Banksy & the Visual Metaphor

Banksy & the Visual Metaphor

Visual Metaphors, at their finest, can be the most powerful forms of communication. They are made when a subject is portrayed in relation to another unrelated subject or context. These visual metaphors are all around us. They are found in the most memorable and witty advertising campaigns and political cartoons. In the case of Banksy, they are also very effective in street art.

Banksy Dove

Banksy is a graffiti artist that hails from Bristol, England. He often uses stencils to produce highly provocative imagery,usually regarding politics and capitalism. Over the last decade, he has become a sensation that has swept through contemporary culture. His work has been featured in galleries–and empty walls–around the world. However, only a select few actually know who he is. Despite his popularity, he has managed to maintain his anonymous identity. Little is known about his early history, but he has released some information through several select sources and interviews. According to his story, he began quite unsuccessfully. He was too slow at graffiti and would get caught or forced to abandon his work before it was finished. The idea of using stencils to produce detailed images efficiently came to him as he hid from the police under a train carriage and he noticed a stenciled serial number on the carraige.

He has come a long way from those humble beginnings. His work is now widely popular. He has expanded his mediums to also include sculpture and installation pieces, and several of his exhibitions have even featured animatronics. The artwork that finds its way to auctions usually walks away with a six figure price tag. He has also done artwork for several album covers and even published his own book entitled “Wall and Peace.”

Banksy Monalisa

How did this artist become so popular? Well, there are several factors that have played into his success. His anonymous identity has certainly had an effect. The fact that his work is usually only available for a short time because of censorship makes it rare; thus, people everywhere are desperate to grab any part of it they can. However, neither of these reasons give enough credit to Banksy’s ability as an artist. Anyone can become an anonymous graffiti artist. Cities everywhere are full of them. Banksy is more than a no name thug spray painting his name on park benches. Instead, he is an artist that has mastered the use of visual metaphors. That alone has pushed him above others in his field.

Visual Metaphors are powerful because they are images that are far from ordinary. They use two things that we normally don’t see in context of each other. Hence, they stand out in our minds. In fact, the more unrelated the subjects, the better the metaphor. But selecting two objects and putting them together is only the beginning. In order to create a lasting impression, it is important to select subjects that already carry strong meaning. For example, Banksy could have simply painted a dove on a wall in Palestine. It would have a strong message of peace. On the other hand, he could have simply painted armed guards on the wall to imply war or hate. Instead, he used both: a dove wearing a bullet proof vest. Suddenly, the image has deeper meaning. It’s no longer just about peace or war. It’s about peace under fire. It’s about peace being threatened by hate. Suddenly peace isn’t only an ideal, it’s a delicate object that can easily be killed unless we protect it.

These metaphors can be found throughout Banksy’s work. His ideas are clear and powerful. Artists and designers that learn from his example can create good visual communication. Communication that anyone can relate to. Communication that everyone will remember and be moved by.

Scott Jensen

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I'm Scott, and I love writing things like this. But I spend most of my time working as a designer.
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