I have been experimenting with stencil graffiti in the past few months, mostly spraying a few images in my sketchbook, testing paints, Exacto knives and other materials – generally learning the craft. I was first inspired to try it out when my sister bought me the book Stencil Graffiti, by Tristan Marco, a couple Christmases ago. When I recently how cheap and easy it is to create basic stencil images, I bought a few materials from my local art store and got to work. One of my inspirations – and probably an inspiration for anyone who’s tried or even admired stencils – was Banksy, a British stencil artist who started way back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and has used the guerrilla aspect of the art to make his pieces accessible to the public. In other words, he sprayed in public places, just like any other tagger. But his witty images challenge traditional concepts of hierarchy and authority in a way that isn’t stuffy. It addresses all classes of people.
Some would call him a vandal. I would call him that. But Banksy calls himself a vandal, too. That’s the whole point.
Time Magazine reported this week that Banksy’s real identity has been revealed – Banksy now has a real name we can attach to it.
That name is apparently Robin Gunningham, a 34-year-old native of Bristol, England. The details of how Banksy’s “real” identity leaked to news sources is unimportant, but the implications of the apparent discovery and leak to the public could have a major effect on the impact that Banksy’s art will have, now that his image as an anonymous vandal has been imperiled.
Banksy’s message is somewhat intertwined with his image as an anonymous renegade. The only matter up for debate is the degree to which those two concepts are related. Some would say that there are extremely dependent on each other, to the point that where if the image of the artist changes, the art loses most of its meaning.
I would argue the opposite. To me, Banksy is still Banksy. His next subway piece won’t be by “Robin Gunningham.” Besides, who is Robin Gunningham? To me, and to most admirers of Banksy’s work, it’s just a name (and maybe a face, with new photos emerging). His art will retain its anonymity because of the nature of the art, and where and how it is perceived by the viewing public. Stencil artists generally post their art as part of some sort of social movement or statement – the pseudonym that signs off on it has always been, at least for me, secondary. And as long as Banksy continues to throw up his pieces in hard-to-reach places, avoiding the authorities at all costs, and pushing the limits – he’ll always be Banksy.
And then there’s the issue of the commodification of Banksy’s art. The value of Banksy’s art has skyrocketed in the past few years. The likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have ponied up millions of dollars for Banksy’s art at recent auctions. Some say that Banksy’s reputation as an artist, and consequently the value of his work, will fade now that his identity has been revealed. That may be true, but the very fact that Banksy’s art has demanded such high prices is an irony in itself, given that Banksy’s art directly changes the status quo of the art world. Take for example, the Mona Lisa with the yellow smiley face he snuck into the Louvre and the Tate, or Banksus militus vandalus, the spray can-equipped rat he snuck into the Natural History Museum.
Even so, artists have to make a living too, and it’s nice to make a buck. But somehow I don’t see Banksy really giving a shit.