If you’re interested in art and pop culture, you’ve most likely heard of Banksy, the stealthy street artist who’s been impressing the public with his anonymous art installations for more than two decades. To this day, no one knows who the British graffiti artist really is—though some people have their suspicions that he’s a member of a well-known trip-hop band. So who is Banksy really? Here, we do some digging to try to uncover the artist’s true identity.
What Is Banksy Most Known For?
Believed to be born in or around 1974, Banksy got his start as a freehand graffiti artist in the UK in the early 1990s. He was an integral part of Bristol’s underground scene, which saw a unique merging of music, street art, and political activism. In the early 2000s, Bansky developed a distinctive style thanks to his adoption of stenciling, which allowed him to paint his works on public property fast enough to avoid being apprehended.
While much of Banksy’s early work was illegal (which is one of the reasons he’s kept such as tight lid on his identity), he also participated in exhibitions throughout the UK and eventually, around the world. His satiric antiestablishment messages struck a chord with the public and his art started fetching high prices at auction. One of his most well-known works, for example—Girl with Balloon—sold for £37,200 (about $51,918 USD) at Sotheby’s auction house in London, which was well above its estimated value.
But even as Banksy’s art started to garner commercial success, the subversive British artist made it clear that he was not in it for the money.
“I started painting on the street because it was the only venue that would give me a show,” he said in a 2013 email interview with The Village Voice. “Now I have to keep painting on the street to prove to myself it wasn’t a cynical plan. Plus it saves money on having to buy canvases.”
“But there’s no way round it—commercial success is a mark of failure for a graffiti artist. We’re not supposed to be embraced in that way. When you look at how society rewards so many of the wrong people, it’s hard not to view financial reimbursement as a badge of self-serving mediocrity.”
The secretive street artist seems to practice what he preaches and says he has walked away from some very lucrative gigs with mainstream brands and advertisers. In a rare 2003 interview with The Guardian, he said:
“Yeah, I’ve turned down four Nike jobs now. Every new campaign they email me to ask me to do something about it. I haven’t done any of those jobs. The list of jobs I haven’t done now is so much bigger than the list of jobs I have done. It’s like a reverse CV, kinda weird. Nike have offered me mad money for doing stuff.”
As his popularity has grown, Banksy has continued to hold true to his anti-commercial beliefs. In 2018, for example, he shocked the art world when he rigged his famous Girl with Balloon to self-destruct by shredding itself—just moments after it sold for £1,042,000 (about $1.4 million) at auction.
Banksy’s Identity Remains A Hidden Secret
It’s kind of incredible that Banksy has managed to keep his identity concealed from the public for all these years, despite being one of the most well-known artists in the world. Although he continues to install much of his work in public places, he only reveals them via his social media feeds after they’ve been completed.
The enigmatic artist even directed a documentary film in 2010 called Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was nominated for an Academy Award. While Banksy is featured in the film, his face is obscured and his voice is altered to protect his anonymity.
To this day, the artist’s true identity remains a mystery. And anyone who may know who he really is has kept their mouths shut.
Why Some People Believe Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja Is Banksy
Of course, there have been many theories about Banksy’s true identity throughout the years. One of the most popular (and convincing!) is that he is Robert “3D” Del Naja, a fellow British graffiti artist and one of the founding members of the trip-hop band Massive Attack. Born in 1965, the 56-year-old artist and musician was an influential player in the Bristol underground scene, and Banksy has even said he had a major influence on his early work.
Proponents of this theory, including the investigative journalist who originated it, cite a number of Massive Attack concert locations as evidence. For example, after the band appeared in San Francisco in late April of 2010, a slew of Bansky murals popped up in the Golden City. Days later, the band played in Toronto, Canada, where Banksy murals appeared soon after.
Robert Del Naja Has Denied The Rumors
While some of the evidence is compelling, it appears that Banksy is not the alter ego of the Massive Attack frontman. In 2016, Del Naja denied the speculation, saying: “It would be a good story but sadly not true. Wishful thinking I think. He is a mate as well, he’s been to some of the gigs. It’s purely a matter of logistics and coincidence, nothing more than that.”
Del Naja also exclaimed during a Massive Attack concert: “Rumors of me being Banksy are greatly exaggerated, we are all Banksy!”
That’s exactly what we’d expect the Banksy to say! Unfortunately, Banksy continues to maintain his anonymity so we’ll never know for sure. All theories about his identity are pure speculation.