Unveiling the World's Most Famous Anonymous Artist

He may have been the world's most famous anonymous artist.

But, now, one U.K. newspaper claims to have unveiled the identity of British graffiti artist Banksy, tracing his roots back to the English town of Bristol.

Described variously as the British Andy Warhol or the Scarlet Pimpernel of the art world, Banksy's work has sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The reclusive street artist has collected several celebrity fans, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Christina Aguilera.

Earlier this year, one of his painted walls fetched more than $400,000, and his screen print of British supermodel Kate Moss sold for nearly $200,000.

But his passion for creating essentially illegal, "guerrilla" art in public spaces around the world has made it necessary for him to guard his identity. And, as time has passed, the artist/scofflaw has concocted increasingly elaborate ruses to keep the world's media on its toes.


All that may be coming to an end now, however.

The British tabloid, Mail on Sunday, is claiming to have discovered Banksy's true identity, naming him as 34-year-old Robin Gunningham.

According to the Mail, the risk-taking graffiti artist grew up in Bristol, England, in a middle-class family. The man who is the world's most famous street artist went to an exclusive private school, which now charges annual fees of $18,400.

There were few signs that the blazer- and tie-wearing Gunningham might grow up to become a renegade artist, breaking into the world's best-known art galleries, such as London's Tate and New York's Museum of Modern Art, to hang up his work.

But even back then, Gunningham's fellow pupils recognized a gifted artist in their midst.

In an interview with the Mail, Scott Nurse, an insurance broker from Gunningham's class, said, "He did lots of illustrations. I am not at all surprised if he is Banksy."

But is he?

The Man With Two Faces

The buzz around the Banksy-Gunningham identity began with a 2004 photograph taken in Jamaica showing a man, dressed in a blue shirt and jeans, with a spray can at his feet — a portrait of the artist known as Banksy, according to the Mail.

The picture first appeared on the Internet, and then in the London afternoon paper, The Evening Standard.

Speculation about the image even made it across the Atlantic, when a New Yorker article investigated the story behind the photograph.

Unsurprisingly, Banksy denied that the picture was of him.

If it wasn't Banksy, was it Gunningham? A former neighbor of the Gunninghams, Anthony Hallett, told the Mail that the man in the photograph was Robin Gunningham.

And, according to the BBC, Colin Saysell, an anti-graffiti officer in Bristol who has pursued Banksy for years, said that the picture showed Banksy at work.

So are Gunningham and Banksy the same person?

It's difficult to tell, and even the artist's parents are unaware of his identity, according to an interview given by Banksy's agent to the Mail earlier this year. "They think he's a painter and decorator who's done very well for himself," the agent said.

Indeed, when the Mail pursued the Gunningham trail to its conclusion, both of Robin Gunningham's parents, Peter and Pamela Gunningham (now separated), firmly denied knowing the man in the photograph.

But what was especially baffling was the mother's refusal to even acknowledge that she had a son.

"I don't have a son at all," she told the Mail, before going on to deny that she was Pamela Gunningham.

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