Ever more tattoos are inspired by the work of the mysterious graffiti artist believed to the of British origin. The most famous of all is the ‘Girl with a balloon’’

It happened on 5th October last, and as you no doubt remember, left the entire art world aghast.

That was the day the prestigious auction house Sotheby’s sold the famous ‘Girl with balloon’, one of the most famous works – if not the most famous – of the mysterious faceless artist known as Banksy.

Arthur Galluzzi, Shimada Tattoo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Arthur Galluzzi, Shimada Tattoo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

As soon as it was sold for over a million pounds sterling, the picture self-destructed by means of an internal mechanism (activated by remote control) which shredded the canvas into dozens of strips.

Banksy, using the weapon of the web, then commented: “the urge to destroy is also a creative urge”. And to wind up, he completed his “criminal” plan by posting a provocative video where he shows how he himself, several years before, had planted the lethal mechanism inside the frame. Ready to shred the painting as soon as Sotheby’s had sold it to the highest bidder.

Was it for real? Or had it all been planned in advance and everybody (artist and auction house) had agreed on the stunt? We still don’t know.

Jotas Marin, MalaMadre Tattoo, Malaga, Spain
Jotas Marin, MalaMadre Tattoo, Malaga, Spain

What we do know for sure is tha with this stunt Banksy only increased the value of the “violated” painting.

Girl with balloon’ actually dates back to 2002 when it was a simple graffiti on a London wall. There were another eleven copies on canvas scattered around the world when this one was shredded. All authenticated by Pest Control, an association which undertakes to verify whether the dozens of works which are regularly attributed to Banksy are authentic or fakes. Naturally, the most valuable one of all is now the one that was shredded.

Two questions come to mind: how, after so many years, did Banksy manage to activate a sophisticated mechanism which could have had flat batteries? And even more importantly: who is Banksy?

Some believe the answer to the first question is that it was just a scam. Sotheby’s, or someone working on the inside, was in on the artist’s plan and tampered with the picture frame a few months, weeks or days before it finally went to auction. At that point Banksy simply activated his remote control in the knowledge that all would go according to plan.

But then others are suspicious about the fact that such an important work was the last to go under the hammer after another sixty-six masterpieces had already emptied the pockets of buyers.

Maud Darmaun, On The Road, Paris, France
Maud Darmaun, On The Road, Paris, France

So what if Banksy, at the end of the day, had not been sold at all because a high enough offer hadn’t been made? And if everyone had just been waiting for the final twist?

As regards the true identity of Banksy there are three ideas out there at the moment. Some swear he is Robin Gunningham, a British artist who appears to have been spotted in Sotheby’s on October 5th last. Or so it is said, but there are conflicting reports so the mystery remains.

Then there are those who claim it’s a pseudonym of Robert Del Naja, a musician with Neapolitan roots who is the mastermind behind the renowned Massive Attack.

And last but not least, there is also the theory that Banksy is no one person but an entire collective of artists bent on subverting the rigid formalism of the academic art world.

Either way, the mystery remains and maybe, the best thing to do is simply enjoy Banksy for what he is. An excellent illustrator whose work has great visual and emotional appeal. A great creative mind, and a perfect source of inspiration for ideas to tattoo on your skin.