Who is Banksy? A Welsh politician. A children’s television presenter. And a co-founder of Gorillaz. These are just some of the identities that Banksy, the anonymous street artist known for distinctive stencils and a knack for incorporating the local environment into works, has been linked to over their 30-year-long career.
But a resurfaced BBC audio clip may finally shed some light on the mysterious figure. “It’s Robbie,” Banksy allegedly says in an unearthed clip in which BBC reporter Nigel Wrench asked whether the artist’s name is Robert Banks.
One of the earliest known radio interviews with Banksy, the 20-year-old recording was made ahead of the artist’s 2003 Turf War show in London. While the exchange didn’t make it into the BBC’s initial airing, Wrench recently dredged up the revelation after finding a full recording of the interview on a minidisc in his home.
It’s not the first time someone in the know has referred to the elusive artist by that name. In a 2017 podcast discussing the commodification of graffiti, British DJ Goldie referred to Banksy as “Robert,” raising questions about exactly which Robert he meant.
“That name’s out there. Who says it’s true?” Steve Lazarides told Seth Doane in August of this year before floating the names Robin, Robert and Robbie. “Am I going to reveal it? Probably not.”
The British artist has long kept their true name shrouded in mystery and that cryptic aura has fueled the value of their artwork—in 2021, their iconic Love is in the Bin fetched a staggering $25.4 million (with fees) at auction. The bottom half of the work was notoriously shredded live during a 2018 auction, a spectacle that the artist later revealed they planned.
Despite attempts to shield their real identity from the public, Banksy has had some close calls. Amid a long-running trademark dispute between their authenticating company Pest Control and a British greeting card company, the artist was told they would need to reveal their legal name to maintain a particular trademark. A 2022 decision from the E.U. Board of Appeals sided with Banksy, allowing them to remain anonymous.
Other ‘who is Banksy?’ theories
After three decades, it is unlikely that the street icon will ever put an end to the mystery, but the resurfaced interviewee’s reference to “Robbie” has renewed interest in the various theories that have long swirled around the artist’s true identity.
One of the dominant beliefs is that Banksy is a Bristol-based man named Robin Gunningham, as suggested by a 2008 Daily Mail report. Citing rumors that the artist is frequently called Robin Banks, the publication put forward a 2004 photograph supposedly picturing Gunningham huddled over graffiti supplies. These claims were bolstered in 2016 when a study pointed to Gunningham as a strong possibility after using a forensic technique known as geographic profiling. Both Banksy and the Gunningham family have long denied the theory.
Robert Del Naja
Another potential “Robbie” is Robert Del Naja, a co-founder of British hip-hop collective Massive Attack. A graffiti artist himself, Del Naja and Banksy have previously expressed admiration for each other’s work. Although the musician has denied such claims, journalism student Craig Williams in 2016 presented supposed evidence that the timeline and locations of Banksy’s various international creations aligned suspiciously well with the touring schedule of Massive Attack.
And tour schedules originated the suspicion that Neil Buchanan, a British presenter of children’s television shows, could be the famed artist. Rumors spread after some of Banksy’s works were linked to concerts held by Buchanan’s former band. But the presenter put the rumors to rest with a statement in 2020 declaring that “Neil Buchanan ISN’T Banksy.”
Welsh politician Billy Gannon wore a black button that read “Not Banksy” after theories began to emerge in 2022 that the councilor for a small town in Wales was secretly Banksy. Gannon, who later referred to saga as “an existential crisis,” resigned from his position in response to the rumors, which he claimed were started by a rival candidate.
Speculation additionally encircled Jamie Hewlett, a co-founder of British group Gorillaz, when a forensic expert claimed to find the name “J Hewlett” associated with documents for Banksy’s companies. While Banksy’s work has previously appeared in a Gorillaz music video, the artist’s publicist has denied the theory.
Guetta, the artist known as “Mr. Brainwash” was also floated as a possibility when he was featured in Banksy’s 2010 Exit Through the Gift Shop documentary. In a 2021 interview with InsideHook, Guetta stated: “They can find out when all is revealed. In life, everything comes out in the end.”
At least one theory has been shut down by law enforcement—in 2014, Brooklyn resident Richard Pfeiffer was arrested and accused of being Banksy when he stopped to admire some of the artist’s graffiti with his fiancee. The engineer, who coincidentally had a marker on his person at the time, later had the charges dropped.
A Banksy collective
Many have suggested that Banksy may not just be one person but rather several artists. Canadian artist Chris Healey, for example, has long maintained that the street artist is actually group of seven individuals led by a woman, floating a blonde woman that appeared in Exit Through the Gift Shop as a primary possibility.
Regardless of the uncertainty that has long surrounded Banksy’s true name, one thing is for sure—the artist likely won’t be stepping forward anytime soon. On its website, Banksy’s Pest Control lists “I believe I have worked out who Banksy really is” under its frequently asked questions. “Great, Banksy highly appreciates any suggestions and is currently struggling with that very question,” reads the company’s answer. “Please write ‘existential crisis’ in the email heading.”