The Art World’s Rebel Darling

Will Ellsworth-Jones profiles the legendary street artist Banksy:

The riots in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol in spring 2011 offer a cautionary tale. The episode began after police raided protesters, who were opposed to the opening of a Tesco Metro supermarket and living as squatters in a nearby apartment. The authorities later said that they took action after receiving information that the group was making petrol bombs. Banksy’s response was to produce a £5 “commemorative souvenir poster” of a “Tesco Value Petrol Bomb,” its fuse alight. The proceeds, he stated on his website, were to go to the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, a neighborhood-revival organization. Banksy’s generosity was not universally welcomed. Critics denounced the artist as a “Champagne Socialist.”

He has countered this kind of charge repeatedly, for instance, telling the New Yorker by e-mail: “I give away thousands of paintings for free. I don’t think it’s possible to make art about world poverty and trouser all the cash.” (On his website, he provides high-resolution images of his work for free downloading.)

“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?”

(Image by Banksy)