A Parodist Who Calls Himself Hanksy
By JOHN LELAND
FEB. 14, 2014
The street artist who calls himself Hanksy, on Orchard Street in Lower Manhattan with his piece “Walter Flite.” Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
This is a story about art in the age of social media — about anonymity and self-promotion, about feral cats and viral cat videos.
In April 2011, a law school dropout in Bushwick, Brooklyn, newly arrived from the Midwest, had an idea that he thought might make a splash. He admired the street artist Banksy; he grew up on the movies of Tom Hanks. Why not mash up the two? Using simple computer software, he downloaded a Banksy painting of a rat holding a paint roller, then added an image of Mr. Hanks’s face. The whole thing took 10 or 15 minutes to create. He printed a cutout and pasted it on a wall at Mulberry and Kenmare Streets in Little Italy, signing it Hanksy. It was a stupid pun, he knew, but he was a sucker for stupid puns. Isn’t everybody?
He photographed the wall for his Instagram and Twitter accounts, and emailed it to the Wooster Collective, a popular street art website. Then he went to sleep.
“And then it just went viral,” Hanksy said the other day, speaking in a Lower East Side coffee shop near the restaurant in which he is a partner. “I remember counting at the time that it had been tweeted to four- or five-million accounts.”