Key pointers to spotting an original Banksy
A mural by graffiti artist Banksy has sold for more than £200,000 on eBay. But with so many imitations out there, how can you distinguish the real from the fake?
Not everyone has a couple of hundred thousands pounds to spend on graffiti art, plus a few thousand more to remove the wall that it's scribbled on.
So the latest buyer of Banksy's work, purchased in an online auction, would no doubt have checked that he's forking out for the real deal.
With hundreds of street artists adopting the stencilled style of the most famous and secretive spray-can expert around, there are more and more imitations appearing.
Many of Banksy's murals only last a few days before death by scrubbing brush, except in his native city. Bristol Council has made a pledge to preserve the work of its famous son, but it removes daubings thought to be fake.
So how do you know if the mural at the end of your street is a genuine Banksy?
What Sotheby's does when it has a painting attributed to Banksy is ring his dealer, Steve Lazarides, who owns a gallery in Soho.
But that's no good to someone who stumbles across a Banksy-like scene under a railway bridge or on the side of a house and wants to know if it's real.
Bill "Kilo" Pengelly, a legal graffiti artist who works on street-art projects with teenagers, is something of an expert. In the past year there has been an explosion in Banksy imitations, he says, some of which seek to fool the viewer by including the Banksy logo and recurring motifs such as a monkey.
Two key signifiers of a genuine Banksy work are a busy location and a political subject, he says. While other graffiti artists go for railway lines or rundown areas to reach their community, Banksy aims for the wider public.
"He would do something in the middle of Oxford Street, but others get the areas where the walls either have permission or no-one bothers about them, in the middle of the worst housing estate or an abandoned warehouse."
Banksy's work is bigger, bolder and more elaborate than others, says Kilo, but technically not very advanced.
"If you look in a graffiti stencil book you will see work like this or better, but the difference with Banksy is where he's doing it and the topics."
Areas like Old Street and Vauxhall are full of Banksy imitations, but the works lack detail, partly because Banksy uses multi-layered stencils while others use just one.
Another option is to knock on the door of the nearest house and ask if Banksy has been by, says David Lee, editor of The Jack Daw, a newsletter of the visual arts.
"Ask the owner of the property and ask if it's by him because he always asks permission. They are usually by him, it seems to me. If you have an eye for style then you'll see if it's one of his. There usually isn't very much colour, it's monochrome with spots of colour.
"The drawing will be reasonably competent, not brilliant, he's not a great artist. And it will be making a small jokey point about something. It's very difficult to fake that authentically. I don't doubt people will try but he'll distance himself from it."
Banksy's prints sell for thousands of pounds but he signs the authentic ones. And in the only interview he appears to have given, he said he did not care if people ripped off his work.
School of ...
The art world has long discovered that works officially classed as "authentic" may not be at all.
The committee that verifies Andy Warhol's work has been accused of getting it wrong, rejecting works that are clearly real - although Warhol delegated some of the production, making it a complex question.
Yet authenticity is the single most important thing you can say about a work of art, says the Daily Telegraph art critic Richard Dorment.
"Until you know who made the work of art, it's very difficult to say anything else about it. If it's a copy, it has no meaning within that artist's group of works."
Auction houses have teams of experts analysing the artworks for sale, but even they make mistakes. Last year Christie's was forced to withdraw a ceramic sculpture the day before auction because Grayson Perry told them that he had not made it.
The techniques of artists such as Warhol and Banksy are more easily imitated than a painter like Renoir, says Mr Dorment, and mass production makes validation an increasingly difficult issue.
"Andy Warhol churned out art, imitating the mechanical processes of industry, so the difference between the real and a reproduction and a copy is difficult to determine."
An interesting article, wth thanks to http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7190137.stm