Many people claim to have done so, but I have indeed met - albeit accidentally - the real Banksy, an unremarkable, medium-build man wearing glasses, at an East End graffiti jam a few years ago. However, direct access to him is strictly limited nowadays. Banksy nevertheless agreed to an exclusive interview to settle some scores and to create a brand new piece of work for Time Out's cover, in which he revisits some of his classic pieces featuring royal Foot Guards variously pissing or spraying graffiti on walls. After lots of waiting and furtive messaging, the trail having gone cold many times, he responded to our questions from his bomb-proof bunker. But like Kirk Douglas, I had to make sure that this really was Spartacus first…
definitely you? After all, some hacks have been duped into unofficial
interviews with imposters, naming no names (the Guardian Guide)…
'I wish you were talking to an imposter. I don't have much of a personality, so it's difficult to "be" one. Also I want to talk up the film, but I don't want to talk about it - I'm worried I might ruin the ending. Can we just run a blank page that people can draw on?'
Can you at least say why you've dubbed this the first ever street-art 'disaster movie'? Does that mean it's your last film?
'I consider this whole experience to be a disaster on many levels. I think it will be known as my first movie, the one that didn't lead to a career in filmmaking.'
First came the art, then your move into animatronics, then a feature film… does that make you the next Walt Disney?
'I'd never thought about it like that. I guess opening a giant theme park for vandals would be next. I was at a holiday camp when "License to Ill" by the Beastie Boys came out. Practically every kid had a VW badge hanging around their necks that they'd stolen off a car in town. I remember the police raided the camp and the mayor came and gave us a stern lecture by the paddling pool.'
Now that your mugshot has appeared in the paper, do you get recognised on the street?
'I know a couple of years ago a bloke claimed he was Banksy to get into a nightclub in Shoreditch and when word went around he got a kicking off some other graffiti writers. It's in my interest not to comment on any of the photos doing the rounds.'
What's this battle with Robbo and Drax all about, then?
'I didn't deliberately start a battle with Robbo - have you seen the size of him? In the '90s him and Drax were infamous enough that we'd even heard about them in Bristol. The truth is I didn't paint over a piece that said "Robbo", I painted over a piece that said "nrkjfgrekuh". But either way, I don't buy into the idea a wall "belongs" to a certain writer, or anyone else for that matter.
'Traditional graffiti writers have a bunch of rules they like to stick to, and good luck to them, but I didn't become a graffiti artist so I could have somebody else tell me what to do. If you're the type who gets sentimental about people scribbling over your stuff, I suggest graffiti is probably not the right hobby for you.'
You are accused by the graffiti community of selling them out? How do you plead?
'It's hard to know what "selling out" means - these days you can make more money producing a run of anti-McDonald's posters than you can make designing actual posters for McDonald's.
'I tell myself I use art to promote dissent, but maybe I am just using dissent to promote my art. I plead not guilty to selling out. But I plead it from a bigger house than I used to live in.'
Can street art ever be shown in a gallery?
'I don't know if street art ever really works indoors. If you domesticate an animal, it goes from being wild and free to sterile, fat and sleepy. So maybe the art should stay outside. Then again, some old people get a lot of comfort from having a pet around the house.
'It's hard to capture the adrenaline of street painting when you're in a nicely lit studio with the kettle on. Maybe the people who steal graffiti off walls are on to something - the edge is still there. But those people are funny - they ask me for a letter of authentication saying I painted a certain piece, but that's basically a signed confession on headed notepaper.'
So you want your art to be preserved for the nation?
'It's impossible to predict which paintings will last and which won't. In New Orleans I painted on a dilapidated shop in a street littered with abandoned cars and rotting mattresses, then two hours later the piece was gone. It turned out I'd picked the side of a crack house and the proprietor didn't like the attention.
'The one thing you can rely on is if you get disturbed halfway through a painting and it looks a bit naff, then someone will preserve that piece, remove it and a few months later it'll be paraded round Sotheby's by people wearing white gloves.'
What do you make of the financial value of your works? Do you mind people trading them like property or luxury goods?
'My lawyer's opinion is that the cops might not actually be able to charge me with criminal damage any more - because theoretically my graffiti actually increases the value of property rather than decreasing it. That's his theory, but then my lawyer also believes wearing novelty cartoon ties is a good look.'
Finally, did you enjoy producing our cover?
'I'm not sure what the cover means - there's less to it than meets the eye…'
Ossian Ward Time Out March 10th 2010
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