One Friday at the end of April, when I checked my e-mail there was a message from Banksy.
“Hello there,” it went. “Thanks for taking an interest in my stuff.”
Banksy agreed to answer some questions over e-mail. He was wryly eloquent, but his banter seemed less playful than it has in the past. “I don’t think art is much of a spectator sport these days,” he began. “I don’t know how the art world gets away with it, it’s not like you hear songs on the radio that are just a mess of noise and then the d.j. says, ‘If you read the thesis that comes with this, it would make more sense.’ ”
I’d heard that Banksy had become “increasingly paranoid,” and I wondered whether the accusations of hypocrisy had worn on him, and whether he was able to enjoy his success. “I have been called a sellout, but I give away thousands of paintings for free, how many more do you want?” he wrote. “I think it was easier when I was the underdog, and I had a lot of practise at it. The money that my work fetches these days makes me a bit uncomfortable, but that’s an easy problem to solve—you just stop whingeing and give it all away. I don’t think it’s possible to make art about world poverty and then trouser all the cash, that’s an irony too far, even for me.” He went on, “I love the way capitalism finds a place—even for its enemies. It’s definitely boom time in the discontent industry. I mean, how many cakes does Michael Moore get through?”
“Why do you do what you do?” I asked.
Banksy replied, “I originally set out to try and save the world, but now I’m not sure I like it enough.”
We discussed his mural in Bristol (“I think because it turned out there was a sexual-health clinic on the other side of the wall helped, which just goes to show—if you paint enough crap in enough places sooner or later one of them will mean something to someone”) and the city council’s decision to preserve it (“I think it’s pretty incredible a city council is prepared to make value judgments about preserving illegally painted graffiti. I’m kind of proud of them”).
For a cipher, Banksy was surprisingly direct: “Maintaining anonymity can be kind of crippling. I gave a painting to my favorite pub to settle a tab once, which they hung above the bar. So many people came in asking questions about it I haven’t been back there for two years.
“In retrospect getting your work in the newspapers is a really dumb thing to do if what you do requires a certain level of anonymity. I was a bit slow there. Brad Pitt told a journalist ‘I think it’s really cool no one knows who he is’ and within a week there were journalists from the Daily Mail at the door of my dealer’s dad’s chip shop asking if he knew where they could find me. All the attention meant I lost some of the element of surprise. A few days after the show in Los Angeles opened I was painting under a freeway downtown when a homeless guy ran over and said, ‘Hey—are you Binsky?’ I left the next day.”
Monday, May 7
The New Yorker's Lauren Collins manages to crack the publicity-shy facade of famed grafitti artist Banksy, at least via email, and was also given a custom made artwork: