Sunday 22 April 2018

Breaking Banksy's Identity

Was artist's true identity 'accidentally revealed' during an interview?

Journalist Craig Williams carried out a five-month investigation last year and concluded that Del Naja was behind the movement.
Journalist Craig Williams carried out a five-month investigation last year and concluded that Del Naja was behind the movement.

Roisin O'Connor

Goldie appears to have let slip subversive graffiti artist Banksy's "real identity" after he spoke about him in a new interview.

The musician and DJ was ranting about how the art world had cashed in on graffiti, despite the art form still being tarnished with negative associations.

Appearing on Scroobius Pip's weekly Distraction Pieces podcast, Goldie said: "Give me a bubble letter and put it on a T-shirt and write Banksy on it and we're sorted. We can sell it now... No disrespect to Robert, I think he is a brilliant artist."

After he mentioned "Robert", Goldie paused for a few seconds before changing the subject. Reports claim that this appears to suggest Banksy is Robert Del Naja, a member of Massive Attack. Del Naja, also known as 3D, is a friend of Goldie and they worked as graffiti artists in the same circles during the 1980s.

Journalist Craig Williams carried out a five-month investigation last year and concluded that Del Naja was behind the movement.

He claimed that Banksy was not one person but instead a team of street artists, with Del Naja as the ringleader. Del Naja denied this.

However, fans believe that Goldie's apparent slip-up confirms Del Naja's involvement. Banksy murals have frequently appeared in locations where Massive Attack have recently played.

Massive Attack’s frontman went from stencils to stage

Goldie has fuelled long-running rumours that Robert Del Naja, a member of Massive Attack who is also known as 3D, may be the man behind the mysterious street artist Banksy. Here’s what you need to know about Del Naja:

Who is he?

Del Naja is a 52-year-old artist, activist and singer-songwriter who was born in Bristol, and is best known as a founding member of Massive Attack.

He was a graffiti artist before he became band frontman, and his work has been featured on all of Massive Attack’s record sleeves. Banksy has cited his work as an influence, and he is credited as a pioneer of the stencil graffiti movement.

When did the Banksy rumours start?

Speculation began in 2013 when De Naja exhibited his second solo show, which spanned 20 years of his work.

Then in 2016, Craig Williams, a journalist, carried out a five-month investigation which led him to conclude that Del Naja was the ringleader behind a collective of artists operating under the Banksy moniker.

He noted how Banksy’s work tended to crop up in locations where Massive Attack had recently — or were set to — perform.

For instance in April 2003 his work reportedly appeared in Melbourne, where the band had played a month before. In 2010, six Banksy murals were said to have appeared in San Francisco on May 1; Massive Attack had played two shows in the city a few weeks previously.

What about Robin Gunningham?

Arguably one of the most popular theories around Banksy’s identity emerged in 2016, when a group of scientists claimed to have ‘geo-tagged’ the artist — with a technique mostly used to catch serial criminals.

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London identified a pattern between the locations where his artwork appeared most often and addresses with a close association to a former pupil at the public Bristol Cathedral School, Robin Gunningham.

Research was delayed after Banksy’s lawyers contacted the university with concerns as to how the study would be promoted. While it seemed to have strong evidence to support the claim, academics unflatteringly compared the artwork — which is acclaimed around the world and can sell for sums of up to £500,000 — to acts of criminal vandalism.

“The pseudonymous artist Banksy is one of the UK’s most successful contemporary artists, but his identity remains a mystery,” they said. “The model takes as input the locations of these artworks, and calculates the probability of ‘offender’ residence across the study area.”

When newspapers first reported the rumour in 2008, representatives for Gunningham denied that it was him, yet he remains one of the most popular theories.

What has Del Naja said about the rumours?

Responding to Williams’s investigation, Del Naja said it would be “a good story but sadly not true”.

“Wishful thinking, I think,” he said. “He [Banksy] is a mate as well. He’s been to some of the gigs. It’s purely a matter of logistics and coincidence, nothing more than that.”


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