“If you want to say something and have people listen then you have to wear a mask. If you want to be honest then you have to live a lie.” ― Banksy
Since first emerging over 25 years ago on the streets of Bristol, Banksy has chosen to hide his identity. Moving in secret, working behind his pseudonym, he is often compared to a modern day Robin Hood as he shines the light onto society's injustices through his art/ But why does the artist so beloved across the world choose to remain anonymous.
Why is Banksy Anonymous?
There is distinctly practical and philosophical way of looking at why Banksy is anonymous. Firstly, from a practical standpoint for however important his street art is, the fact remains it is illegal and his has broken the law on multiple occasions. Street art is considered to be vandalism and Banksy has kept his anonymity due to fear of being arrested by the authorities for his graffiti and street art. By being unknown and avoiding detection, he is able to continue his work without being prosecuted.
Secondly, and more philosophically, an anonymous persona fulfils various functions. In our opinion, Banksy’s lack of identity is a core reason as to why individuals are able to assign an identity to the artist. By remaining anonymous, it allows each individual to see what they want in the “character” of Banksy. Is he a rebel? An outlaw? A serious artist? It, obviously, depends on who you ask. This identity fluidity of sorts perhaps contains an element of projection in how people view Banksy. The concept of projection emerged from Sigmund Freud’s work on defence mechanisms and was further refined by his daughter, Anna Freud, and other prominent figures in psychology. According to Psychology Today, “Projection is the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. The term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection—attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another. For example, if someone continuously bullies and ridicules a peer about his insecurities, the bully might be projecting his own struggle with self-esteem onto the other person.”
Banksy allows us to project what we see him to be onto the persona. A hero, a rebel, a social warrior, a criminal. Banksy, by being anonymous, can be whoever we want him to be.
What function does anonymity have on Banksy’s creative output?
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” - Oscar Wilde
Veiled behind the mask of anonymity, Banksy is able to freely and openly produce whatever he wants to. Unbound to ego, he is able to confront and challenge societal norms without fear of judgement or a negative reception.
Of course, we warm to such a person who cleverly mastermind’s artworks, installations and public events that draw us, mostly unknowingly, into looking at and hearing some worldly truths. If we go further and allow ‘me’ to go deeper within myself than our busy lives normally permit, we could begin to see some personal truths too. Truth, or trueness, has a tough time in our society. Firstly, we struggle with taking our own masks off and being true to ourselves, and then just when we start believing that we can find ourselves in those glimpsing moments, we are hit with the juggernaut of relentless advertising, social media and the pervasiveness of information. Again, Banksy cuts through much of this noise by delivering us statements of ugly truth: commercialism being the new religion (Christ with Shopping Bags), the dogmatism of traditional faiths (Toxic Mary), the longing for love and security (Girl with Balloon), the schizophrenia of our media (Paranoid Pictures), etc.
The more one looks at the art the artist offers us, the more we can see the freedom this artist who wears a mask allows us to fleetingly remove our own and look within. I that moment we are in stasis: we may realise that we do each wear a mask, and we can, from time-to-time, allow ourselves to take it off and see ourselves and the world more clearly. If it is difficult for us to differentiate between who we really are and what we present to the outside world, then similarly, the world suffers the same fate it is difficult for us to distinguish between what is real and what is fake out there. With the easy manipulation of social media, newspapers and TV channels, and the sheer volume they relentlessly spew out, we increasingly find ourselves lost or unable to distinguish between the two. How often we ask ourselves “but is it true?”.
How does Banksy Keep Anonymous?
Given the nature of the world we live in, surrounded by CCTV, our every move tracked and recorded by the very devices that we willfully keep and carry in out pockets, it goes without saying that it is hard to stay anonymous. By working under darkness, wearing masks in interviews or even using voice decoders, Banksy remains in the shadows. What’s more, the team responsible for authenticating Banksy art “Pest Control” protects his secret. One thing that we believe is that Banksy is a nice person as, for years, there has been a bounty on his head from British newspapers eager to pay someone to reveal his identity. This obviously has not happened and stands as a testament to his ability to create trust within his teams and to look after those who work with him.
When you're as controversial an artist as Banksy, anonymity is appealing if not essential. However, in an age of watchful surveillance and the prying eyes of social media, the secret of Banksy's true identity is becoming increasingly difficult to keep. By keeping his face covered and often making his art in masquerade, Banksy remains in the shadows. As one of the most successful street artists in the world, Banksy also has an extensive team behind him protecting the secret.
How Does Banksy work?
Banksy is able to avoid detection through a variety of tools. Firstly, his signature stencil style allows him to quickly create an artwork and limit the risks of being caught in the act. Working quickly and efficiently, Banksy is able to create murals and artworks and minimise risk either through being detected by a member of the public or by the authorities.
Often, Banksy’s artworks appear overnight when there are fewer people meaning he is less likely to be seen. By working under darkness, Banksy is able to be more discreet and avoid being caught.
What’s more, Banksy often chooses to place his artworks in locations that are less public - generally speaking they are out of the way - again, limiting the risk of being caught. Working for over 25 years, Banksy has mastered discretion and avoids leaving any stencils, spray cans or other easily avoidable tools of the trade.
How does Banksy’s anonymity affect His value?
Part of the irony of Banksy’s success and modus operandi is the appetite that the market has for himself and his art. Whilst it is difficult to guess the impact that revealing his identity would have on the market it is no secret that part of his appeal is his anonymity. However, given the quality of his artworks and their exceptional execution, we do not believe that revealing his identity would have a long term impact. Of course, it is always difficult to separate the artist from their art but given the quality of his output, does it really matter who Banksy is? Explore more Banksy content with how does Banksy make money? Who is Banksy? and Banksy's most expensive artworks.
For more information on our selection of Banksy original paintings for sale and to speak to our gallery, contact Andipa via email@example.com or call +44 (0)20 7581 1244.