The Oscar-nominated documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" introduced the world to Banksy and his modern street art, but most of us know next to nothing about the artist, famous for concealing his identity at all costs.
Will Ellsworth-Jones set out to reveal as much as possible about the graffiti artist in his new biography "Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall." The book describes a man coming to terms with his transition from art world outsider to insider, whose work now sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A man whose art is often anti-capitalist, yet who reluctantly profits from that very institution. A man who grapples with maintaining his anonymity and originality amidst fame and notoriety.
According to Ellsworth-Jones, it’s not difficult to find out precisely who Banksy is: "You can actually go on the web and find out exactly who he is quite easily. But it seems to me that people don’t actually want to know who he is. They like the mystique. They like the fun. They like the fact that he is anonymous. It’s the whole kind of myth which people enjoy."
Behind the myth, however, Banksy is a working artist with people representing his interests. And according to Ellsworth-Jones, those interests include controlling his image. "The banksy people…wanted us to make clear that he wasn't agreeing to this book. I was happy to do that. The publisher was happy to do that. But I mean it’s kind of ridiculous, a graffiti artist trying to say this is an official work. I mean this is vandalism in practice."
These acts of technical vandalism are often transferred to canvas by Banksy and the prints sell for thousands of pounds, causing Ellsworth-Jones to question the artist's relentless pursuit of anonymity: "It was essential, but now no one wants to arrest him. They want to kind of keep his art, preserve his art. If he does something on a wall in England, it's considered a tourist attraction."
"It’s become a marketing tool, in a way," contends Ellsworth-Jones.