Finding Banksy: the quest to identify the enigmatic artist

On 4 April 2017, the most recent of a whole host of claims to have identified Banksy had finally was found to be false. The identifier, Alice Evans, claimed that a man singled out in a video shot at an art show curated by Banksy’s former manager in Bethlehem was the artist himself. Evans was corrected on twitter by Ben M, that the man in question was actually British-Israeli artist AME72. However, Evans was certainly mistaken as AME72’s logo was identified on the art in the video footage.

Banksy’s identity is a truly intriguing topic. Why has he kept it so well hidden? Perhaps he wants his art to be experienced without bias towards him, or maybe he doesn’t want to deal with fame and paparazzi. His family may not want to support his dreams or he might be reluctant to live up to the expectation of ‘cool’ which would await him in the limelight. Perhaps he believes the elusiveness of his character actually increases his art’s value, a gimmick to create the atmosphere of an omnipresent artist.

Indeed many artists have had stage identities. One of the many examples is French artist Marcel Duchamp, otherwise known as Rose Selavy and R.Mutt. Duchamp explained that his reason for using different identities was not to estrange himself from his work but to create alter egos, characters whose fictionality offered more creative freedom.

A modern example is the electronic duo Daft Punk, whose robot-style helmets have afforded them privacy from their stage lives and the ability to create on stage personas; MF Doom, an English rapper, wears a modified doctor doom mask. He has even ventured out into the crowds at his own shows without the mask. These masks do not hide every aspect of their identities such as gender and class, but does that make them less effective? Does the maintenance of Banksy’s elusory character maintain his popularity? Whatever the reason, does it hold any consequence and should it make a difference?

What is the benefit of revealing an artist’s real identity? Despite the surge of media interest around the unmasking of such characters, when part of the artist’s attraction is inspired by their enigmatic status, surely this shouldn’t be taken away from them? What happens when we find them out? The curtain has fallen, there is no putting it back up.

It is very hard to differentiate between a person and their art. This is one of the reasons for the intense social media following of artists. We are obsessed with the unique insight social media offers us into both the working and personal life of the artist, whether they be painter, singer or actor, and often our perception of them affects our reception of their work. Banksy and the many other artists who choose to conceal their identities may not want to be part of that. They may not want to influence the reception of their art by wearing the wrong clothes or acting the wrong way.

There have been a myriad of theories discussing Banksy’s true identity. Some have claimed to use professional serial tracking to find him but the evidence is inconclusive. The unwavering loyalty of his friends and family has led to many trails going cold, no matter how close they may be.

Furthermore, despite the unfounded presumption that a man is behind Banksy’s incredible art, the possibility that it is a not should perhaps be more openly considered. For all we know this persona could even have been orchestrated by numerous people with the collective goal of producing art under one banner. Our expectation of this great name may mean that we have already seen the real Banksy and not even realised it. The primary question is, if we ever do discover the truth, will it augment or diminish the quality of the art?

Image: IANMACM

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