Is Banksy Helping or Hurting the Cause?
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  • Post published:11/05/2021
  • Post last modified:11/05/2021

On March 1st, Reading’s residents woke to a mural of a prisoner in stripped garb escaping HM Prison Reading. While most were sure that the painting was the work of Banksy, it wasn’t until four days later that confirmation arrived via Instagram. The post consisted of a video that featured the opening to Bob Ross’ TV show The Joy of Painting before quickly transitioning into how Banksy pulled off his latest street art.

HM Prison Reading has stood tall since 1844. It remained operational for one hundred and seventy years, and its notable inmates included writer Oscar Wilde, pro boxer Anthony Joshua, and American actor Stacy Keach. However, following Banksy’s latest stunt, the closed-down prison is now most famous for his graffiti, and that is by no accident. In 2016, it got announced that it would become an arts venue for the Reading 2016 Year of Culture program. Since then, many have pushed to stop the prison from getting sold. Claiming that it is best for the community if the prison remains open as an art hub. Banksy’s artwork may help their cause, but it may also hurt it, as public opinion regarding the anonymous artist is somewhat divided.

Banksy Swinger in New Orleans

Banksy Swinger in New Orleans

Does Banksy’s Work Have Artistic Value?

Despite having his work featured throughout famous art galleries, many people believe that what Banksy does is not art. It is a spectacle that gets presented as such. He is currently only selling his work on the secondary market. However, per-2010, he was also dealing it directly through former printers and certified dealers. You can locate some of his stencils at high-end dining venues, such as Vegas’ Palms Hotel Casino Resort, which is home to his work – Smiley Coppers Panel I. The Palms is one of Sin City’s most famous casino resorts. However, if you want to experience the thrills of gambling right now, all you have to do is check out some Ladbrokes slots at the online casino of your choice.

In October of 2019, Banksy’s Devolved Parliament sold for $12.2 million at auction. It is an oil-on-canvas painting that replaces the UK’s most prominent politician with chimpanzees, depicting the apes amidst a hot debate in the House of Commons. The sale left many art critics wondering how people have been bamboozled into believing that a low-brow piece of banality is a masterpiece. Many even publicly stated that only in ambition and notoriety is Banksy’s work different than vandalism present at railway embankments and high-rise towers. His reputation does not derive from his artistic talents but his status as a folk hero and self-promotion.

A massive part of Banksy’s claim to fame is the fact that he has managed to maintain his anonymity for more than two decades. His art mostly consists of stencil designs that feature wit and poke fun at authority. Most critics see him as a copycat of French graffiti artist, Blek le Rat, born Xavier Prou. Known as the father of stencil graffiti, Prou’s work is a clear influence on Banksy. The latter has never denied that he heavily borrows from the Frenchman.

Naturally, whether something is art or not is a matter of opinion. That said, nothing about Banksy’s work is novel, and he usually recycles many of the same tropes. Clichés of the progressive left. Thuggish cops and inept public servants. There is no ambiguity or possibility of misinterpretation in his work. So, in a sense, some art critics have a point. Yet, the real power of his work lies in its boldness to challenge authority and create debate. Even though much of his themes are derivative, he is still somewhat of a pop-culture icon and a prominent figurehead of this era.

Season's Greetings

Season’s Greetings, a mural by graffiti artist Banksy, stenciled onto a garage in Port Talbot, Wales in December 2018.

Who Is Banksy?

As far as anyone can tell, Banksy is a Bristol street artist whose identity remains a mystery. Some speculate that he is not one person but a group of artists that operate under this moniker. However, in a 2003 Guardian interview, British journalist Simon Hattenstone described him as a white 28-year-old man that looks like a cross between Mike Skinner of the rap project the Streets and singer Jimmy Nail.

In 2008, British conservative paper, The Mail on Sunday, identified him as one Robin Gunningham, living 12 miles away from Bristol. Many of Gunningham’s former schoolmates that attended Bristol Cathedral School with him collaborated information present in The Mail of Sunday’s article. The Sunday Times newspaper also proved that Gunningham used the nickname Robin Banks when signing designs for the Bristol band Mother Samosa in the early 1990s.

Other theories are that he is Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, Jamie Hewlett, the artist behind the comic Tank Girl, and former Art Attack presenter Neild Buchanan. However, the Robin Gunningham hypothesis is by far the most researched one, grounded in fact.

Photo Credit

Swinger – Wikimedia Creative Commons

Seasons Greetings – Wikimedia Creative Commons

Guest Author Bio
Luke Windsor

Luke Windsor is a chief content writer and reviewer. Having worked in the writing industry for over ten years, he is an experienced wordsmith who enjoys doing deep dives on fringe subjects. He is passionate about entertainment, especially novellas and films.


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