Banksy Archive Gets an Update

From 2002, this may be the oldest photo for a Banksy piece on Stencil Archive.

Not to bury the lede, Stencil Archive's Banksy archive has been updated with one new image added.

Banksy may be the most famous artist of the 20th century, complete with a couch gag on the Simpsons and rip offs of his artwork by anyone who wants to make a buck off the artist's popularity. Some of this ripping off literally happened across the world, and here in San Francisco, one man somehow thought he was saving Banksy by taking a large rat stencil off an Upper Haight wall... and into a storage space somewhere out of the public eye.

Speaking of the public eye, theories abound about the actual identity of Banksy. While I was poking around the location of the Upper Haight rat piece, the manager of the Red Vic Bed and Breakfast swore that Banksy checked in when the piece went up. "We had a guest from England the same time," the manager excitedly said. Just after Banksy wandered through SF that last time, I knew an artist from Europe that knew Banksy's people. She was a bit cagey about details, but did say that Banksy liked to find locals to help set up logistics, scope out sites and walls for art, and most likely pretend that they were the artist. I'd even guess that they'd get arrested for Banksy. My contact said that the local folks worked 24/7, sometimes spending hours at walls to check for cops, security, crowd traffic, etc. It was unclear if they all got to meet Banksy, but my contact had. She said has a nice person who was into collaboration.

I have been asked many questions about Banksy, even in front of audiences and video cameras. The most asked question is "do you know Banksy?", followed up by "do you know who Banksy is?". I do not know Banksy, nor know who he is, but he did directly email me once! My claim to fame came when I was reaching out to artists I was featuring in my 2008 book "Stencil Nation". 

I had an email for Banksy (still do!) that he used for an early-2000s email newsletter. Back then, I had just started Stencil Archive and was still learning how the rules of illegal art worked. Someone emailed me with a link to photos of Banksy getting up in Jamaica, saying that we all now knew what the already-infamous unidentified artist looked like - basically a pale bloke from England. I was craving content for Stencil Archive, so I posted the email text and the link to the photos. Soon after, via that official Banksy email address, I got a very polite "cease and desist" email from Banksy, saying it wasn't proper to expose the identity of a vandalizing artist. The email asked to please take down the post, and I did, learning a great lesson that exposing the identity of vandals can get them in big trouble. 

Six-ish years later, I used that same email to let Banksy know that I was putting his work in "Stencil Nation" and said that he should send me photos of anything he wanted in the book. Otherwise, I was using the photos I had on hand. His one-sentence reply was "Let me get back to you." He never did.

But over the years, I have met a few folks who have met Banksy. Some of the stories I have read about are loose, like the one where he painted a stencil on an English pub, went in and had a pint, and paid for it with a sketch on a piece of paper. Here in SF, Banksy walked into a Grant St. bakery, said he was putting up an ad on their Commercial St. wall, gave them a $50 bill, and then painted this image:


On my Stencil Nation book tour, at a rocking afterparty in Zilina, Slovakia (yes, about 50 people showed up to my presentation, many of them not knowing any English), a guy came up to me and asked if I'd met Banksy. Turns out that he had, randomly meeting him at a party in London. The Slovakian said that he saw a guy standing alone, drinking a beer, so went over to chat with him. The discussion led to Banksy, and the English guy shyly said he was Banksy. Somehow there was proof, but I cannot recall. Maybe proof via photos on a phone.

Of the maybe 3-4 people I've met over the years that met Banksy, they say he's incredibly nice and unassuming. That may be why he's still yet to be identified. But one story I was told was about how a young and budding street artist barged into a hip-hop legend's house in NYC, geeking out about the rap group's logo and design. The young English kid even found the merch closet and grabbed an item before he left. The New York musician didn't know who the hell the kid was and complained about his behavior to the mutual friend that set up the visit. Turned out that English kid was Banksy, because he felt bad about the visit and put a rat stencil near the musician's house, apologizing for being rude.

I get other questions and opinions about Banksy, and can sum them up here for the final paragraph. No, Banksy is not a woman. Perhaps Banksy is a crew, since all videos he's ever released show him working with many other people. I doubt Banksy is Massive Attacks's Robert Del Naja because I have looked at Del Naja's art and it isn't anything like Banksy's. Yes, a few simple searches can bring up supposed photos of Banksy, including the ones from Jamaica (last time I looked), but I do not care at this point. Yes, Blek le Rat in France was making simple rat stencils in the 1980s long before Banksy even knew how to cut a stencil, and Banksy gave Blek the respect that was expected. I have theories about why graffiti writers and taggers hate Banksy, and two words may be worth looking into - King Robbo. Yes, I'd like to meet Banksy, but maybe I already have (when I went to the SF premiere of "Exit Through the Gift Shop" a familiar face a few rows in front of me had an English accent). If I did meet Banksy, I doubt I'd ask him direct questions about his work and methods. I am incredibly curious about his travels in Palestine and Ukraine, and would love to shake his hand in gratitude for making a point that art should be free and in public. 

More than anything, his acts of gratitude for charities, making exhibits accessible to the public, and his always supporting the underdogs would be worth talking to him about. Over a pint of good English beer.