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While hiding from the 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.
“Provides an intriguing account of the making of the acclaimed Banksy film ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’. . . and efforts by Banksy and his team to control and shape the mythology around him . . . Mr. Ellsworth-Jones’s book is at its most fascinating in tracing Banksy’s evolution from outsider, spraying walls in Bristol like dozens of other young graffiti practitioners, to international artist with work that ‘commands hundreds of thousands of pounds in the auction houses of Britain and America.’ He is adept at examining some of the existential dilemmas this success created for Banksy—dilemmas shared by many outsider and counterculture artists, who suddenly find their work embraced by the very mainstream they’d once scorned.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“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)
"Former Sunday Times chief reporter Ellsworth-Jones presents a patchwork treatment of a subject who simultaneously comes across as both a likable guy with a knack for striking imagery and a control freak who delights in thwarting the aims of anyone who tries to breach his inner sanctum . . . The author relies on interviews with gallery owners who sell his work for millions, graffiti artists who dismiss their rival as a sellout and devotees who have stood for hours in line to obtain limited-edition prints . . . Entertaining . . . the real story of the "Man Behind the Wall" will probably have to wait until the hype dies down"—Kirkus Reviews
“[A] thought-provoking, irony-steeped, unauthorized investigation into how a regular guy from Bristol elevated graffiti to a fine art only to find himself trapped in the paradox of becoming a commercially successful, anticapitalist guerrilla artist . . . A thoroughly ensnaring, eye-popping account of the paradigm-shifting innovations of a bold and brilliant masked artist.”—Booklist
“A fluent, enjoyable discussion of an important contemporary cultural phenomenon; this book will appeal especially to readers who are fans of Banksy’s world and is an essential title for devotees of pop culture and outsider art . . . Ellsworth-Jones does a superb job.”—Library Journal
“Whether a Banksy follower or not, a reader will find this excellent contemporary art story speaks volumes about celebrity.”—Publishers Weekly
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.