There are no two ways about it. Banksy is a Bristol legend. Far from the city’s first graffiti artist, he’s definitely its most famous. In fact, he’s inarguably the world’s most well-known street artist. You can find his work on walls and in galleries everywhere from New York to London, Bethlehem to, of course, Bristol.
Back in July, Banksy super-fan, James Peak released a 10-part series for the BBC Radio 4. The Banksy Story charted his “rise from secretive street artist to international icon.” But today (November 21), released as a bonus episode, James is on the trail of a revealing early Banksy interview from 2003.
In the recording, we hear former BBC journalist and arts correspondent, Nigel Wrench, speaking to Banksy about Turf War – his first major exhibition held on Kingsland Road in London. Some of the well-known pieces from this exhibition are a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II as a chimpanzee and a cow with Andy Warhol’s face.
“It’s a celebration of vandalism,” says Banksy in the interview about the exhibition. “Most people think vandalism’s a four-letter word, but I think it’s the most efficient way of making art. If you put a cone on top of a statue, you make a sculpture and it doesn’t take you very long. Maybe you make a lot more people look at that sculpture than ever looked at it before.”
Speaking in quite a noticeable Bristolian accent, Banksy even seems to confirm his real name in the interview. When Nigel asks: “Is it Robert Banks?” Banksy can be heard replying, “It’s Robbie.” According to The Times, Robin Banks is another pseudonym of his. His real name, reported The Mail on Sunday in 2008, is Robin Gunningham.
What this discovery does is somewhat confirm that Bansky’s name is a variation of Robin/Robbie. But the whole interview is a fascinating insight into an artist on the cusp of international fame. At the time of speaking, he’s already created pieces like Flower Thrower, The Mild Mild West, Pulp Fiction, and Girl with Balloon. But years away from Well Hung Lover (2006), Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) and Dismaland (2015).
This is one of the earliest known interviews with the street artist, who is believed to be in his 20s at the time. An edited version was aired in July of 2003 on the BBC’s PM programme. But not all of the material was used and it has not been heard for two decades.
“It’s my right to go out and paint it, and it’s equally somebody else’s right to go out and paint over it if they don’t like it. It doesn’t take very long with a bucket of white paint to paint over things,” he also says. “It’s better if you treat the city like a big playground. It’s there to mess about it in.”
So does this young Banksy have any advice for any up-and-coming graffiti artists? “Go out, trash things, have fun!” To listen to the full interview, head to BBC Sounds here.