Perhaps the most famous street artist in the world, the mysterious Banksy has managed to thus far elude the hunt for his real identity. Still, his twenty years in the spotlight have often yielded more focus on his name than his incredible artwork. So just who is Banksy?
The Internet is awash with theories about who Banksy is. Some theorize that Banksy is actually a former British schoolboy-turned-underground artist, while others think that Robert Del Naja of trip-hop group Massive Attack is behind the elusive art. Or perhaps Banksy is actually a woman, not a man at all. Then again, maybe "Banksy" is just another name used by an already famous artist.
Vote up the likeliest candidate behind Banksy's identity here!
The most popular theory about the man behind Banksy's facade is that he's actually Robin Gunningham, your Average Joe Brit from Bristol. Investigators used tactics most often utilized in hunting serial killers to identify Robin, who is a pretty regular guy. In 2008, the Daily Mail concluded that Banksy was Gunningham, who a former classmate at an expensive private school said was really good at art.
What evidence exists in this theory's favor? Some of Banksy's earliest works appeared near where Gunningham lived as a young man, and the roommate he lived with in his 20s later worked closely with Banksy. And a lot of people he hung out with at the local pub knew him as "Robin Banks"... or, "Banksy."
An HBO documentary about Banksy suggests that the artist isn't an individual, but "he" is actually an artist collective that works together. The documentary showed the massive amount of work that goes into a Banksy piece - not just making the individual piece, but scouting locations, providing security, and helping keep everything under wraps. Artist Chris Healey posits that Banksy is "a woman who leads of team of seven people," and, although he refuses to name his source, he insists it's reliable.
For many years, works of art by Banksy have popped up near venues where trip-hop group Massive Attack played gigs. So does that mean the band (hailing from Bristol, a city that has close ties to Banksy) is behind these masterpieces? Allegations have been made that group member Robert Del Naja is Banksy; admittedly, del Naja was once a graffiti artist, and the presence of Banksy art near his band's venues would make sense. But Del Naja himself has never confirmed or denied the allegations, so the mystery rages on!
CityLab.com has posited that Banksy, usually believed to be male, is actually an unnamed woman. What gave them this idea? The artist has an art background, works with a team, and doesn't "swagger" publicly like other street artists; this, in their minds, supports the idea that Banksy isn't a man. While this argument is spurious at best, they did cite a 2003 Guardian article that gave a tantalizing clue:
"Nobody here seems to know what he looks like. But they all know him. That is, they know of him. That is, if he is a he."
However, that same interview also describes Banksy as a "white, 28, scruffy casual" man. On the other hand, Banksy's art often focuses on women and girls, critiquing women's beauty and behavior standards.