Who is Banksy? The secretive artist whose identity may soon be exposed

An artwork, acknowledged to by street artist Banksy, is pictured on the side of a house in Margate, south east England

This Banksy appeared in Kent last year (Picture: WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP)

Bansky’s identity has been a well-kept secret since he rose to prominence in the 1990s.

The graffiti artist is famous for spraying murals with anti-authoritarian and anti-war messages on the side of buildings around the world.

But his steadfast anonymity has led to speculation that he could be anyone, including celebrities like Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja or Gorillaz founder Jamie Hewlett.

Even Art Attack host Neil Buchanan and former ‘public schoolboy’ Robin Gunningham have been accused of being the real Banksy.

Earlier this week, an old picture of Banksy at work before he rose to fame resurfaced, once again sparking interest in his true identity – and potentially providing vital clues.

Interest in who hides behind the name has been reignited by a confirmed Banksy painting, which appeared on the side of a London apartment building on Hornsey Road in Finsbury Park earlier this year.

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Banksy’s works have popped up around the world

After waking to find green paint daubed on a wall behind a leafless tree, local resident James Roebuck lamented on X: ‘Banksy came overnight and now my rent will skyrocket.’

Who is Banksy?

Banksy emerged as a street artist in Bristol in the early 1990s.

He’s thought to have been born in the Gloucestershire town of Yate in the 1970s, starting his artistic journey in the nearby city with a politically engaged music scene.

As part of Bristol’s DryBreadZ Crew, he was influenced by other figures in the Underground Scene like 3D, also known as Robert Del Naja, a member of Massive Attack.

By the 2000s when he appeared to move to London, Banksy had swapped freehand designs for stencilled ones, allowing him to produce pieces more quickly.

Already the most famous street artist in the UK, he started turning graffiti into high art favoured by the wealthy, with exhibitions in Britain and abroad.

He has popped up with new pieces stealthily created in public places around the world ever since, including the barriers of the West Bank.

Many of his murals call for peace and poke fun at authority and inequality, featuring characters like rats, police and children.

Where is the latest Banksy work and when was it painted?

Banksy confirmed he’d left a new artwork in London after a massive mural popped up overnight on the side of a building near Finsbury Park.

New tree mural in London done by Banksy

The new mural in north London has been confirmed as a Banksy piece (Picture: Amy @psychologyamyb)

The huge green splatter of paint behind a leafless tree looks like foliage.

Underneath is a portrait of a girl holding a pressure sprayer while she looks up, possibly indicating a commentary on nature and the environment.

At least that’s what James Peak, creator of BBC Radio 4 series, The Banksy Story, thinks.

He said: ‘The message is clear. Nature’s struggling and it is up to us to help it grow back.’

Banksy updated his Instagram, where he posts photos of his artwork, for the first time since December when he posts pictures of the mural on Monday morning.

How does Banksy make money?

The secretive artist has called commercial success ‘a mark of failure’ and encouraged people not to buy his work.

But with an estimated net worth of more than £15 million, according to MailOnline, Banksy must make his bucks somehow.

And it’s not from selling his most famous artworks found on outside walls.

When those are up for auction, it’s usually landlords and art dealers who take the profits.

The artist’s piece Love is in the Bin – which consists of his painting Girl with Balloon partially shredded – sold for £18.5 million at auction in 2021.

A Banksy mural at Marble Arch

A Banksy mural appeared at Marble Arch after a two-week Extinction Rebellion campaign in London in 2019 (Picture: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard via Getty Images)

An entire section of wall was removed from a building in Lowestoft, Suffolk, so owners Gary and Nadine Schwartz could sell another of Banksy’s work privately.

Rumours it had sold for £2 million sparked outrage among residents of the seaside town where people had flocked to view the mural, ‘Crowbar Girl’.

Banksy instead makes money from selling prints of his iconic pieces, rather than the originals themselves.

These range from unsigned, unnumbered pieces costing £400 to £800, to £40,000 or even £130,000 limited runs, according to Bristol-based artdealer Huw Lougher, industry publication Artspace reported.

Celebrities like Christine Aguilera, Kate Moss and Bono have bought Banksypieces over the years.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt paid £1 million for a collection of Banksy artworks in 2007, Yield Gallery reported.

Just five years later, Jolie spent another £200,000 on a Banksy piece at his exhibition in Los Angeles, the Evening Standard reported.

Such exhibitions, which have taken place from LA to London, are another key source of Banksy’s income.

Huge crowds flocked to his hometown for the Banksy v Bristol Museum show in 2009.

For Dismaland, Banksy took over a derelict seafront lido in Weston-super-Mare in 2015.

List of all the people thought to be Banksy

Robert del Naja

Robert del Naja, aka 3D, of Massive Attack has been asked if he is Banksy (Picture: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Accusations have been thrown left, right and centre in the search for Banksy’s true identity.

One suggestion is that Banksy isn’t a man at all, but a woman who leads a collective, according to Canadian artist Chris Healey in the HBO documentary ‘Banksy Does New York’.

But most people put forward as the ‘true Banksy’ are men, some of whom have been wrongly arrested as a result.

Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja has faced suspicion for years, particularly after identifying himself as a personal friend of Banksy.

Other would-be sleuths have pointed the finger at Neil Buchanan, host of the beloved CITV show Art Attack.

Neil Buchanan

Could ITV’s beloved Art Attack presenter be the infamous stealth artist Banksy? (Picture: ITV)

Social media users noticed a pattern of Banksy pieces appearing in locations where the presenter had performed his music.

Buchanan denied the claims in 2020, with a spokesperson saying he had ‘spent lockdown with vulnerable members of his family’, the BBC reported.

​Even Gorillaz founder Jamie Hewlett has come under suspicion after a ‘forensic expert’ found a ‘J Hewlett’ was linked with every company known to be connected to Banksy.

Others include Paul Horner, from Liverpool, who was accused of being Banksy by an American website claiming he’d been tracked down and arrested for vandalism and other offenses.

But the claim turned out to be a hoax, and Banksy’s publicist denied the artist had been arrested.

Richard Pfeiffer, from Brooklyn, was arrested by police who believed he had drawn a Banksy image he was actually admiring in Manhattan.

He was able to prove the pen he had with him did not match the piece and the charges were dropped.

A British teen claimed a man called ‘Robin Banks’ gave him a print signed by Banksy on a train in 2015, claiming it was worth £20,000, but this has not been verified.

Although Robert Del Naya has firmly denied claims he is Banksy, it’s possible the ‘real’ Banksy shares his first name.

In 2017, rapper Goldie referred to Banksy as ‘Rob’ while discussing art in a podcast with Scroobius Pip.

A lost BBC interview with Banksy in 2003 appears to confirm this.

In it, a BBC reporter asked Banksy if he is called ‘Robert Banks’, to which Banksy replied: ‘It’s Robbie’.

Robin Gunningham, a ‘former public schoolboy brought up in middle-class suburbia’, is one of the more likely contenders, according to Mail on Sunday.

The paper claimed to have exposed him as the graffiti artist after a year-long investigation with interviews with former schoolmates, friends, enemies and even family.

A study of locations of Banksy’s art, correlated with Gunningham’s known movements, appeared to support this.

Gunningham may find himself exposed as Banksy after he and Pest Control were named in a defamation case launched by an Andrew Gallagher.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

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