For years, the true identity of Banksy— the British artist, guerrilla graffitist, and/or provocateur-rapscallion—has more or less eluded an increasingly indifferent public.
In 2006, he was supposedly first unmasked as Robert Banks from the graffiti-rich town of Bristol. A few years later, the “Scarlet Pimpernel of Modern Art” was said to be Robin Gunningham, a former Catholic school student—the most widely accepted theory yet.
Whomever (s)he may be, Banksy has left another kind of trail that no disguise can cover up: a geographic profile. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have used a statistical mapping the artist’s works around Bristol and London, as well as other public data, to help narrow down possible candidates for who the artist really is, much in the way that technology is used in criminology or to pinpoint potential sites of disease outbreaks.
Here’s a brief explanation from the study’s authors:
The model takes as input the locations of these artworks, and calculates the probability of ‘offender’ residence across the study area. Our analysis highlights areas associated with one prominent candidate (e.g., his home), supporting his identification as Banksy.
As it turns out, the technique may have actually worked too well. The release of the study was delayed by a week after its results seemed to buttress the Gunningham theory. That’s when Banksy’s lawyers got involved.