Banksy, like graffiti and street art in general, often inspires impassioned reactions and fervent opinions. His artwork, speaking for itself as it so easily does, is seen either as mindless vandalism and wanton destruction of property or as creative expression and paint-based sociopolitical commentary. To many he is a countercultural figure or anti-authoritarian folk hero, yet to others he is just another malcontented urban hoodlum. Regardless of your feelings on graffiti, there is no denying the Bristol-bred bloke's effects on street art and the international art scene.
The pseudonymous Banksy notoriously eschews the media and very seldom grants interviews (and when he does, they are often conducted by email), so it is of no surprise that Will Ellsworth-Jones's Banksy: The Man behind the Wall
is an entirely unauthorized affair. Ellsworth-Jones paints as interesting a portrait of the iconoclastic artist as could likely be done, given that he doesn't have any reliably confirmed biographical background with which to sketch his subject. Nonetheless, Banksy
is a well-researched, comprehensive look into the essence of the street artist himself, as well as his art and commercial success.
Without the details of childhood and upbringing to offer as prelude, Ellsworth-Jones has to focus instead on what is actually known about the elusive Banksy. Chapters delve into the various types of graffiti, Banksy's early days in Bristol and London (and the feud with King Robbo), his many shows and exhibitions, the duality of art versus capitalism, the increasing appearance of fakes, forgeries, and imposters, Banksy's inner circle (including Pest Control), and the hullabaloo that surrounded Mr. Brainwash and Banksy's Oscar-nominated film, Exit through the Gift Shop
Banksy is amongst the art world's more subversive elements, an accomplished and acclaimed provocateur for whom the art is seemingly of greater importance than the artist himself. Ellsworth-Jones portrays Banksy as creative, hardworking, and not a little calculating or controlling (which follows his overarching and carefully cultivated need for anonymity). Banksy: The Man behind the Wall
is likely one of the more extensive and complete biographies we will see about Banksy — unless, of course, the artist himself moves on from stenciling walls to painting self-portraits.
"There's a whole new audience out there, and it's never been easier to sell it, particularly at the lower levels. You don't have to go to college, drag 'round a portfolio, mail off transparencies to snooty galleries or sleep with someone powerful. All you need now is a few ideas and a broadband connection. This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people. We need to make it count." –Banksy Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
While hiding from limelight, Banksy has made himself into one of the world's best-known living artists. His pieces have fetched millions of dollars at prestigious auction houses. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his film Exit Through the Gift Shop
. Once viewed as vandalism, his work is now venerated; fans have gone so far as to dismantle the walls that he has painted on for collection and sale.
But as famous as Banksy is, he is also utterly unknown — he conceals his real name, hides his face, distorts his voice, and reveals his identity to only a select few. Who is this man that has captivated millions? How did a graffiti artist from Bristol, England, find himself at the center of an artistic movement? How has someone who goes to such great lengths to keep himself hidden achieved such great notoriety? And is his anonymity a necessity to continue his vandalism — or a marketing tool to make him ever more famous?
Now, in the first ever full-scale investigation of the artist, reporter Will Ellsworth-Jones pieces together the story of Banksy, building up a picture of the man and the world in which he operates. He talks to his friends and enemies, those who knew him in his early, unnoticed days, and those who have watched him try to come to terms with his newfound fame and success. And he explores the contradictions of a champion of renegade art going to greater and greater lengths to control his image and his work.
Banksy offers a revealing glimpse at an enigmatic figure and a riveting account of how a self-professed vandal became an international icon — and turned the art world upside down in the process.
"It's perfectly true that, as subversive street artist Banksy has said, 'Art comes alive in the arguments you have about it.' Journalist Ellsworth-Jones (We Will Not Fight) chronicles the Banksy phenomenon from the streets to the upscale auction houses, while exploring the lively issues that Banksy has raised since becoming a novelty in the art market, one who now leads a fairly lucrative operation cloaked in secrecy. Bound to fuel more 'sell-out' criticism, Ellsworth-Jones's vivid portrait shows Banksy attempting to hold on to the spirit of the graffiti subculture while simultaneously forsaking it. Banksy once deplored galleries as 'trophy cabinets for a handful of millionaires,' though he is now one of the 'trophies.' His anonymity has added to his intrigue and become a 'marketing tool,' according to Banksy's friend and peer Shepard Fairey. Paradoxically, Banksy has used lawyers and contracts like a 'control-freak.' (Banksy prevented one of Ellsworth-Jones's interviews with another graffiti artist, and through his authentication agency demanded the book be marked 'unofficial'). Nevertheless, Ellsworth-Jones clearly respects Banksy's art, and celebrates how the artist ushered the masses out of 'the wilderness' and 'into the art world.' (Some, however, will disagree with his claim that without Banksy 'there would be not be a street art market.') Whether a Banksy follower or not, a reader will find this excellent contemporary art story speaks volumes about celebrity. Agent: Melissa Chinchillo, Fletcher and Co." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“A fascinating portrait that elicits admiration for a man who, despite his increasingly unconvincing efforts to retain some shreds of his vandal status, has had an undeniable impact on art.” The Times (UK)
“A credible and intelligent portrait of a unique artist, reluctant capitalist, and control freak.” The Independent (UK)
“An accomplished investigative reporter, [Ellsworth-Jones] casts a detailed and enthusiastic eye over all aspects of Banksy's career.” London Evening Standard
“Ellsworth-Jones writes perceptively about the ‘ethical dilemmas created by Banksy's marketing techniques, yet still communicates the excitement of a ‘treasure hunt for traces of his work in the scruffier purlieus of London.” The Observer (UK)
“What makes [this book] intriguing is a relentless following of the money, and the exploration of the tortured interface between art and commerce.” The Guardian (UK)
“A fascinating history of a wholly likeable art phenomenon.” The Sunday Times (UK)
The first full-scale account of the street artist Banksy — by the former New York correspondent for the Sunday Times
Banksy is perhaps the best known living artist. His pieces have fetched millions of dollars at the world's most prestigious auction houses. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his film Exit Through the Gift Shop. Once viewed as vandalism, his work is now venerated; fans have gone so far as to dismantle the walls that he has painted on and tried to sell them for thousands of dollars.
But for as famous as Banksy is, he is also utterly unknown. His identity is a mystery, he never shows his face in public, never gives interviews except by email. Who is this man? And how has someone who goes to such great lengths to keep himself hidden achieved such great notoriety?
Now, in the first ever full-scale treatment of the artist, reporter Will Ellsworth-Jones pieces together the story of Banksy, building up a picture of the man and the world in which he operates. He talks to his friends and enemies, those who knew him in his early, unnoticed days, and those who have watched him try to come to terms with his newfound fame and success.
Stunningly presented and uniquely packaged, Banksy offers an eye-opening glimpse of an enigmatic figure and a riveting account of how a graffiti artist from Bristol became an international icon — and along the way turned the art world upside down.
About the Author
Will Ellsworth-Jones was chief reporter and New York correspondent for The Sunday Times. He has written for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The San Francisco Examiner, and The Anniston Star. His last book, We Will Not Fight, was a history of conscientious objectors in the First World War. He lives in London.