Who Is Banksy? We Rank the 10 Most Plausible Theories

Your go-to guide to Banksy's identity.

15/10/2016 1:42 AM AEDT | Updated 15/10/2016 1:42 AM AEDT
Students and faculty discovered the mural after retuning from vacation. Photo: Rebecca Radford (‏@RebeccaRadford7) via Twitter.

Who is Banksy? The identity of the mysterious British street artist has been a closely guarded secret ever since the snarky stencilist emerged on the scene.

Over the years several different people have attempted to “unmask” Banksy, an obsession that seems to have gripped the world. Only last week, a new sighting popped up in Australia. Theories surrounding his identity range from the plausible to the downright absurd. We enlisted curator and street art expert Carlo McCormick to rank 10 theories on Banksy’s identity based on their plausibility.

“It is a curious obsession this need for people to identify Banksy,” McCormick told artnet News in an email. “But maybe it is an expression of their need to identify with him. This pursuit is however a wild goose chase, and a red herring, strictly amateur sport,” he said. “Banksy is a real person, perhaps not nearly as interesting as his myth but certainly not a myth,” he explained.

McCormick added, “He’s probably been unmasked countless times, but like a good conspiracy theory the improbably ornate fiction is always going to be more compelling than the simple mundane truth.”

Paul Horner, purported to be Banksy was supposedly arrested by police in 2014. Photo: Screenshot via YouTube.

1. Paul Horner

In October 2014 an American news website claimed that a 35-year-old man named Paul Horner from Liverpool was identified as Banksy after he was tracked down by a Anti-Graffiti Task Force and arrested for vandalism, conspiracy, racketeering, and counterfeiting.

Banksy’s publicist Jo Brooks later denied that the artist had been arrested and confirmed that the source article was a hoax published by a satire website.

Related: Has Banksy Been Arrested Outside London?

McCormick’s verdict: 0 percent chance

Banksy’s Geisha (2014) which appeared in New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

2. Richard Pfeiffer

In March 2015 33-year-old Brooklyn artist Richard Pfeiffer was arrested for purportedly painting graffiti actually done by Banksy. Pfeiffer and his fiancé were admiring a street artwork in Manhattan’s East Village when police showed up and accused him of drawing the image.

Pfeiffer ― who was found in possession of a pen ― was able to prove that the tip didn’t match the style of the piece cops claim he drew. The charges were dropped 6 months later.

McCormick’s verdict: 0 percent chance

Banksy’s repeated use of females in his art has lead some to believe the artist is in fact a woman. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images.

3. A woman

In the HBO documentary “Banksy Does New York” the Canadian media artist Chris Healey claimed that Banksy is in fact a team of seven artists led by a woman. He maintains that the leader is a blonde woman who appears in scenes depicting Banksy’s alleged studio in the documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (2010)The theory remains plausible only insofar that it hasn’t been disproved.

McCormick’s verdict: 0 percent chance

“No, so wrong. And it shows a shameful lack of understanding as to the nature of this artist’s vision and eccentricity to consider that it would be a team.”

Did Banksy attend Dismaland disguised as a parking attendant? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

4. A parking attendant at “Dismaland”

Reports in the British media claimed that Banksy was hiding in plain sight on the site of his satirical amusement park project “Dismaland” which he constructed in the resort town of Weston-Super-Mare in 2015.

Banksy fans reportedly recognized Robin Gunningham, a man touted to be the mysterious guerrilla artist from a photograph purported to be Banksy published by The Daily Mail in 2008. However it turned out that the parking attendant was in fact an employee of the local municipality.

McCormick’s verdict: 0 percent chance

Banksy in the movie Exit Through The Gift Shop. Photo: Screenshot via YouTube.

5. Robin Banks

In January 2015 a British teenager claimed that a man introducing himself as Robin Banks gave him a print signed by Banksy on a train in Oxenholme, England after the young man helped the artist pick up paints that fell out of his carry-on bag.

