Tag Archives: streetart

BANKSY: WHAT I’VE LEARNED OR BEEN TOLD 5 years ON FROM the ‘del naja’ piece

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’ 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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.

A rarely seen photo of Robin Gunningham (left) with Robert Del Naja (centre)

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. 


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. 


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.

Cinders McLeod’s Deep Sea Lovers illustration from 1997

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’. 


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’.


Like all careers of note, there’s always a starting point. An apprenticeship of sorts learning the tools of their chosen trade, far away from the bright lights and big bank balances that come later on as a byproduct of fame.

And in the art world, that can mean years developing their craft, one where talent is honed and experimentation undertaken to find out the direction necessary to take to achieve success and gain a foothold in popular culture.

And for the phenomenon that is Banksy, the path taken to the current status quo of almost saturation of his work was one far removed from the political symbolism that speaks to millions across the globe that we see today.

For Banksy, apart from  his beginnings of painting the walls of his native Bristol and London, his talent also graced the not so glorious surroundings of a Spanish lap dancing club (and perhaps also brothel) in the middle of nowhere – yet on a site familiar to millions of Britons.

As far a cry as humanly possible from his most recent work, the Brexit mural that appeared in Dover on Saturday morning. Depicting a metal worker who is seen chipping away at a star on the flag – which themselves signify unity – in what is his first artistic commentary concerning the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Banksy’s latest work in Dover

The Devon mural coming off the back of Banksy’s ‘The Walled Off Hotel’ venture in March,  a dystopian themed hotel which he labelled “a three story cure for fanaticism” – one built metres from the barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories.

Again an inherently political motive,  it was opened to foster both a better understanding and greater dialogue about the region, symbolic in that the opening was dated to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration which helped to establish Israel.

A region first visited by the artist back in 2005 when he stencilled the Palestinian side of Israel’s West Bank wall  to highlight what he viewed as a structure which turned Palestine into “the world’s largest open prison”.

Banksy stencil, Palestine

The surprising fact is to be found within 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’.

In it Banksy, then described as Bristol’s ‘most maverick painter and decorator’, denotes how he got into stencilling due to the need to get his work completed in the shortest time possible – a necessity he credits to the rise in more people being on the streets as a result of 24 hour supermarkets and “boozers open round the clock”.

The interview also charts how the man – who got into graffiti through designing a flyer – got lost after spray painting the Tate Modern gallery in London and somehow ended up in front of Buckingham Palace (‘the most heavily policed part of Britain) with his full arsenal of spray cans and stencils one night at 4am.

Banksy work on the steps of the Tate Modern gallery

But most interesting is his jaunt abroad to mainland Spain, years before he hit the streets of places like San Francisco, Melbourne and New Orleans to leave his iconic marks on such cities.

After also being flown out to New York to paint the rooms of a hotel, Banksy was invited out 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.

The 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. And, gangsters being gangsters, even tried to make Banksy himself pay towards his work.

“True to form they tried to make me pay for it by buying the paint upfront. I’m not a remarkably clever bloke, but I understood the rip-off that was going off, and instead spent the week with this stripper going to work around various different bars. It was interesting”, he says in the interview.

No photographic evidence exists of Banksy’s work there, nor indications of what happened to the strip club he lent his artistic talents too.

The old El Dorado film set, Coin, Malaga

The site, in the small town of Coin near Malaga, was last home to a nightclub and restaurant, while the nearby El Dorado film set was bought over by a Spanish production company to film two successive (and highly popular) TV shows.

Bizarrely, a UK born artist who lives in the town of Coin claimed, in an interview with A English speaking local newspaper in 2015, that he himself is the original Banksy and that his ideas were stolen by none other than Damien Hirst.

Michael Shurman also claims to be behind the iconic alien saucers painted in Bristol in 2004. The 55 year old attended Goldsmiths College in London before working with MAD magazine and as an illustrator for the satirical TV programme Spitting Image.

He claims he created the Banksy persona, that it was stolen from him, and then continued by ‘wealthy and powerful members of Britain’s art circle.’ Shurman also claims that he invented the ‘Banksy’ idea while living in Glastonbury.

Michael Shurman in his studio, Coin, Malaga.

Conspiracies and smoke and mirrors aside, it’s interesting to note the subtle connection that exists between one of the artist’s earliest ‘paid’ commissions and his most recent work in Devon.

One which, if we take out everything in between, boils down to Banksy (through European freedom of movement legislation) going to another European country to take on an ’employment’ opportunity. The same Banksy who, many years later, comments on an impending political manoeuvre that will see those from Europe who wish to do the same in the UK impeded due to future legislation, thanks to Britain’s exit from the EU.

An exit that, in destroying the European ideal of free movement of people (one set in statute by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993)  will set the tone in the coming years concerning our relationship with the continent.

