or want to be street graffiti artists.
Despite its forbidden aspect, there are a few reasons one might admire Banksy and his subversive urbanite works of art. He speaks a subcultural language many followers find compelling. His powerful anti-establishment messages harken a rapt audience awaiting his next move.
According to his published book, Wall and Piece, Banksy explains how his style of etched stenciling came to fruition while running from the police; he hid beneath a garbage truck where he noticed an engraved serial number. Hence, the awakening of the infamous graffiti artist known as Banksy at his very best.
Compiled below is a countdown of what many urban art aficionados might consider the top 8 controversial Banksy artworks ever exhibited.
8. The Leake Street Tunnel
The Leake Street Tunnel is in Lambeth, London on York Road and extends beneath rail tracks to the Waterloo Station and admitted vehicle traffic. This walkthrough location was the base for the Cans Festival (2008), a party event organized by Banksy in May and August 2008, where graffiti artists from all over the world exhibited their works.
7. The Art Buff
The Art Buff (2014) sits in Folkestone, UK - a port town on the English Channel, in Kent, south-east England known for its old shipping port.
Banksy created this work of art, during the local art festival known as the Folkestone Triennial, where he depicted an old woman wearing headphones while staring at a base column with graffiti rubbed out, hence the name gives itself up.
Not long after, another graffiti artist vandalized the work with a spray painting of the male anatomy atop the column. After that, art dealers organized an event to restore the original work and put the picture up for sale, flying it to Miami, Florida in the United States. However, British courts disallowed the sell of the artwork, ruling it as public property. The Banksy artwork returned to Great Britain and plans for an installment on a new building await.
6. The Dismaland Bemusement Park
Dismaland (2015) was a spoof rendition of the world famous theme park Disneyland and for a while located in the town of Weston-super-Mare, in Somerset England.
For a little over a month, the adult-themed art project collaborated by 58 artists from around the world, drew in over 150,000 visitors including great profiles like Brad Pitt, Russel Brand, Neil Patrick Harris, and Nicholas Hoult. Overall, the anti-establishment themed park was a success and boosted the town’s economy by £20m.
5. The Grim Reaper
The Grim Reaper (2003) located on the Thekla Social Boat which sat at the waterline in Bristol Harbor in the UK, however, since then the boat sat in dry dock and the painting removed from the vessel’s hull to preserve the artwork because of the elements which have caused deterioration.
The artwork is a rendition of The Pestilence of the Great Stink, depicting the notorious decay of the Thames River during the Victorian era. Here, Banksy portrays the Grim Reaper rowing a boat in search of death.
4. The Girl With the Pierced Eardrum
The Girl With the Pierced Eardrum (2014) displays at the Albion Dockyard - Hanover Place in Banksy’s hometown of Bristol, in the United Kingdom.
The mural artwork is a spoof on Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring stenciled in black with a yellow alarm box designating the earring. Not long after its finish, vandals damaged the artwork, splattering paint in protest to the artist’s audacity, however since then, Banksy returned to retouch the damage.
3. Pulp Fiction
Pulp Fiction (2004) is a spoof on a movie artwork on a wall near the Old Street Tube Station in London, the United Kingdom. The signed slapstick mural depicts the actors, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Travolta, posing with arms outstretched, holding bananas instead of guns.
Ever since its inception, this spoof artwork is one of many artworks that have made Banksy a lucrative name to art dealers around the world who are benefiting from the anonymous exposure. It is not in the least surprising that a print of this artwork sold at auction for £14,400 in 2008.
2. The Well Hung Lover
The Well Hung Lover (2006) is a mural on a health clinic wall at Frogmore Street in Bristol, the United Kingdom yet since moved because of vandalism by paintball damage.
The artwork depicts a naked man hanging from a windowsill, while a suited man who appears to be a concerned husband peers out the window while a frantic wife clad in underwear watches from behind.
1. Girl With Balloon
The Girl With Balloon (2002) first appeared on the south bank stairway of the Waterloo Bridge in London between Blackfriars Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. This artist’s stenciling represents a little girl stretching an arm out toward a red heart-shaped balloon floating away with the wind.
Without a doubt, Girl With Balloon is an iconic artwork and the best-selling work of its kind, grossing at £1,042,000 at Sotheby’s auction in 2018. Not only did the stenciled art gain notice but the artist himself, but Banksy pulled off one of the smartest and elaborate sabotage events in art auction history by setting off a devised shredder within the frame’s chamber to destroy the print upon its last bid.
Even though the shredding did not destroy the artwork, the hijinks created quite an international stir and increased the value of the art. Since then, the owner renamed the artwork Love Is in the Bin and moved to the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, where it will be on permanent display and among great masterpieces.
Cited Sources & Works
- Kurt Kohlstedt. Banksy Paradox: 7 Sides of the Most Infamous Street Artist (2007)
- Raka Sen. The Art Evolution of Banksy (2013):
- Claudia Joseph. Graffiti Artist Banksy Unmasked (2008):
- Business Insider. 24 of Banksy's Most Clever Quotes
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