Banksy reportedly told the boy that the picture was worth ca. £20,000 ($24,000).

McCormick’s verdict: 0 percent chance

Mr. Brainwash at work on the #NYCISBEAUTIFUL 9/11 mural at Century 21 in Lower Manhattan. Photo: courtesy Mr. Brainwash.

6. Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash

Some say that the clownish French artist who starred in Banksy’s documentary “Exit Though the Gift Shop,” is in fact one and the same as Banksy. Even though Mr Brainwash is widely derided by art experts as a pretty terrible artist.

McCormick’s verdict: 1 percent chance

“No, no, no. It goes to show how damn ignorant most fans of street art are that there could ever be any confusion made between the blundering stupidity of Mr. Braindead and the savvy radicalisms of Banksy. Simply put Thierry is a rich kid who could provide artists like Banksy [with] access to prime properties in L.A. so that some of the more daring conquests could have been given permission. I’m not an expert in these matters, but if I had to guess that’s how Thierry ended up mucking everything with his baby formula of bad art direction and mindless cut and paste juxtapositions.”

Is Banksy Massive Attack frontman Robert Del Naja? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

7. Robert Del Naja

Journalist Craig Williams claimed to have compelling evidence that Robert Del Naja, frontman of the electronic music band Massive Attack, is in fact also the street artist known as Banksy. Williams claimed to have identified a correlation between cities where Massive Attack performed and where murals by the artist have turned up.

Del Naja swiftly denied the reports saying that the rumors were “greatly exaggerated.”

McCormick’s verdict: 5 percent chance

“This is really funny, and I’ve been confused with mates of mine before so maybe understandable. No, it’s not true. But it’s a worthy reminder what a bunch of delinquent ecstatic transgressors Massive Attack have always been, and how it was not so long ago that such subversive voices were carried through music before migrating more fully to visual culture.”

Could this be the real Banksy? You decide! Photo via YouTube.

8. Graffiti artist in Australia

YouTube user Mia S claimed she caught Banksy in the act after filming a man purported to be the elusive street artist in Melbourne, Australia. The video shows a bespectacled man in jeans, a dark jacket, hooded sweatshirt, and watch cap.

She confronts the graffiti artist in the video before he tells her to “fuck off” and flees the scene.

McCormick’s verdict: 50 percent chance

9. Man in Red Hook warehouse

Twitter blew up when photos supposedly depicting Banksy preparing his artwork “Siren of the Lambs” (2013) emerged online. The photo showed five men arranging stuffed animals in a truck outside a warehouse in Red Hook Brooklyn, leading to intense speculation that one of the men standing next to the truck, who appeared to give orders, is in fact the elusive artist.

McCormick’s verdict: 50 percent chance

“Sightings are of course very different than identifications. They may in fact be legitimate but they tell us no more than a Rorschach would; merely the amplification of desire into sight. Quite possibly they are no more reliable than the stories of UFO abductions or all the spottings of Elvis in strip malls long after he was certified dead, but just as likely to be real. I couldn’t reliably point out most of my friends or family in a police lineup so don’t ask me, but as Banksy proclaimed ‘one nation under CCTV’ and as the cameras proliferate and we gradually turn into a society of snitches, why the hell shouldn’t he be like a phantom meme in all our low budget videos?”

This picture of Robin Gunningham was published by the Daily Mail. Photo: ÇAPAMAG ‏@CAPAMAG via Twitter.

10. Robin Gunningham

Criminologists at London’s Queen Mary University used a technique called geographic profiling to identify the street artist as Bristol resident Robin Gunningham.

Geographic profiling is a sophisticated statistical analysis technique used in criminology to locate repeat offenders. The researchers looked for a correlation between 140 artworks in London and Bristol attributed to Banksy, and 10 commonly touted names purported to be the elusive street artist.

McCormick’s verdict: 75 percent chance

“Yes, and it is scary to think that something as creepy as geographic profiling could be put to such ends.”

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