Perhaps then, with Banksy’s potent (political) message as strong as ever, it’s worth remembering how he himself benefited from what Brexit will subsequently hinder.

To read the full interview, click here


The search for the real identity of Banksy is a story one that never fails capture the imagination of the media and the millions of fans across the globe of the subversive Bristol street artist, ever since he came to the public’s attention back in 1997 with his The Mild Mild West mural.
And with the news that filtered out in March of a scientific study by Queen Margaret University confirming previous studies that pointed out to him as being plain old public school boy Robin Gunningham, the final nail in the coffin was struck in what had left the world scratching their heads.
But what if Banksy isn’t the one person everyone thinks he is. What if – akin to the Shakespeare consiparcy theories, Banksy is a group of people who have stencilling different locations both at home and abroad. Such a rich body of work done over a decade, across the globe, may allow for the suggestion.
A rumour exists from 2010 that his work that went up around North America was his work but were not necessarily painted by him, but rather by a street team that happened to be following the Massive Attack tour.
And on analysis of his North American work, this makes perfect sense.
Around the time when six Banksy murals were reported to the press in San Francisco on the 1st of May 2010, including the famous ‘This Will Look Nice When It’s Framed’ image, Massive Attack performed a two night stint in the city on the 25th and 27th April, a few days previously.
Also in Toronto a similar pattern arises. Massive Attack played the city’s Sound Academy on May 7th and May 9th in 2010, the latter being the day that three new Banksy murals appeared in the city.
On the 12th of May, a new Banksy mural also appeared in Boston’s Chinatown area, depicting a ‘cancelled’ ‘Follow your dreams’ stencil. Massive Attack performed at the city’s legendary House Of Blues venue one day later, on the 13th May.
We can also jump backwards and forwards to both 2006, 2008 and 2013, when Banksy held residencies at art galleries in L.A. and New York and when new works of his appeared in the country. Again, a link with Massive Attack is evident.
In 2006, Massive Attack embarked on a US tour which saw them play in California in Berkeley on the 22nd of September and the famous Hollywood Bowl venue on the 24th in Los Angeles, the week after Banksy held his ‘Barely Legal’ exhibition in the city, over the weekend of the 15th-17th of September.
Fast forward two years to 2008, and Banksy returned to the US to produced 14 stencils throughout New Orleans to mark the upcoming third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Del Naja wrote the soundtrack alongside fellow Massive Attack member Neil Davidge to the New Orleans-themed documentary ‘Trouble the Water’. It received its New Orleans premiere on the 17th August that year – the same time period, almost to the day, that the stencils appeared.
And in 2013, when the artist’s month long residency in New York kicked off on the 1st October, the dates coincided with Massive Attack’s four night residency in the city between the 28th September and the 4th October at the city’s Park Avenue Armoury.
What about the wider field of play? The locations across the globe where Banksy has left his mark, apart from in Bristol, London and North America include Italy and Australia, and even, if we are to be believed, Africa.
As order dictates, I started at the beginning. And with that, somewhere close to home. Glasgow.
the arches
One of Bansky’s earliest public displays of his work was at the now defunct Arches nightclub and event space, under the city’s Central Station. The event saw the artist- then relatively unknown, share a billing with fellow, and more established, artist Jamie Reid of Sex Pistols fame.
Running from around the 1st to 18th March 2001, the Peace is Tough exhibition was poorly attended, but saw Banksy showcase some of his early work, like ‘Monkey Queen’. So why in Glasgow?
If Massive Attack are anything to go by, they also found the venue’s rugged charm to be the perfect launch pad. To celebrate the launch of their second album, ‘Protection’ (which came out on September 26 1994), the band played a concert at the venue on 8th December that year.
Looking abroad, one of Banksy’s first appearances outwith the UK was in Naples, Italy. His famous ‘Madonna Con La Pistola’, painted on the side of a church in the centre of the city, appeared some time around August 2004.
Banksy himself refers to the piece in a photo of the stencil in his book ‘Cut It Out’, released on the 14th of December 2004 – which allows me to make the jump back some months. Searches indicate that photos where first taken around this time of the work, which is still present in its location, covered by a Perspex protective cover.
A work appeared by Banksy in the city in 2010, only for it to be painted over quickly after, with which little information is available. So we know Banksy had ties to Naples, as its the only place he ‘tagged’ in Italy. And that he has visited on more than occasion.
Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja (‘3D’) is a massive Napoli fan and gave an interview to Naples’s Radio Marte  in 2010, revealing his passion for the team – a passion handed down to him from his Italian father. In the interview he reveals he attended a Napoli match in Naples against AS Citadella during their time in Serie C1, a match that took place on the 26th September 2004.
