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The Three Most Popular Theories of Banksy's Identity
Artstyle 28 Jan 2022

The Three Most Popular Theories of Banksy's Identity

An activist , provocative, anti-capitalist and mysterious street artist, Banksy is the most popular graffiti artist of our century. He fascinates us by his ability to remain anonymous, despite countless frescoes he has painted in public places. Since the 90’s, he has been covering walls all over the world, without ever having been unmasked. One after the other, we speculate that he is Paul Horner, Richard Pfeiffer, Robin Banks, Thierry Guetta. But none any of these presumed identities seem to be plausible and Banksy’s identity remains secret. And to confuse the matter further, the artist enjoys putting obstacles in the way of those who pretend to be detectives! But which theories are the most credible? Artsper has conducted the investigation for you.

Key moments in Banksy’s career

  • Early 1990s: His works start appearing in Bristol
  • Late 1990s: He moves to London and begins to gain public recognition
  • 2000s: He begins hosting exhibitions in Britain and abroad, and is now the most famous graffiti artist in the UK
  • 2003: He pranks the Tate Britain in London by disguising as a pensioner and installing one of his own works in a vacant spot on the gallery wall
  • 2004: He sneaks into the Musée du Louvre in Paris and hangs his own version of the Mona Lisa
  • 2010: He directs Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film, moves to New York and is now the most famous graffiti artist in the world

The most far-fetched theory

In September 2020, a tweet posted by “Scouseman” resounded around the world.  Could we have found Banksy’s identity? The lucky one named was Neil Buchanan, the presenter of the show Art Attack, broadcast in the 1990s on Disney Channel. Very popular with children, Buchanan taught on screen how to make art with everyday objects. Despite the lack of convincing evidence and immediate denials from Buchanan’s official website, fans loved this theory.

Such an identity has the merit of anchoring Banksy in his role of guru. As a teacher of easy and self-made artistic methods during our childhood, Buchanan highlights the societal drifts under our now adult eyes. As a kind of benevolent guide, his influences stretch a whole generation. But at the risk of disappointing you, this is certainly the least credible theory about Banksy’s true identity.

Banksy's identity, Banksy, Falling shopper, 2011
Banksy, Falling shopper, 2011

The coolest theory on Banksy’s identity

Thanks to the investigation of British journalist Craig Williams another theory emerged in September 2016. According to him, Banksy could be Robert Del Naja, leader of the band Massive Attack! At first glance, the theory seems far-fetched, but this new identity of Banksy is actually probable. Indeed, they are said to be friends, both from Bristol and born around the same time.

But what really tickled Craig Williams was the correlation between concert dates and new artworks. Massive Attack performed in Los Angeles in 2006, just one week before the opening of a Banksy exhibition. In 2008, Robert Del Naja made a documentary about Hurricane Katrina, while Banksy covered New Orleans with his stencils. On April 25 and 27, 2010, Massive Attack played in San Francisco. On the morning of May 1st, six works of Bansky appeared around the city. The same goes for Boston and Toronto, where Banksy’s murals overlapped with Massive Attack’s concert dates.

The icing on the cake? Robert Del Naja also has a history as a street artist, dating back to the 1980s. While no clue can be taken for certain, this presumed identity of Banksy once again establishes his genius. Prodigy of street art and music? This theory never ceases to dazzle the imagination.  

Banksy's identity
Banksy, Sweeping It Under The Carpet, 2006

The most probable theory about Banksy’s identity

Also in 2016, thanks to a theory based on a long work of investigation by geographical profiling, a new track appeared. Banksy could be Robin Gunningham, a native and current resident of Bristol. Born in this English city in 1973, he moved to London in the 2000s, which coincides with Banksy’s career path. Even if, once again, no proof is irrefutable, this theory is the most likely regarding the identity of the graffiti artist. With no other hat, no popular past, Gunningham could be this artist so adored by the whole world!

Banksy's identity, Banksy, Game changer, 2020
Banksy, Game changer, 2020

Banksy: one for all, all for one?

Among the many theories concerning Banksy’s identity, there is one that postulates a collective of artists rather than one individual. Quite credible, this theory pushes to its paroxysm the vision of art defended by Banksy. That of a world where the streets belong to everyone, where the walls can be covered by whomever wants to express themselves, where the buildings are just waiting to be painted by its citizens! Is Banksy in your eyes a solitary artist or a small group of talented graffiti artists? And you, what do you think about it?

Key Banksy exhibitions

  • 1998: Early exhibition in Bristol
  • 2001: First exhibition in London, at Rivington Street
  • 2002: Peace is Tough exhibition in Glasgow
  • 2002: Existencilism exhibition in Los Angeles
  • 2003: Semipermanent exhibition in Sydney
  • 2008: Cans Festival exhibition in The Leake Street Tunnel, London
  • 2015: The Dismaland Bemusement Park art project in Somerset, England: a spoof rendition of Disneyland theme park

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