There is much speculation about his name and his identity. He was born and grew up in Bristol, but apart from this little or nothing is known about him: it is impossible to find out the details of his life although many have attempted to do so. Gianni Mercurio, curator of the exhibition, recalls how one characteristic the “writers” of yesterday (the artists who in early seventies New York sprayed the first graffiti on the exteriors of the subway carriages and later on the walls of the New York stations) share with today’s street artists is their multicultural origins. The first writers “came from various New York neighbourhoods with diverse communities (the blacks of Harlem, the Hispanics and Italians of the Bronx and the lower East Side). It is no accident that the primary effect of their expression was the invention of a new style of writing that previously didn’t exist, an amalgam of many lettering styles from Arabic script to Western and Asian scripts. In this panorama” Mercurio states, “Banksy amplifies and expands the multicultural character of the “writers” who initially formally inspired him: like the street artists of his generation, he accentuates the content of the socio-political messages in an explicit way, indeed he radically shifts the message from the form to the content”. His message, his art, manifests itself as an explicit and scathing criticism directed at the arrogance of the establishment, of power, conformism, war, and consumerism.
As Shepard Fairey explained, “His works are full of metaphors that transcend language barriers. The images are entertaining and witty, and yet so simple and accessible: even six-year old children who have no concept of cultural conflict, have no problem seeing that there is something not quite right when they see the Mona Lisa with a rocket launcher.” In Banksy’s work the words often go beyond an aesthetic evaluation (which in any case goes against the grain of the artist’s sensibilities) or a declaration of intent, but highlight his firm stance against the contemporary art system. In view of the empathy between Banksy and a young audience, how do the critics and the market (a more decisive factor than ever on the contemporary art scene) view the British artist? Banksy’s work is now beginning to interest the major art dealers and to be hung in the homes of the most important trend-setting collectors. Contrary to what the artist would probably wish for, opposed as he is to the capitalist validation of art, the value of his work is increasing exponentially, creating what Mercurio describes as a “further short circuit around Banksy, coming on top of the ones that already surround this almost legendary figure.”




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