Last month, the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art hosted a groundbreaking event – Banksy’s first-ever retrospective. The exhibition celebrated the enigmatic street artist’s exceptional body of work, captivating audiences with his unique blend of graffiti and high art. But now, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds have something extraordinary in store for art enthusiasts and curious minds alike – “The Banksy Story,” a gripping 10-part series delving into the secretive world of the elusive artist.
Unlike conventional art critics or journalists, the series producer and presenter, James Peak, is an unabashed Banksy super-fan. With unparalleled access to insider knowledge, Peak aims to narrate the extraordinary journey of the graffiti prodigy who morphed into a global household name – a cultural icon who defies the very system he critiques.
The focal point of the series revolves around an exclusive interview with an ex-employee of Banksy’s infamous “Picture On Walls” print shop. Steph Warren, who had worked closely with Banksy during a critical juncture in his career, unfolds a trove of behind-the-scenes stories that shed light on the artist’s meteoric rise to fame. The narratives span from Banksy’s ingenious tactics in captivating the elite art world to his remarkable charitable contributions.
For the launch of Banksy’s landmark 2005 Crude Oils show in London, which featured live rats running around, Steph recalls seeing Banksy’s father discover who his son was for the first time; “I remember this one guy stood away from the crowd, then one of the guys helping out in the background said that’s actually Banksy’s dad. I knew that Banksy had told his parents that he was a painter and decorator because we’d laughed when they’d had to do a show in Vienna, and his parents had asked ‘did they not have painters and decorators in Vienna?’. And so for the Crude Oils show, he’d revealed himself to his parents. And his dad had come down to see and was looking completely open-mouthed at what his son had created. And I sort of brought him in and showed him the work… I think he was just completely astounded at what was transpiring, you know? It was a real buzz, you couldn’t walk past that installation without being aware of it.”
Steph’s account reveals the period between 2003 and 2005, when Banksy daringly infiltrated renowned museums and galleries worldwide, surreptitiously placing his artwork on their walls. The audacious stunts included a series of remarkable escapades in New York, culminating with an interview given by someone claiming to be Banksy to a US radio station. For the first time, the world possibly hears the elusive artist’s voice – a soft southern accent with a hint of Bristolian twang. During the candid five-minute recording, Banksy, or the alleged persona, humorously identifies as a “painter and decorator” while sharing mischievous insights into how the museum stunts were ingeniously executed. The interview playfully satirizes the conventional art world while providing a glimpse into the artist’s captivating wit.
They say; “I think it’s testament to the frame of mind most people are in when they’re in a museum really. Most people don’t really notice things and let the world go by… For instance, in the Met, they hung a Henri Matisse painting upside down for 42 days I believe it was, until someone told them it was round the wrong way. I was aiming for at least 42 days, but unfortunately didn’t get that far.”
James Peak’s relentless pursuit of Steph Warren’s story took nearly a year, but the result promises to be a mesmerising account of Banksy’s artistic evolution and the complexities of maintaining anonymity while garnering global fame. Through Warren’s eyes, listeners will gain an intimate understanding of Banksy’s immense impact on contemporary art and culture.
Whether it is Banksy’s voice or just another in a long line of misdirection tactics, The Banksy Story charts the elusive artist’s compelling journey from street artist to global phenomenon, speaking to contributors who were in the room where it happened and featuring analysis by connoisseurs including author and cultural historian John Higgs (The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds).
The Banksy Story is available as a boxset on BBC Sounds from 17 July and broadcast weekdays at 1.45pm on BBC Radio 4 from 17 July.