- published: 12 Nov 2012
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Banksy is a pseudonymous England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter.
His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine irreverent dark humour with graffiti done in a distinctive stencilling technique. Such artistic works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world.
Banksy's work was born of the Bristol underground scene which involved collaborations between artists and musicians. According to author and graphic designer Tristan Manco and the book Home Sweet Home, Banksy "was born in 1974 and raised in Bristol, England. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980s." Observers have noted that his style is similar to Blek le Rat, who began to work with stencils in 1981 in Paris, and members of the anarcho-punk band Crass, which maintained a graffiti stencil campaign on the London Tube System in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However Banksy himself stated on his website that in all actuality he based his work on that of 3D from Massive Attack, stating, "No, I copied 3D from Massive Attack. He can actually draw."
He began his artwork in 1981, painting stencils of rats on the street walls of Paris, describing the rat as "the only free animal in the city", and one which "spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art". His name originates from a childhood cartoon "Blek le Roc", using "rat" as an anagram for "art".
Initially influenced by the early graffiti art of New York City after a visit in 1971, he chose a style which he felt better suited Paris, due to the differing architecture of the two cities. He also stated the influence of British artist Richard Hamilton, who painted large-scale human figures in the 1980s. He is credited with being the inventor of the life-sized stencil, as well as the first to transform stencil from basic lettering into pictoral art.
Blek's identity was revealed to French authorities in 1991 when he was arrested while stencilling a replica of Caravaggio's Madonna and Child, with the connection to Blek and his artwork being made by police. From that point on, he has worked exclusively with pre-stenciled posters, citing the speedier application of the medium to walls, as well as lessened punishment should he be caught in the act.