In a world where graffiti art, or “tagging,” is largely frowned upon, the UK-based street artist known only as Banksy is not only taking it mainstream, he’s doing it from largely anonymity. Banksy is believed to have been born in Bristol, England. He began his craft as an underground graffiti artist in London. He now enjoys a kind of cult-like status due his politically-influenced themes and habit of breaking laws, either to create or display his work. His art is usually a combination of graffiti and stencils, more often than not possessing some sort of socio-political theme. While most graffiti artists leave a tag, Banksy is leaving statements. As his fame grew, his desire to remain anonymous meant he began having to take more steps to protect his identity. These include using intermediaries to sell his work and only taking interviews over the telephone. The hidden identity has allowed him to continue his sometimes illegal work without being detected.
Among his more notable exploits:
The London Zoo, where he painted “we’re bored of fish” in seven foot-high letters in the penguin enclosure. At the Bristol Zoo he left the message “I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring, boring,” in the elephant enclosure. In 2003, it’s suspected he dressed as a museum worker in order to display his own work in Britain’s esteemed Tate museum. The work depicted a pastoral country scene that was bounded by yellow police tape; the identification tag below it read: “Banksy 1975. Crimewatch UK Has Ruined The Countryside For All Of Us. 2003. Oil On Canvas.” Moving forward to May 2005, Banksy left his version of a cave painting (depicting a human figure hunting while pushing a shopping cart) in London’s British Museum; upon discovery, the museum added it to their permanent collection. Later in 2005, four New York City museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, apparently received the same treatment, when officials suspiciously found Banksy’s art hanging on their walls. Towards the end of 2005, Banksy painted a series of images on the Israeli West Bank barrier, including a ladder going up and over the wall and an image of children digging a hole through. In 2006, Banksy replaced close to 500 copies of Paris Hilton’s debut CD, Paris, with his own cover art and remixes by “Danger Mouse.” The tracks were entitled “Why Am I Famous?,” “What Have I Done?,” and “What Am I For?” Later that year, Banksy dressed up an inflatable doll like a Guantanamo Bay detainment camp prisoner, and placed it inside the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at California’s Disneyland.
Banksy has also been know to throw crazy art exhibits that are attended by A-list celebrities like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Christina Aguilera. Banksy’s exhibits have included 200 live rats running through the show, and a room containing a live elephant he had painted. The trouble is, you can’t catch his exhibits if you can’t find them, and the artist is famous for giving out just the street number, and not the street name, for galleries exhibiting his work, some of the more famous of which includes: