Why is Banksy Important?

August 6, 2023
Banksy at Andipa

Banksy continues to be the most popular and well-known street artist in the world. His exciting stunts and seminal socio-political commentary have propelled him to international fame. Although his identity remains a mystery. Why is Banksy so popular? What is it about his seemingly simple style that draws such attention and reverence?

The Banksy Effect: Street Art Becomes Mainstream

Once the realm of abandoned buildings, underpasses and street walls graffiti was often tied to economic decline and urban decay. Indeed, in the 1970s and 1980s in New York, it was estimated that the city experienced a significant rise in graffiti, especially on subway trains and public buildings. This period is often remembered as the golden age of subway graffiti.  For many young people, especially in marginalised communities, graffiti was a form of self-expression, rebellion against the system, and a way to gain notoriety. While many viewed it as vandalism, others saw graffiti as a new artistic movement. This era saw the rise of legendary graffiti artists who would later gain international fame, like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Dondi.

The city's initial inability to control the spread of graffiti gave artists a kind of tacit approval, emboldening them. It wasn't until the late 1980s and early 1990s, under Mayor Ed Koch and his successors, that New York City implemented aggressive anti-graffiti measures. This included fences around train yards, surveillance, and the regular cleaning of tagged subway cars.

The 1980s also witnessed the emergence of hip hop culture, which incorporated elements like rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti writing. These elements were deeply intertwined and played a role in the proliferation and normalisation of graffiti in urban landscapes.

Indeed, crossing the pond to the UK in the 1980s, we witness the arrival of street art in the country. Much like its rise across the Atlantic, the period in which graffiti started to become more visible in the United Kingdom also also tied to great social and political upheaval as the decade experienced great turmoil through countless strikes, privatisation and the liberalisation of the British state. 

Set to this backdrop, Banksy would have been influenced by, not only the rise of youth and graffiti culture, but the significant political events that would have enveloped his youth. Through the development of his craft in the 1990s, Banksy would have seen how graffiti became more mainstream both within cultural institutions and amongst the wider public. Eventually, through the big rise in graffiti and street art beings welcomed into the arms of the art establishment in the 2000s, Banksy would eventually become the figurehead of sorts for the increase in popularity and shift in perspective that street art found itself facing. Once on the outskirts of society, Banksy, through his creativity and skill, was a huge factor in street art becoming mainstream thus cementing his fame as the “golden-child” and certainly the most critically and commercially successful of the early 2000s street artists. 


Making Art Accessible

Street art is inherently public, and Banksy’s works, usually painted in public spaces, are accessible to everyone regardless of their socioeconomic status. This contrasts sharply with the elitism often associated with art galleries and museums.

While graffiti and street art existed before Banksy, he brought a new level of prominence to the medium. His combination of stencilling techniques with profound and sometimes controversial messages helped elevate street art to a more widely accepted form of artistic expression.

His forays into the traditional art world, often in the form of pranks or critiques, challenge its conventions and commercialism. For example, his artwork "Girl with a Balloon" self-shredding after being sold at an auction serves as a critical commentary on the commodification of art.

Likewise, his use of the early internet to promote pop-ups such as Santa’s Ghetto and his forgoing of the traditional gallery model was an important contribution to how artists could control their own destiny without the need of a centralised platform. Banksy’s important impact on the way art was accessed and diffused, whilst not new, was the most successful version of getting his work in front of the biggest amount of people possible

Universal Themes

Many of Banksy's works provide critical commentary on social, political, and cultural issues. Through his art, he addresses topics such as war, capitalism, freedom, identity, and surveillance. His ability to convey profound messages in a simple and often humorous way resonates with many people across the globe.

By choosing to create art around universal themes that people across the globe can relate to, Banksy was able to connect with a huge audience. Symbols of peace and love, war and hope abound within his body of works and can be understood by almost anyone on Earth. 

His ability to reduce universal, complex ideas into an image that can, at first glance, be understood in a matter of seconds is masterful. Whatsmore, his signature twist of juxtaposition adds further depth to his subjects thus revealing an artist who is not only a master of his craft but a master of communication. 


Love is in the air signed print


The question often arises, who is Banksy? Perhaps the more pertinent question to his popularity should be what does Banksy represent? The elusive nature of the artist, his identity nor revealed, is a factor in his popularity as, in our opinion, it allows each individual to see what they want in the “character” of Banksy.

Mystery surrounds Banksy and allows his audience to project onto Banksy's decision to remain anonymous, despite his global fame, adds to his allure. This choice allows his work to stand on its own, without being coloured by public opinions of his personal life. It also serves as a critique of celebrity culture and the way we often value art based on the artist’s personal brand rather than the work itself.

Headline Grabbing Pranks

Banksy has been at the forefront of using different mediums and techniques. He's ventured into theme parks with "Dismaland", film with "Exit Through the Gift Shop", and even created his own currency in a local with the Di-Faced Tenner which he threw in the air at Reading festival and a crowded Liverpool Street Station in London. His auction results speak for themselves and his prank of the Love is in the Bin has gone down in art history. It is this ability to constantly push the boundaries and concepts of what is art and how it is experienced that further underlines Banksy’s importance. 


Discover more about Banksy in our blogs: Banksy’s most expensive paintings and why is Banksy so popular. For more information about Banksy original prints for sale, contact Andipa via sales@andipa.com or call +44 (0)20 7589 2371.

About the author

Alex Yellop