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Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall Hardcover – February 12, 2013

3.3 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The British artist known as Banksy creates illegal street paintings with superhero daring and political conviction. But his most impressive feat is his anonymity, which is zealously protected by his cultish followers and ace organization, Pest Control. Ellsworth-Jones had no intention of revealing Banksy’s identity when he sought an interview with the artist, but he was refused. So be it. Secrecy feeds the flame of this thought-provoking, irony-steeped, unauthorized investigation into how a regular guy from Bristol elevated graffiti to a fine art only to find himself trapped in the paradox of becoming a commercially successful, anticapitalist guerrilla artist. While he gamely searches for extant street paintings, Ellsworth-Jones chronicles ludicrous battles over wall removal, the tagging of Banksy’s work by rival street artists, pop-up exhibits, and the lengths to whichfans go to purchase Banksy prints. Formerly chief reporter for the Sunday Times of London, Ellsworth-Jones redresses his lack of an art historian’s fully dimensional perspective by candidly sharing his learn-on-the-go adventures and discoveries in a thoroughly ensnaring, eye-popping account of the paradigm-shifting innovations of a bold and brilliant masked artist. --Donna Seaman

Review

“Provides an intriguing account of the making of the acclaimed Banksy film ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop'. . . and efforts by Banksy and his team to control and shape the mythology around him. . . . Mr. Ellsworth-Jones's book is at its most fascinating in tracing Banksy's evolution from outsider, spraying walls in Bristol like dozens of other young graffiti practitioners, to international artist with work that ‘commands hundreds of thousands of pounds in the auction houses of Britain and America.' He is adept at examining some of the existential dilemmas this success created for Banksy -- dilemmas shared by many outsider and counterculture artists, who suddenly find their work embraced by the very mainstream they'd once scorned.” ―Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[A] thought-provoking, irony-steeped, unauthorized investigation into how a regular guy from Bristol elevated graffiti to a fine art only to find himself trapped in the paradox of becoming a commercially successful, anticapitalist guerrilla artist…. A thoroughly ensnaring, eye-popping account of the paradigm-shifting innovations of a bold and brilliant masked artist.” ―Booklist

“A fluent, enjoyable discussion of an important contemporary cultural phenomenon; this book will appeal especially to readers who are fans of Banksy's world and is an essential title for devotees of pop culture and outsider art… Ellsworth-Jones does a superb job.” ―Library Journal

“Whether a Banksy follower or not, a reader will find this excellent contemporary art story speaks volumes about celebrity.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Entertaining.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“A fascinating portrait that elicits admiration for a man who, despite his increasingly unconvincing efforts to retain some shreds of his vandal status, has had an undeniable impact on art.” ―The Times (UK)

“A credible and intelligent portrait of a unique artist, reluctant capitalist, and control freak.” ―The Independent (UK)

“An accomplished investigative reporter, [Ellsworth-Jones] casts a detailed and enthusiastic eye over all aspects of Banksy's career.” ―London Evening Standard

“Ellsworth-Jones writes perceptively about the ‘ethical dilemmas' created by Banksy's marketing techniques, yet still communicates the excitement of a ‘treasure hunt' for traces of his work in the scruffier purlieus of London.” ―The Observer (UK)

“What makes [this book] intriguing is a relentless following of the money, and the exploration of the tortured interface between art and commerce.” ―The Guardian (UK)

“A fascinating history of a wholly likeable art phenomenon.” ―The Sunday Times (UK)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; Reissue edition (February 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250025737
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250025739
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,043,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harkius VINE VOICE on February 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you can get past the Acknowledgements page, this is a pretty good book.

Full disclosure: Having acquired this book from an online retailer, I expected it to be akin to "Wall and Piece". I.e., I was expecting photos of Banksys. There wasn't a single picture present in the copy that I received. Initially, I was rather annoyed. I became even more irritated when I (wrongly) presumed that this was an effort to identify Banksy. Despite my initial misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out that the book was actually good.

This book tried really hard to be many different things. It tried to detail the history of the movement of street art into the museums and galleries where it has taken root (some might say "infested"). It tried to examine the possibility of art appreciation and analysis. To some extent, it felt like Mr. Ellsworth-Jones was trying to do this while referencing Banksy as little as possible. This, however, was never entirely successful. As the insightful (if annoying) Lazarides points out, "Banksy is a once-in-a-generation artist. If he is put into the book, it will inevitably become ABOUT him." And that's without the book really having that intention in the first place, which this book was. Fortunately, on some level, the book is most successful when Banksy's presence intrudes back into the narrative flow. In the end, although it tries to be all of those things, what it ends up being is the application of those topics to Banksy (or vice versa).

Mr. Ellsworth-Jones gets several important things right in his pseudo-biography/analysis of Banksy. First, like any good biographer, he is critical of his subject while being appreciative.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Allow me to begin this review by telling you that I am an avid fan and photographer of wall art, street art and art openings by avant garde artists who break open new ways of looking at the world. I have seen the film "Exit Through The Gift Shop" which shows Banksy and other graffiti artists in action. When I travel, I seek out the more interesting graffiti and wall art and collect photographs of the work. Within days, weeks or months, the works are usually painted over or deteriorate in the weather. But, the works of Banksy live on in photographs, internet images, books and sales of prints. Shepard Fairey, a noted graffiti artist whose work hangs in galleries and private homes as well as on the walls of many cities, speaks very well of Banksy and is a friend of his and contributed to the book along with many other people who know Banksy. The book of course never identifies who Banksy actually is, because the mystery that surrounds this "wall painter" forms a large part of his appeal to the collectors of his works.

The book discusses the motivation of Banksy and fellow painters who deface public property, who make painting in places where paintings are not wanted and the activity of painting those places breaks the law. The book explains - in the words of some of the artists - why they take the risk and how much satisfaction they obtain by sharing their work with others and by perhaps making citizens take notice of what is going on around them. Much of Banksy's work is a form of protest against government oppression, high handedness, over control, and general priggishness. The book also explores the strange way that ground breaking artists become collectible artists and how their work appreciates in value.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The most important thing you need to know before deciding to purchase Will Ellsworth-Jones' Banksy: The Man Behind The Wall is this book is *not* your typical coffee table art book filled with pictures. In fact, the only picture in my copy was the front cover you can see for yourself on this very Amazon page.

Secondly, this is what you would call an "unauthorized biography" and weighs in at just over 1.4 lbs with 300 pages of pure text. It's important to understand that this book is not the "we're going to reveal so much dirt and skeletons in the closet that there is no way the subject would authorize" type of unauthorized biography. It's more of an "this subject is reclusive, private, and or unknowable" type of unauthorized biography. Part of Banksy's allure is his anonymity and revealing who he is would be akin to the adult version of SPOILER! "Santa isn't real" and would ruin part of the fun created by the very idea of Banksy walking among us, unknowable, working on the fringe of society to create subversive pieces of socio/political statement.

Ellsworth-Jones did not set out to "out" Banksy, but created this work to explain him and the Street Art movement he helped transform from illegal public graffiti to a legitimate form of art exhibited in the finest museums in the world. In some ways the continued anonymity gives Banksy the continued street creed typically lost by "selling out" (which I don't believe he's actually done) to the very crusty, old art institutions he despised. The elevation of Street Art to a "legitimate" form of art has had the effect that more people, the world over, who would otherwise never come into contact with such perfect and clearly expressed seeds of ideas and statements portrayed in Banksy's art can see them every day.
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