Banksy is a world-renowned street artist known for his provocative and political murals that has appeared in urban locations as varied as London, Los Angeles, Bristol, Kyiv, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Paris, Calais, Palestine, and Bethlehem, and his art sells for high prices in the art market. Yet in spite of his fame and fortune, the artist remains a complete enigma – few members of the public actually seem to know who the real artist is. He continues to operate under a veil of obscurity, which allows him to produce street art in unplanned locations without being prosecuted. In an unearthed interview with the BBC from 2003, Banksy allegedly revealed his first name, telling the interviewer, “It’s Robbie.” Whether or not he was being honest, however, is still unknown.
He said during another interview, “If you want to say something and have people listen then you have to wear a mask. If you want to be honest then you have to live a lie.” This hasn’t stopped curious fans trying to work out his real identity, with several other names that have popped up over the years. Here are some of the most likely contenders.
One of the most likely theories is that Banksy could be Robin Gunningham, a known street artist born in Yate, near Bristol. Several clues point towards Gunningham – for one, Banksy admitted in one interview that he grew up in a small town in Southern England, and made his first street art as a graffiti artist on the streets of Bristol before moving to London. Meanwhile an image of Gunningham with spray cans and stencils similar to Banksy’s style made its way around the internet in 2004. In 2016, the Queen Margaret University of London even conducted a study that matched up Banksy and Gunningham’s lives.
Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja
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Some have speculated that Banksy could be the lead singer of the British trip hop band Massive Attack. Like Banksy, Del Naja hails from Bristol, and has openly spoken about being a graffiti artist called 3D in the city before joining Massive Attack. The notion of him being the real Banksy came about following an interview with DJ Goldie, who referred to Banksy’s real name, saying “No disrespect to Rob, I think he is a brilliant artist. I think he has flipped the world of art over.” When new Banksy artworks appeared in the same city that Massive Attack were performing, fans began making the connection. However, Del Naja has firmly denied the claims, and Banksy has cited 3D as one of his greatest early inspirations.
Another musical contender once suspected of being Banky is Gorillaz frontman Jamie Hewlett. The theory began following the work of one forensic expert, who linked Hewlitt with Banksy via a business paper trail. A further connection appeared when Banksy’s art was featured in some of the band’s music videos, including that of Tomorrow Comes Today, opening up further speculation as to a possible connection. However, these suggestions have been denied by Banksy’s publicist.
There are some theories circulating that Banksy is the Los Angeles based street artist Thierry Guetta, also known as Mr. Brainwash, who made an appearance in Banksy’s 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. Fans argued the entire documentary was a hoax, because Guetta was in fact the real Banksy, but the rumors have largely been denied.
A Collective of Artists
One possible theory is that Banksy is in fact not just one artist, but a collective of individuals who carry out the street art in different locations, and at different times of year. In fact, artist Chris Healey even suggested Banksy might be a woman who is in charge of a group of artists in the documentary Banksy Does New York, arguing that the real Banksy is a blonde woman who makes an appearance in the film, but this theory has largely been quashed. Instead, Banksy’s real identity is only known amongst an inner circle. This means he remains an elusive public figure whose true identity is obscure, and that only adds to the mass appeal of his art.