|A Man with No Name and No Face
By: Corinne MacInnes
Banksy is, in many ways, the most singular street artist icon the medium has seen, even branching beyond Jean-Michel Basquiat as a street artist and beyond Keith Haring as a social activist artist. He is the most recognized and globally accessible street artist of today — and yet, he remains anonymous.
Without a face or a real name and with a complete anti-establishment attitude to thumbing the social construct of “art,” it’s an anomaly that Banksy has risen to the rank of idol and gained cultural fame. Even the most game-changing artists, greats like Warhol, Frida Kahlo, and Dürer, have made their names largely through images of their own faces. It is an unspoken rule among artists that one must create, in time, at least one self-portrait. However, it’s also an unspoken rule of life that there will always be rule breakers, and artists do exist that have ignored the concept of self-portraits or warped it so completely that it becomes something else altogether.
The rule of creating a self-image as an artist is one of many Banksy has broken. His identity is not the face of the poor, the thug, the police, or any other socially targeted subjects in his work. In fact, his identity is formed almost entirely around the lack thereof and the basis of his anonymity. Banksy is a rare example of a successful brand created through his refusal to accept an identity, a refusal that manifests itself in several ways.
The very definition of his work is a refusal to accept the law and the civilly imposed concept of municipal sanctity in even the most dilapidated structures. However, his donations to charities, his gallery and auction house alliances, and even his website are a refusal to accept the full identity of a vandal and a criminal.
His choices of mediums and locations for “installations” are a brash rebuttal against the art industry catering to bourgeoisie-capitalistic upper classes. And yet, the money he pockets from selling his work and simply his presence in galleries is another cog in the gears of that same industry.
In the most fundamental sense, Banksy has failed to create an image and identity as an artist by solidifying his favor and presence in any corner of the art or anarchist spectrum. The legitimacy and fame (or infamy, depending on whom one asks) that enable his identity to become a brandable formula come from the fact that no one has been able to predict what Banksy will do next.
He’s spent the last 25 years standing between every path an artist could take, ignoring them all, and burrowing into the ground or thrashing his way through the wilderness. Banksy’s brand may come from his lack of a socially recognized identity, but that absence of identity, in turn, comes from his denial of what others have accomplished before him.
His brand is his enigma, and his enigma is his novelty.
Corinne MacInnes grew up in Albion, MI. She attended Kalamazoo College and graduated in 2015 with a B.F.A. and concentrations in Spanish, English, and Art History under her belt. Today she works from Chicago doing freelance writing, creative writing, and event planning
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