Few people know Banksy’s closely guarded true identity, but many have speculated that Bristol resident Robin Gunningham is the man behind the anonymous street artist’s infamous moniker. Now, a print of a drawing by Gunningham is being auctioned by online art brokerage My Art Broker, and the piece is enticing speculators to wager £4,000 ($5,242) on the name, in the hope that they might get their hands on an original Banksy.
The artwork is printed on a 1993 cassette inlay sleeve for the Bristol-based ska band Mother Samosa’s album Oh My God Its Cheeky Clown. The band was a popular act in Bristol in the ’90s and regularly played festivals and gigs around the country.
According to the Bristol Post, the work depicts a cartoonish “Cheeky Clown” walking towards the viewer brandishing a meat cleaver on the front. The inlay sleeve features stylized song lyrics that bear a resemblance to the typeface and lettering that Banksy would later use in his more famous stenciled pieces on the street. An anarchic image showing “The Playground of Fear” could be seen as a sign of the twisted sense of humor that would later bring us such carnivalesque Banksy projects as the “Dismaland” theme park in 2015.
A further tantalizing clue that Gunningham is the anonymous artist? Read these lyrics he scrawled on the work (who actually composed them is unclear):
MASTER OF DISGUISE
You don’t know me
I’m the undisputed
Master of disguise and treachery
No job too large
My cunning use of beards and make-up
Makes me king of espionage
The master of disguise
Lord of all spies
The one authentic action man
With gripping hands and eagle eyes
One man army
No safe or vault or bolted door
Is safe from me I’ve got the key
The master of disguise
Bars won’t hold me
Within my crafty repertoire
The art of escapology
Nowhere to run
I’ve 20-20 vision and
I’m rather handy with a gun.
The local newspaper also claims that the work dates to around the same time that Banksy’s famous artworks first started appearing around Bristol and that the LP art is the only known work credited to Gunningham.
In a conversation with the Bristol Post, auctioneer Jack Syer spoke candidly about the attribution. “We get asked to sell all sorts of weird and wonderful artworks and artifacts and we have to be accurate as to the description,” he said. “What we do know is that the front cover is credited to Robin Gunningham whose identity is up to individual interpretation. It’s a name that is widely speculated about online but this may be the first artwork that has escaped into the public domain that can be indisputably accredited to him.”
Despite the rumors, Banksy has always denied the repeated links to Gunningham, so bidding on the print remains a risk, albeit one with a substantial upside if the elusive artist is ever unmasked. The odds may not be as bad as they may seem. Speaking to artnet News in October 2016, street art expert Carlo McCormick estimated that there’s a 75 percent chance that Gunningham is, in fact, the man behind Banksy.
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