It’s been around five years since I first put pen to paper and wrote a blog piece for a university assignment on how the world’s most elusive street artist, Bansky, might in fact be ‘artists’ that somehow ended up on the TIME website.
With the further idea that such a collective had as its chief operator Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, given the fact so many of the famous stencils appeared in cities around the time where the trip-hop pioneers played shows there.
Since then I’ve occasionally dipped my toes again in the phenomenon and wrote some more stuff, making some further interesting discoveries since 2016, not least by taking a further look at Banksy’s footprint in Glasgow – which led me to stumble upon two stencils that had been lying untouched for years hidden by bushes near a busy road.
Stencils that have now, since I wrote about them and the fact they were painted over not too long after during a renovation – have been removed and restored professionally and are now, I’m told, sitting framed in a London gallery with a potential (if authenticated) to fetch millions at auction.
Lowkey bitterness at their removal aside, I thought I might take this opportunity to pull together a recap of sorts on some further stuff I’ve written along with what I’ve been told by certain random people who appear to have known a lot more than me and who have told me as such in response to the original article.
To steal a song title/line from the best slept-on band in the universe, Glasgow’s finest Current Affairs, Buckle Up!…
‘BANKSY’ IS (NOW) A COLLECTIVE
‘Banksy’ was originally a persona adopted by one person but, motivated by a desire not to get caught, it then became a collective of street artists so that the responsibility for the works could be split between them. That person of course was Robin Gunningham, who got involved in the Bristol street art scene in the late 80s/early 90s ‘for whatever reasons’.
Gunningham is the man seen in the photos in the car park in Jamaica back in 2004 with the stencil on the ground and is also the man seen obscuring his face in former agent Steve Lazarides’s book ‘Banksy Captured’.
And he is also the man with the glasses you can see in the video taken during the Sotheby’s stunt back in 2018 pointing at the self-destructing painting (a classic decoy tactic) – and possibly also the dude in the van in Reading.
YOU WON’T FIND ‘ROBIN GUNNINGHAM’ IN THE UK PHONEBOOK
Obviously key to the Banksy mystique is the continuing uncertainty and lack of (current) information surrounding Robin Gunningham or ‘Rob’ as Goldie labelled him in that infamous radio show moment slip-up back in June of 2017.
Names that have been floated that have been used by Gunningham include ‘Bruce Coker’ and also ‘Dave Jones’ (after his mother’s name).
The rumours are that he spent time living in Penzance or Chard an hour south of Bristol but that he has been living in Los Angeles for the past few years – with ‘Dismaland’ being his ode to the UK.
‘BANKSY’ EQUALS CASH MONEY $$$$
As we all know just by the regular media reports around how much one of the works sells for at auction to folk with more money than sense it seems, Banksy stencils robbed of their original (and proper) intention to have impermanent lifespans to be ripped off walls to then sit frozen in time forever in frames is a real money-making cash cow.
When you consider ‘Banksy’ means ‘bank the money’ or ‘cash it’ rather than refer to a nickname of any sort and was dreamt up by Lazarides and Robin Gunningham, then it seems they were fully aware of the potential that existed for them to successfully hold the art establishment to ransom – at the same time as promoting the Banksy M.O. to encourage change as they see it while fulfilling the intention of graffifi as Del Naja sees it as ‘redressing the balance’ in public spaces filled with advertising and signs, orders and instructions.
‘BANKSY’ ‘MIRRORS A GRASSROOTS ORGANISATION’
Gunningham was heavily influenced by the likes of Bristol social worker John Nation and artist Jamie Reid, who he collaborated with in one of his first major exhibitions, Peace Is Tough, at The Arches in Glasgow back in 2001. While painting in Bristol in the late 80s and early 90s, Gunningham became familiar with a lot of talented youngsters in the city who had found themselves in vulnerable situations – some of whom who were better at painting or stenciling than him. As such, ‘Banksy’ the bond or collective very much mirrors a ‘grassroots organisation’. Banksy ‘workers’ have also been sourced from places such as within the street art community on the small Norwegian island of Utsira.
ROBERT DEL NAJA IS A (BIG) PART OF ‘BANKSY’
So who is part of this collective alongside Gunningham. Well, Del Naja for one. While it’s possible Del Naja was involved in the stencils on the Massive Attack tour, there’s a few ‘stonewallers’ that look like they were the work of Del Naja rather than Gunningham or anyone else, not least the stencils that appeared all over New Orleans in 2008, the ‘Madonna Con La Pistola’ stencil in Naples in 2004 and the stencils in Bamako in Mali that appeared in early 2007.
