May 9 - A new book by former Sunday Times journalist Will Ellsworth-Jones follows the career of the British street graffiti artist Banksy, but opts not to reveal the identity of the man behind the phenomenon. Matt Cowan reports.
The British street graffiti artist Banksy is the subject of a new book that attempts to shed light on the myterious man behind those provocative paintings. Entitled Banksy: The Man Behind The Wall. The book by former journalist Will Ellsworth Jones follows the artist's unlikely ascent - but there's a key piece of information it doesn't reveal. Banksy's true identity. SOUNDBITE: Will Ellsworth-Jones, Author, saying (English) "I felt much more interested in how he got from being a vandal in Bristol to being a darling of the Sotheby's art market." REPORTER ASKS "Well, the question is: who is Banksy and why are we so fascinated with him?" SOUNDBITE: Will Ellsworth-Jones, Author, saying (English) "I think we're fascinated with him because he's a very good artist. He also brings his art to the street like this (motions to Banksy art work) so you don't have to go to a gallery to see him." Indeed, 'Banksys' pop up in the most surprising of places. On the edge of London's financial district, on a barrier in the West Bank, and added to an LA billboard. He is, without a doubt, an agitator. But to what end? Banksy's unofficial biographer says there's a debate about whether Banksy is a prankster or a polemicist. SOUNDBITE: Will Ellsworth-Jones, Author, saying (English) "I think he's neither. I think he's a gentle columnist. I look at works like what he did on the Israeli wall with the girl floating up holding a balloon with the feeling that they wanted to get beyond this wall. I look at what he's done with CCTV cameras.What he's done with Guantanemo Bay. He picks a range of subjects. He doesn't go after them hard but he just makes you think about them. I don't think he's hard enough and consistent enough to be a polemicist but he is a gentle commentator." Banksy may have come along way from his roots, but his work has come under attack in London in recent years as the result of a vicious turf war. It seems he picked the wrong wall to partially paint over. SOUNDBITE: Will Ellsworth-Jones, Author, saying (English) "This is the start of the war between Banksy and a graffiti artist named as Robbo. Robbo painted over here originally 15 years ago. His piece stayed up here all that time without being seriously touched and Banksy came along and painted over it. Painted quite cleverly over it. But that in graffiti terms is just not on." ... "He painted over Banksy. Banksy painted over him. It went on about four times and then eventually Robbo had an accident. Nothing to do with Robbo or anything like that and Banksy painted this almost like a tribute to him as a final hope. A kind of peace. An end to the graffiti war because what's happened in the rest of London is that Robbo's supporters have gone and painted over anything they can find by Banksy. Anything by Banksy is fair game." Still, it is the plight of graffiti artists that even the most inspired works can be fleeting. SOUNDBITE: Will Ellsworth-Jones, Author, saying (English) "This is a white wall now, but it was a wall that Banksy painted on about 18 months ago when he was down painting quite a few pieces on Regent's Canal. What he painted here was quite clever actually. He painted 'I don't believe in global warming' but what you saw was the canal lapping at these words of graffiti and it really worked strongly. And of course Robbo - the whole war between these graffiti artitsts - Robbo came and painted over it." Banksy has been relatively quiet for quite some time...an underground artist who does appreciate a platform...Ellsworth Jones says he wouldn't be suprised if Banksy uses the London Olympics as an opportunity to make his next grand statement. Matt Cowan, Reuters