An artwork by Banksy has been stolen from a street in Peckham within an hour of going on display. The Guardian reports that the installation consisted of a traffic stop sign with three military drones stencilled across in a diagonal formation. The artwork has been confirmed as authentic on Banksy’s Instagram account.
It is not thought that Banksy or his team were behind the theft, although the enigmatic artist is a master of stealth publicity. His artworks fetch millions of pounds at auction, yet they also engage with powerful social and political issues and are rarely displayed in galleries. They are instead installed on public outdoor surfaces such as walls, or as props such as signs.
Many of these are temporary works that are sometimes classified as graffiti and cleaned away by the local authorities, or stolen. However, sometimes whole sections of a wall will be removed so that the piece can be sold at auction. It is thought that Banksy donates a portion of his profits to charitable causes.
The elusive artist has never confirmed his true identity, although in a long-lost BBC interview that was uncovered in 2023, it was revealed that when asked if his full name was Robert Banks, he responded that his name was Robbie. There has been speculation that his true identity is Robin Gunningham, who was born in Yate near Bristol in 1974.
He began his career as a freehand graffiti artist in 1990 as a part of the Bristol underground scene. By the year 2000, he had developed a stencilling technique for his street art because it was quicker for him to create his artworks and avoid discovery or arrest.
His work circumnavigates traditional gallery exhibitions, and this makes it accessible to all, helping it to resonate with people from a diverse range of cultures and social backgrounds. It is unafraid to tackle emotive and sometimes controversial issues such as war, terrorism, capitalism, and social injustice.
Banksy’s questioning of conventional thinking extends to his approach to selling his work. He created a stir in 2018 when one of his artworks, Girl with Balloon, sold at auction for £1m, only to be partially shredded with a hidden in-built shredder the moment after the hammer fell.
The work was transformed into a piece of performance art and retitled Love is in the Bin. The simple image represents a child in black and white reaching up for a red heart-shaped balloon. It was originally stencilled onto a wall in east London and has become one of the artist’s best-known images.
The work was subsequently auctioned at Sotheby’s, fetching £18,582,000, well over the £4-6m estimate.
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