Elusive 'art terrorist' Banksy makes an indelible mark on the British Museum

Streetwise scourge of the establishment finds a home in a permanent collection and is tipped for a Turner Prize. By Anthony Barnes
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The Independent Online

He is a shadowy "art terrorist" whose daring graffiti raids have led to a string of arrest warrants. Banksy has become an icon of subversive cool for his art world-baiting antics and the provocative paintings he has sprayed on the walls and pavements of London.

He is a shadowy "art terrorist" whose daring graffiti raids have led to a string of arrest warrants. Banksy has become an icon of subversive cool for his art world-baiting antics and the provocative paintings he has sprayed on the walls and pavements of London.

But the once underground figure has been embraced into the bosom of the establishment. What began as a comic stunt has led to his work being absorbed into the collection held by the British Museum, alongside such historic artefacts as the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone and works by 20th-century artists such as Henry Moore.

Now there are suggestions he could be given the ultimate accolade for his work, by inclusion this week on the Turner Prize shortlist. He has been nominated by the public to be considered by the notorious contemporary art prize's judging panel, led by Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota.

Banksy, who keeps his identity secret and uses disguises, built his reputation by spraying largely monochrome images on the streets, among them cops with smiley faces, rioters holding bunches of flowers and rats holding aerosols, with thought-provoking slogans. He reached a wider public when he was commissioned to create the cover for the chart-topping Blur album Think Tank. His image showed a couple wearing diving helmets.

But he achieved greater notoriety with his secret forays into some of the world's most famous galleries, surreptitiously putting up his own work between the masterpieces on display.

His most recent visit was to the British Museum a fortnight ago. In a room of early medieval relics he left a rock painting called Early Man, which depicted a caveman pushing a shopping trolley. Banksy operates a policy of "finders keepers" for the works he leaves behind, and the museum has decided to adopt the piece, now on show at the Outside Institute in central London. A spokeswoman for the British Museum confirmed: "The object will be coming back to the museum and will become part of the permanent collection."

Banksy is understood to be privately pleased about his nomination but has declined to comment, having long kept the mainstream at arm's length. He turnd down an offer to do the décor for Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen and resisted "mad money" offered for work on campaigns for thesports giant Nike. Some of his works ridicule big US businesses such as McDonald's and Disney.

He has said that the "biggest buzz" he gets from his art is "not getting picked up" by the police for painting on walls. "You could stick all my shit in Tate Modern and have an opening with Tony Blair and Kate Moss on rollerblades handing out vol-au-vents and it wouldn't be as exciting as when you go out and you paint something big where you shouldn't do," he has said.

If shortlisted for the Turner, Banksy would be invited to exhibit at Tate Britain - a far cry from his roots, but it would not be his debut there. He once sneaked a painting in - a landscape with police tape across it. It was only rumbledwhen its glue proved too weak and it crashed to the floor.

Where you can see Banksy for free

Banksy's Bridge, Shoreditch, east London. This railway bridge decorated with riot cops is regularly updated by the artist with new slogans. He paints it directly outside a police station under cover of darkness.

'Boring', National Theatre, South Bank. Banksy filled an empty fire extinguisher with red emulsion paint, then sprayed it on to a blank wall at the side of the theatre. "The perfect accompaniment to a night out drinking heavily with friends," he said of this work.

'Kissing Coppers', on a wall in Broadwick Street, Soho. Banksy, originally from Bristol, became interested in graffiti at the age of 14 and adopted his stencil style because his freehand attempts at spray-painting were poor. Another version of this was done in Brighton.

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