The new book Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall
, by British journalist Will Ellsworth-Jones, is sure to spark a renewed interest in the artist's identity and the perennial debate that surrounds his credentials. Banksy catches a lot of shit—for being a child of privilege, for being a sell-out, for trafficking in puerile and simplistic imagery, and for his anonymity—which many regard as a shtick. And while he may, as the book alleges, be the product of a private Catholic school education rather than the blue-collar rebel we'd like him to be (Ellsworth-Jones never interviewed Banksy, whose identity is still unconfirmed), Banksy, for me, remains an iconoclast and an important artist. Yes, his work sells for millions at auctions and is collected by movie stars like Brad Pitt. Yes, he has staged elaborate shows
, published books
, and even directed a documentary
that was nominated for an Academy Award. But Banksy's forays into the mainstream don't change the graceful and subversive nature of his art.
Looking through his work today, I was reminded of how I felt when I first became aware of Banksy. The silhouette of a child being carried over a wall by balloons, a protestor throwing flowers, a dove of peace in a bulletproof vest—these are powerful images, simple by design, and created by an artist who knows how to balance cynicism and humor with a love for humanity. The images are all I want from Banksy—I don't need to know about his childhood or learn his real name. I'm happy to leave him with the anonymity that I believe he sincerely wants to preserve. I'm also happy that he makes money—artists deserve it. Selling work does not mean selling out. So while this book will probably prove popular, I won't be reading it. I don't really care who's behind the wall.