Curious admirers have long since theorized about the identity of the mysterious street artist Banksy, who first captured attention in the early 2000s with his politically charged graffiti.
Now, more than two decades after he rose to fame, fans might have an answer.
In a lost BBC interview from 2003, which resurfaced this week, Bansky was asked by a reporter if his real name is “Robert Banks.”
The artist, who would have been in his 20s at the time, simply relied, “It’s Robbie.”
Banksy’s identity has never been formally revealed, and interviews with the enigmatic artist are rare.
An edited version of the BBC interview aired in 2003 and provided the unusual opportunity to hear Banksy’s voice. Parts of the interview, including confirmation of Banksy’s first name, were cut and unaired.
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BBC reporter Nigel Wrench recently unearthed the full Banksy interview from a minidisc in his house. The interview was reshared as a bonus clip for the podcast series The Banksy Story, which chronicles the secretive artist’s launch to icon status.
In the 2003 interview, Banksy also defended the use of vandalism in his art. As a graffiti artist, most of Banksy’s work uses public structures or private property as his canvas, often without authorization.
Banksy refused to apologize for the vandalism.
“It’s a quicker way of making your point, right?” he defended. “In the same way my mother used to cook Sunday roast every Sunday and says every Sunday, ‘It takes hours to make it, minutes to eat.’”
The artist said he uses a microwave-inspired approach in his work, where he aims to quickly “get it done and dusted.”
“Other people, they can change it. They can get rid of it,” he said, describing the cyclical nature of graffiti. “It is equally somebody else’s right to go out and paint over it if they don’t like it.”
The artist continued: “I think it’s better if you treat the city like a big playground, you know? It’s there to mess about in.”
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A secret identity
Over the years, fans have pointed fingers at numerous U.K.-based artists they believe might be Banksy.
In line with the unearthed interview, variations of Robin, Robert and Robbie have often been suggested as the street artist’s first name.
For many, Bristol-based artist Robin Gunningham has been a prime suspect. Gunningham was first named by British tabloid the Daily Mail in 2008. The outlet “unmasked” Gunningham as Banksy, citing a 2004 photo of a man — who the Daily Mail claimed is Gunningham — kneeling amid spray paint cans and stencils in Jamaica. Gunningham was described as a former schoolboy from Bristol who had a talent for visual arts.
Robert Del Naja of the British trip-hop band Massive Attack and Neil Buchanan of the popular children’s craft show Art Attack have also been suspected. Both men have denied being Banksy.
Even non-working artists have been the subject of conjecture, as was the case with Welsh town councillor Billy Gannon. Gannon, who was an official from the small community of Pembroke Dock, quit his political career amid speculation he was Banksy, which he said made it impossible to carry out his duties. He has denied being Banksy (but acknowledged that’s exactly what the real Banksy would say too).
Others still have made the entirely different suggestion that Banksy is not a singular person, but rather a collective of secretive artists.
Though much of Banksy’s art is graffiti on structures, his work has become incredibly valuable in recent years — and has attracted the attention of several high-profile, wealthy buyers.
In 2018, Banksy seemingly attempted to take matters into his own hands when he partially shredded one of his most famous works, Girl with Balloon, moments after it sold for US$1.4 million (about C$1.9 million) in auction.
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