BANKSY

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Banksy is a household name in England—the Evening Standard has mentioned him thirty-eight times in the past six months—but his identity is a subject of febrile speculation. This much is certain: around 1993, his graffiti began appearing on trains and walls around Bristol; by 2001, his blocky spray-painted signature had cropped up all over the United Kingdom, eliciting both civic hand-wringing and comparisons to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Vienna, San Francisco, Barcelona, and Paris followed, along with forays into pranksterism and more traditional painting, but Banksy has never shed the graffitist’s habit of operating under a handle. His anonymity is said to be born of a desire—understandable enough for a “quality vandal,” as he likes to be called—to elude the police. For years now, he has refused to do face-to-face interviews. Having fashioned himself as a sort of painterly Publius, Banksy surfaces from time to time to prod the popular conscience. Confronted with a blank surface, he will cover it with scenes of anti-authoritarian whimsy: Winston Churchill with a Mohawk, two policemen kissing, a military helicopter crowned by a pink bow. Typically crafting his images with spray paint and cardboard stencils, Banksy is able to achieve a meticulous level of detail. His aesthetic is clean and instantly readable—broad social cartooning rendered with the graphic bang of an indie concert poster. Since street art is ephemeral, he occasionally issues books filled with photographs of his work, accompanied by his own text. He self-published his first three volumes, “Existencilism,” “Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall,” and “Cut It Out.” His latest, “Wall and Piece,” was published by Random House and has sold more than two hundred and fifty thousand copies (by Lauren Collins for The New Yorker).
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