Banksy: Creative genius or criminal?
By Hollen Wheeler; courtesy photos
For more than three decades, a graffiti artist has been on the loose, and his art collection is coming to Denver in April. He’s maintained his anonymity and become an underground sensation for street artists, political activists and conspiracy theorists around the world. “Banksy,” as he is known, most likely hails from Bristol, England. He maintains his low profile because street graffiti is illegal and probably because remaining anonymous adds to his gravitas.
Known for his unique style of stenciling (accompanied with a can of spray paint), Banksy’s art is satirical, dark and sometimes obscene. In many of his works, he uses rats and children to underscore his countercultural views on everything from pollution to capitalism and even love.
Although Banksy’s art has surfaced in the U.S. (San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York), most of his oeuvre is in Europe, mainly the U.K. One of his works done in 2020 in Suffolk, We’re All in This Together, depicts three children painted on the side of a bridge. An actual metal boat is part of the installment and it appears to be sinking. One child is dumping water from the boat and the second child is looking back and the third child is looking forward.
As with most art, critics say that the piece could have several interpretations: the sinking boat depicts the pandemic and climate change challenges, especially for the younger generations, and also/or a jab at increased boating traffic which Banksy has criticized in other works.
Probably his most famous work, Girl With Balloon, stenciled in London in 2002, depicts a little girl who has lost a tattered, heart-shaped balloon to the wind. It’s unclear whether she lets it go or it’s accidentally lost to the gust. Due to its commercial reproduction and iconic acclaim, Banksy repurposed the painting and renamed it Love is in the Bin by reproducing it on canvas and shredding the little girl to imply most likely that love and hope (and capitalism) are proverbial waste.
Banksy is also a film director. He produced a documentary in 2010, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which generally takes the viewer through the life of street artists’ narrowing escapes from police in the middle of the night and the danger of stenciling on a scaffold or window ledge. Banksy himself appears in the film with muffled voice and hidden face. The film won several awards.
Today, Banksy is laughing all the way to the bank. On Amazon, a print of one of his creations retails for an average of $30. His original works, some of which have been physically and carefully removed from building walls or under bridges, sell at Sotheby’s auctions for upwards of $1 million.
A collection of his works, The Art of Banksy: Private Collection, is on a world tour and opens in Denver on April 14 at an undisclosed location. For tickets and to learn more, visit banksyexhibit.com.