Over the past years the discussion about the popular graffiti artist Banksy has come to a point where I have concluded that
1. Banksy can not be one person, because the amount of works produced is simply too much for one individual and
2. When a piece of work is categorized as Banksy's, but no one really knows the person or the group who created the work, each and every one can be Banksy.
From those two points I derived that today, Banksy is a synonym for a style of art. What that really means is that if Banksy is a style of art, you and I can be Banksy by creating works using that style. But what is that style we, the public, usually understand as art from Banksy?
It is most of the time provoking, political gauge style art using a reduced minimal palette of colors. Usually it is also publicly visible.
So to test the theory, I created the work "Who the wind blows" using reduced color gauge style and a political statement. Those two combinations already fulfill the basic prerequisites for being categorized as “a Banksy”.
When the artwork was shown and seen by many people during an art exhibition they [the visitors] said "ah, this looks like a Banksy". The tone was usually condescending, implying disapproval for the “copied look”. No one ever talked about the actual artwork and its political statement, but only about that it does look like “a Banksy” and that it can’t be produced by Banksy because in their head the real Banksy is a single person, I'm guessing a white male between 30 to 40 years of age, and of course he must be a graffiti artist.
Pretty interesting how people react to social experiments, huh?
If you dig a little deeper you can find discussions on the net about Banksy. The discussions are now that far that the German Wikipedia states that Banksy is or could be a group of women. Wikipedia also refers Pest Control, a company that owns several domains related to Banksy, for example banksy.com. They claim that they handle public dealings for Banksy and say they can verify if a piece of art was really made by Banksy.
But why does a single artist need to have strangers send in images to a company to get them verified as Banksy's work? Three options I can think of:
1. Marketing & image building - creating more hype and exclusivity
2. Fraud: so that they can stamp any cool works as Banksy’s
3. Banksy was perhaps once a person or a group, but has now become a style
Marketing and image building is not necessary really. The public is retweeting, sharing #banksy very well. But when has enough ever been enough? Fraud may be a viable option, especially if combined with the image building aspect in creating the myth of Banksy who can be in two places on the opposite sides of the globe almost simultaneously. Or, Banksy now is only a style.
Otherwise a single person or group could simply go the other way: a trusted peer person sends an image of the latest work to Pest Control, Pest Control releases the image on banksy.com - done, case solved, the piece is a real Banksy. There is no need to go the other way – have people send in pictures to a company who claims to know if it is Banksy or not.
In that case, why is there even a need for a company like that? Because #banksy is money, fame and hype, simple as it is. If it’s a style, and each and every one could be Banksy, investors and fans need to secure their interests in the brand. Pest Control earn money by stamping someone’s artwork as Banksy’s. Investors & fans win or lose with a simple yes or no of this company. After all, if it's a Banksy, it's worth a lot of money but if it isn't, it's worthless.
In my opinion it is now time to demystify Banksy. In the early 90s there was certainly someone, the “original Banksy”, but in some point of time that changed. As sooner we categorize Banksy for what it is today - as a style of art - the better. That can take out the hype and the myth of it all and enable us to concentrate on what the pieces have to say instead once again.
But what is with all those poor art investors and collectors who paid a lot to get a Banksy artwork? Sorry for that, but it looks like you bought into a fairytale, as today, there just is no artist Banksy. Your pieces are not worth anything more than any other piece of gauge style art of a nameless artist. Maybe next time try buying art that means something to you and not just something with a hyped name tag on it.