Banksy is a pseudonymous England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine irreverent dark humour with graffiti done in a distinctive stencilling technique. Such artistic works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world.
Banksy's work was born out of the Bristol underground scene which involved collaborations between artists and musicians. According to author and graphic designer Tristan Manco and the book Home Sweet Home, Banksy "was born in 1974 and raised in Bristol, England. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980s."
Observers have noted that his style is similar to Blek le Rat, who began to work with stencils in 1981 in Paris and members of the anarcho-punk band Crass, which maintained a graffiti stencil campaign on the London Tube System in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is active today. However Banksy himself stated on his website that in all actuality he based his work on that of 3D from Massive Attack, stating, "No, I copied 3D from Massive Attack. He can actually draw."
Known for his contempt for the government in labelling graffiti as vandalism, Banksy displays his art on public surfaces such as walls and even going as far as to build physical prop pieces. Banksy does not sell photos of street graffiti directly himself; however, art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art on location and leave the problem of its removal in the hands of the winning bidder. Banksy's first film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, billed as "the world's first street art disaster movie," made its debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film was released in the UK on 5 March 2010. In January 2011, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary for the film.
On 18 February 2013, BBC News reported that a recent Banksy mural, known as the Slave Labour mural portraying a young child sewing Union Flag bunting (created around the time of the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II) had been removed from the side of a Poundland store in Wood Green, north London, and soon appeared for sale in Fine Art Auctions Miami's catalogue (a US auction site based in Florida). News of this reportedly caused "lots of anger" in the local community and was considered by some to be a theft. Fine Art Auctions Miami rejected claims of theft, saying it had signed a contract with a "well-known collector" and that "everything was above board"; despite this, the local Councillor for Wood Green campaigned for the work's return. On the scheduled day of the auction, Fine Art Auctions Miami announced that it had withdrawn the work of art from the sale.
On 24 September, after over a year since his previous piece, a new Banksy mural went up on his website along with the subtitle 'Better Out Than In'. On 1 October 2013, Banksy began a one-month "show on the streets of New York [City]", for which he opened a separate website and granted an interview to The Village Voice via his publicist.
A pop-up boutique of about 25 spray-art canvases appeared on Fifth Avenue near Central Park on Saturday 12 October. Tourists were able to buy Banksy art for just $60 each. In a note posted to his website, the artist wrote: "Please note this was a one-off. The stall will not be there again." The BBC estimated that the street-stall art pieces could be worth as much as $31,000. The booth was manned by an unknown elderly man who went about four hours before making a sale, yawning and eating lunch as people strolled by without a second glance at the work. Banksy chronicled the surprise sale in a video posted to his website noting, "Yesterday I set up a stall in the park selling 100% authentic original signed Banksy canvases. For $60 each".
The press reported that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg called Banksy a vandal whose work is not his definition of art, and that the NYPD's vandal squad was on the hunt for Banksy over his various graffiti art and installations. One creation was a fiberglass sculpture of Ronald McDonald and a real person, barefoot and in ragged clothes, shining the oversized shoes of Ronald McDonald. The sculpture was unveiled in Queens but moved outside a different McDonald's around the city every day. Other works included a YouTube video showing what appears to be footage of jihadist militants shooting down an animated Dumbo the Elephant; travelling installations that toured the city including a slaughterhouse delivery truck full of stuffed animals and a waterfall; and a modified painting donated to a charity shop which was later sold in an online auction for $615,000. Banksy also posted a mock-up of a New York Times op-ed attacking the design of the One World Trade Center after The New York Times rejected his submission. The residency in New York concluded on 31 October 2013, many of the pieces however were vandalized, removed or stolen.
In 2015, Banksy created a large-scale installation titled Dismaland Bemusement Park, and immersive and fully functional amusement park that featured political commentary on the distribution of wealth, sexism, and the UK government. The park operated from August to September of 2015, was funded by Banksy himself. In addition to his regular graffiti practice, Banksy creates works for several charities, and consistently opens exhibitions to wide audiences and critical acclaim. He lives and works in England.
A painting by Banksy showing the House of Commons overrun with chimpanzees entitled 'Devolved Parliament' sold at Sotheby's auction in October 2019 for just under £9.9m. The 4m (13ft) wide artwork was painted in 2009. Banksy reacted on Instagram, saying it was a "record price for a Banksy painting" and "a shame I didn't still own it".
Banksy lives and works in Los Angeles, California.