Add to that music video collective SHYNOLA calling him ‘Banksy’ in a Twitter thread into their work on the video for UNCLE’s 2001 track ‘An Eye For An Eye’ two further interesting elements in a) the scene in In ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ where Thierry Guetta is watching an elephant being walked out of a truck in Los Angeles where he turns to ‘Banksy’ and says. “3D it’s massive!” and b) the fact that Banksy’s ‘Forgive Us For Trespassing’ artwork, which sold at auction back in October, has ‘3D’ written on the bottom left-hand side of it.
…AND A BUNCH OF OTHER STREET ARTISTS AND ‘WORKERS’ ARE TOO OBVIOUSLY
Others involved or who have been involved in the Banksy collective and employed to do his work on the walls here in the UK and further afield include folk such as Rowan Reynolds, Kingadz, RJ, Rushmore, Hogre, Damian Neary (aka feekertron) and John Doh – some of whom who were labelled as Lazarides’s ‘band of trusted regulars’.
And then there’s James Ame aka Ame72, the guy who was spotted setting up the Banksy exhibition and spraying a wall in Bethlehem in December of 2017 and who may or may no be the same tall guy that spent time in Glasgow in the late 90s and who got chatting to political cartoonist Cinders McLeod (more on her in a second) at a GAP protest and the dude who also appeared as ‘Banksy’ in both a photo accompanying his first proper newspaper interview – published in the Observer on 26, May, 2002, to coincide with the release of his second book, Existencilism – who likes like the same person who appeared in the ‘very rare’ TV interview with ITV in 2003 ahead of the Turf War exhibition.
‘BANKSY’ OWES A HUGE (UNPAID) DEBT TO TWO WOMEN
Some Banksy stencil works have been accused of being copies of works by Spanish street artist Pejac and West Midlands’ based artist Chris ‘Okse’ Oxbury to name few. Most obvious is the unquestionable parallels to be drawn between a whole host of stencils and former Glasgow-based political cartoonist Cinder McLeod’s illustrations for the Glasgow Herald newspaper between 1997 and 2001.
Works such as the ‘Deep Sea Lovers’ stencil, which featured as the album artwork for Britpop act Blur’s 2003 release Think Tank, the ‘Bomb Middle England’ stencil, the ‘Bomb Hugger’ (or ‘Bomb Love’) stencil featuring a girl with a ponytail hugging a bomb and the ‘Every Picture Tells A Lie’ stencil, as well as ‘Di Faced Tenners’, ‘Caveman’, and ‘Armoured Dove’ (which appeared on a wall in Palestine in 2007) to add a few more to the (lengthy) list.
And if that wasn’t enough, it appears that the articles related to word etymology written by famed Scottish etymologist Betty Kirkpatrick, which the illustrations were a part of, were also ‘mined’ by Banksy, not least the ‘Bomb Middle England’ stencil article on the use of the term ‘turf war’ – the name given to Banksy’s first major exhibition in 2003.
Indeed, it could be argued that Banksy’s method of conveying significant political, capitalist and humanist issues under a veil of British humour has as its starting point Betty Kirkpatrick’s wry, dry and erudite writing. Take this quote for example from one of her articles: “Bombs play a fairly major role in the language. They have a right to a place in the dictionary. It’s just a pity they don’t stay there.” Something you’d expect to see next to a stencil or in ‘Wall and Peace’.
THE ONLY PLACE TO GET A FULL ‘BANKSY’ MAKEOVER WAS A SPANISH STRIP CLUB
It seems that walls in the likes of Bristol and London aren’t the only places to have been graced by a Banksy work, with a Spanish strip club in the middle of nowhere also welcoming the spray can. Having received an invite by “some gangsters” to decorate what was essentially a strip bar/complex (and perhaps a brothel) on the site of the – wait for it – infamous failed BBC soap opera El Dorado, Gunningham or one of his pals duly went over to make some cash.
The story goes that gangsters had bought the complex, known in Spain as ‘La Ciudad de Cine’, and wanted the little established artist to jazz up what was undoubtedly a sterile, colourless former film set. The visit was revealed in an interview originally commissioned by Dazed and Confused magazine some time in early 2000, and one that the magazine chose not to print for fear that they may face prosecution for ‘inciting criminality’. Eventually published by Level Magazine, the article served to inspire a short film about the street artist by Channel 4, entitled ‘Boom and Bust’.