In Brief

Before Exiting the Gift Shop, Did Banksy Stan Ska Music

Could a 1993 album cover for the British ska band Mother Samosa really be the key to discovering the real identity of the global street artist?

Mother Samosa Cassette Inlay Sleeves (courtesy MyArtBroker)

Back in 2008, the Daily Mail wrote a stunningly obsessive exposé on unmasking the man behind Banksy. The tabloid newspaper believed that Robin Gunningham was the real face of the internationally famous street artist; their reporters even cornered the artist’s parents for a confession but received outright denials from both. Still, the article was convincing in its tracking of both Gunningham and Banksy’s whereabouts. Both were conspicuously seen in Jamaica in 2004 at the same time when Banksy’s graffiti started appearing on the island. Both began their careers around the same time in Bristol, UK. Despite some compelling evidence, though, nobody could conclusively identify Gunningham as the masked crusader of guerrilla art. (And actually, the claim was later denied in 2017 after a separate investigation.)

Now, you can be the judge. In what may be the strangest attempt at attribution yet, a British art brokerage firm called MyArtBroker is selling a print of the 1993 album cover for Mother Samosa’s Oh My God it’s Cheeky Clown, which was created by Gunningham. And honestly, there are a handful of convincing thematic and stylistic elements that indicate a potential Banksy link.

Mother Samosas’ album cover is designed like a comic book with a handful of cramped, stylistically diverse panels juxtaposed with effluent descriptions that nearly run off the page. Of particular interest is a panel called “the playground of fear,” which depicts a large monster with a mallet about to hammer a smaller strongman in a unitard at a test-your-strength attraction. Is this an early rendering of Banksy’s 2015 mire-inspired interpretation of Disneyland, called Dismaland? Also noteworthy is the similar aesthetic style cribbed from comic book illustrations of the 1990s. Gunningham’s cover art references the Ben-Day dot technique of the genre (also appropriated by Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein) while most of Banksy’s works adopt a starkly shaded aesthetic reminiscent of comic books from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Rather than signaling a discrepancy, I think these difference point to a gradual evolution of Banksy’s style and reinforce the contested attribution.

Mother Samosa Cassette Inlay Sleeves (courtesy MyArtBroker)

The brokerage’s auctioneer Jack Syer told the Bristol Post, “What we do know is that the front cover is credited to Robin Gunningham, whose identity is up to individual interpretation. It’s a name that is widely speculated over online, but this may be the first artwork that has escaped into the public domain that can be indisputably accredited to him.”

While making no absolute claims on the connection, MyArtBrokerage is cashing in on the coverage. The print is worth over $5,200.

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