He’s perhaps the most famous graffiti artist in history, but very few people know his real identity. Banksy has been teasing the world – and especially the UK – with his playful, edgy street art for decades, all while remaining anonymous. But is he about to be unmasked?
Is Banksy About To Be Unmasked?
‘Bansky is white, 28, scruffy casual – jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring. He looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets,’ Simon Hattenstone wrote in The Guardian in 2003, when Banksy was rising to prominence and about to unveil his warehouse exhibition, Turf War. While anonymity was first used to avoid the legal repercussions of graffiti (it is, of course, illegal), today it is paradoxically a crucial element of his identity.
Nonetheless, identity speculation goes hand-in-hand with Banksy’s work. He is known to be from Bristol, where his early work first appeared on trains and walls with rats and policemen commenting on authoritarianism. Many people claim to know him: those who spray painted walls alongside him in the early years in Bristol’s underground graffiti scene, those close to him, those who swear they caught a glimpse the night before a new piece is unveiled.
Now Banksy’s identity might finally be revealed, in a less glamorous and autonomous manner than we might have hoped for: in the High Court. Graffiti artist Andrew Gallagher has filed a defamation lawsuit against Pest Control Ltd, the company that sells Banksy’s art, and a 53-year-old man named Robin Gunningham.
The news follows a 2019 case in which Gallagher’s greeting cards company, Full Colour Black, applied for a cancellation of the trademark protecting Banksy’s ‘Laugh Now’ work, arguing a work of graffiti sprayed in a public place is fair game – and the European Union Intellectual Property Office agreed. In November 2022, however, Banksy’s company Pest Control Ltd won an appeal, with the Court’s ruling overturned. Amid the drama, Banksy managed to keep his real identity concealed – but flash forward to this 2023 case, and the same might not be true.
Who Is Banksy?
Sleuths have pointed at Bristol-born Robin Gunningham for around 15 years now, following an investigation published by the Daily Mail. The Mail cited interviews with Gunningham’s friends and acquaintances who confirmed he was the artist, as well as photographs showing the physical resemblance between Gunningham and the few known photographs of Banksy. Sources place Gunningham somewhere between the ages of 50 and 52 in 2023, which would make him slightly older than the Banksy Hattenstone met in 2003 (who was 28 years old then, so would be 48 years old now).
Robert del Naja
One third of trip hop trio Massive Attack, theories also surround Robert Del Naja due to similarities between his graffiti artwork and Banksy’s, and their shared Bristol background. There have been overlaps in the locations of both, with Banksy artwork appearing in the same city where Massive Attack were playing. Plus, in 2018, DJ Goldie referred to Banksy as ‘Robert’ in a podcast interview – though Goldie later denied any significance. Del Naja has denied he is Banksy, but has confirmed he is friends with the graffiti artist, revealing that Banksy has attended some of his gigs. Other theories suggest Banksy is Adrian Thaws or Grant Marshall, the other two members of Massive Attack.
In 2020, social media rumours circulated claiming Neil Buchanan of Art Attack fame is Banksy due to similarities in their work, and theories about their ages and locations. Both, however, quickly came out to deny the claim, and the theory is considered debunked.
One of the earliest theories about Banksy’s identity pointed to popular artist Damien Hirst, though both artists have, of course, denied this. That said, in 2007, the pair collaborated on a piece called ‘Keep It Spotless’, in which a Banksy maid lifts the edge of one of Hirst’s paintings to sweep under it.