So although Massive Attack didn’t play a show there, at least Del Naja was there around the time the mural appeared. The band have had a relationship with the city stretching back to a decade before then in 1994, when Channel 4 filmed a documentary on their visit to the city to visit Del Naja’s father’s place of birth and record with the Naples band Almamegretta.
Let’s move on to Australia, jumping back and forward as we do. He first went down under in April 2003, after being invited to attend to participate in the Semi-Permanent design event in Alexandria, Sydney, creating one of his biggest ever art works while he was there – a collage piece stretching 2.5m high by 9m long.
While in the country he also visited Melbourne, being shown around by a guy called Puzle from a t-shirt label called Burn Crew, whom he met in Sydney, where he sprayed some of his famous rat stencils and a ‘Little Diver’ image around the city, including the famous ACDC lane.
When Banksy’s work appeared in Melbourne, this also represents the last time Massive Attack played in the city, at the Vodafone Arena on March 11th that year, before playing at the Sydney Entertainment Centre of the 14th March, Brisbane on the 16th March and Canberra on the 18th, as part of their Australian tour.
In early August of 2005, Banksy visited Palestine, painting a total of 9 pieces on the Palestinian Wall, including the famous ‘West Bank Guard’ showing a young girl searching a soldier for contraband. He returned a decade later, in February 2015, he further stirred the collective conscience by ‘bombing’ his way across slabs left over from Israel’s 2014 offensive in Gaza.
As for a possible Massive Attack appearance around the time Banksy visited Palestine in early 2005, there is none. Del Naja and Massive Attack have been working since 2005 with the HOPING foundation- Hope and Optimism for Palestinians in the Next Generation –  and have continuously lent their support to Palestine issues. After having played 2 gigs in Israel previously, he joined the movement for a cultural boycott of the country in 2010.
The band also played a run of three benefit concerts in Birmingham and London in 2007 for the foundation, while also made the headlines in July of 2014, with their headline show at Longitude Festival in Dublin including graphics which highlighted their solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Later that month the band staged a concert in Lebanon in collaboration with the HOPING project to support Palestinian refugees after visiting the Bourj el Barajneh refugee camp.
Perhaps of all the locations tagged by Banksy, Mali has to be the most random of places to have felt his artistic presence. Concretely, his work was uncovered in the suburbs of Bamako in Mali around January/February of 2007, with images first appearing online around four months later.
Bamako is a name that resonates due its links to Damon Albarn’s Africa Express project. Del Naja became involved with the project after visiting The Congo with Albarn in late 2007, and has strong links to the Mali music scene – being cited alongside Johnny Marr in Malian musicians’ Madou and Mariam’s section of the ‘Voices United For Mali’ song of peace, which was released in January 2013 – a song which was recorded in Studio Bogolan in Bamako.
Alburn himself part produced the album ‘Welcome to Mali’ by Madou & Mariam, which itself was part recorded in Bamako in early 2008, around the time when the murals appeared in the city.
Skip to 2008, and Banksy made his Asian debut after his work was included in the ‘Love Art 08’ exhibition at the end of April at the city’s Art Centre. This was around the same time that the art group United Visual Arts were invited to showcase their award winning multimedia artwork ‘Volume’ at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, from the 11-20th April.
Interestingly, the piece was a collaboration between design collective United Visual Artists, Del Naja and his long-term co-writer Neil Davidge (as part of their music production company, one point six).
Throughout his career, Banksy has spoken of his friendship with the band’s Robert Del Naja – himself a graffiti artist. Del Naja and Banksy are said to have exhibited together at shows in the past, with Banksy citing Del Naja as a big influence on his work.
And Del Naja himself appeared in Banksy’s ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’, speaking about his relationship with the artist from his early days in Bristol.


The artist also provides the foreword to the tome ‘3D & the Art of Massive Attack’, released in August 2015, which reads… “When I was about 10 years old, a kid called 3D was painting the streets hard. 3D quit painting and formed the band Massive Attack, which may have been a good thing for him, but was a big loss for the city.”
Del Naja was a graffiti artist long before becoming the ‘creative director’ of sorts of Massive Attack, and is held in high regard as one of the pioneers of the stencil graffiti movement, helping to bring hip-hop and graffiti culture to Bristol in the 1980s. And his work has been featured on all of Massive Attack’s record sleeved to date.
It’s also worth noting that Massive Attack cancelled a headline performance at Banksy’s ‘Dismaland’ event in September, citing ‘technical difficulties’. Banksy himself asked attendees to the event to wear masks, with the idea for ‘The Masked Ball’ being that he could attend without his identity being revealed by the paparazzi in attendance.
Perhaps the assertion then that Banksy is just one person is wide of the mark, instead being a group who have, over the years, followed Massive Attack around and painted walls at their leisure.
And perhaps, at the head of such a group we have Del Naja. A multi disciplined artist in front of one the seminal groups in recent British music history, doubling up as the planet’s most revered street artist. Now that would be cool.