Banksy: who is artist, is he Robin Gunningham from Bristol, identity, real name - why is their work anonymous?

The elusive artist Banksy has managed to keep their identity hidden for over 20 years

(Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)(Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
(Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The wall artwork depicts a 1950s housewife forcing her male partner into a chest freezer while sporting a bruised eye and a missing tooth. Posting images of the artwork on their Instagram account, the elusive artist captioned the piece "Valentine’s day mascara", and zoomed in to reveal a close-up of the woman’s beaming but damaged face.

It also features a variety of rubbish on the ground in front of the artwork, including a broken white garden chair, a blue crate and an empty beer bottle. The chest freezer which was incorporated into the new artwork has since been removed from the area, allegedly due to fly-tipping.

The resident of the property where the painting appeared said the freezer and other items used for the artwork had been removed “very quickly” and put into a truck by midday. She claimed she asked the people who removed the items why they were doing so and they replied: “Someone told them on the council, they are just doing the task, it’s not their idea but they must do it.”

The resident added: “Earlier, no-one was interested if the rubbish was on the street. I mean, they were, but not that quickly. Even if you report something to them about taking the rubbish, they are acting one or two weeks later, not immediately.”

Thanet District Council confirmed it had removed the chest freezer incorporated into the wall painting “on the grounds of safety,” adding that it planned on returning it once it had been “made safe to the public,” and that it would be contacting the property owner where the mural was painted to discuss ways to preserve the piece.

But just who is Banksy? Are there any clues out there as to the artist’s identity or real name? And why have they gone to such great lengths to maintain their anonymity? Here is everything you need to know.

Who is Banksy?

It is believed that Banksy is from Bristol, as that’s where much of their art first started appearing in the early 2000s. There is also evidence to suggest that Banksy is a man based on a 2003 interview the artist gave to ITV News.

Scant little else is known about the artist. Here are some of the main theories about who Banksy could be:

  • Robin Gunningham: One of the first people who was thought to be Banksy, Gunningham is a Bristolian graffiti artist - although not much else is known about him. This theory remains the most plausible, with several of Gunningham’s associates and former schoolmates corroborating the claims. On top of this, a 2016 study by researchers at the Queen Mary University of London used geographic profiling, and found that the incidence of Banksy’s works correlated with the known movements of Gunningham.
  • Robert Del Naja: The Massive Attack founder, also known as 3D, is also a graffiti artist from Bristol. The DJ Goldie appeared to out him in a 2017 interview where he said Del Naja had “flipped the world of art over”. However, this may be because he has been cited as an inspiration by Banksy himself.
  • Neil Buchanan: The Art Attack host was once briefly (and possibly half-jokingly) believed to be the mystery artist by speculating Twitter users, potentially bored out of their minds during lockdown. He has denied being Banksy.
  • Billy Gannon: Pembroke Dock councillor Gannon was rumoured to be Banksy in 2022, claims which forced his resignation as the speculation was affecting his ability to carry out his duties. "I’m being asked to prove who I am not, and the person that I am not may not exist," he said. "I mean, how am I supposed to prove that I’m not somebody who doesn’t exist? Just how do you do that?"
  • A collective of artists: who said Banksy had to be one person?

Why is Banksy anonymous?

According to an early interview given to Guardian journalist Simon Hattenstone, anonymity is “vital” to Banksy, simply because graffiti is illegal. “The day he goes public is the day the graffiti ends.”

That same article describes Banksy as “white, 28, scruffy casual - jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring. He looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner of the Streets.”

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