Work/Life: Banksy and Hilton: Getting it right by being very wrong

HMV 2003: Banksy. Wicked boy.  

HMV Banksy 2004


HMV 2003: Banksy. Wicked boy.


Paris Hilton stopped me and hundreds of others in our tracks in NYC. More about this vid.



I’ve just been to the Banksy exhibition in NY.

For those who are unfamiliar with this wildly popular subversive artist (where have you been for the past hour?) , Banksy is the anti-war, anti-capitalistic graffitist who pulled off the witty “reverse art smuggle” at some of the biggest museums in Britain. The Independent sums up his life to date pretty well, and you can read my impression of the NY exhibition here.

It’s the ultimate irony that the handiwork of this former grade school vandal is probably gracing the wet bar of celebs like Angelina Jolie (who apparently spent $400,000 on 3 pieces at the LA show), Brad Pitt and Jude Law. He’s been called ‘the next Warhol’ by people in black suits on white backgrounds.

For readers cruising in the fast lane, it’s worth glancing in the rear vision mirror now and then because Banksy isn’t in it – he’s taken a side alley directly past GO. It seems he’s done it by simply living his line with 100% conviction, and letting the PR (and riches) follow.

For example …

Nike offered asked him to collaborate on an ad campaign, he refused.
He was commissioned to paint a wall in Liverpool, and he accepted.
At any opening or event associated with his work, he makes sure he’s absolutely, positively, never there. The moderately famous Brad Pitt says, “he does all this and he stays anonymous. I think that’s great. These days everyone is trying to be famous. But he has anonymity.”


Wow, here’s a guy that can’t do anything wrong, even when he does his damnedest to!

One of his efforts just sold at Sotheby’s for $600,000; you could once get a poster of his for $150, now they’re $5000 – unsigned.

A recent “work” is his doctoring of images and text on 500 Paris Hilton CD’s replacing the songs with titles like “Why am I Famous”, “What have I Done?” and “Every CD You Buy Puts Me Further Out of Your League”.

A spokesman for Virgin Megastores said staff were searching for affected CDs but it was proving hard to find them all. That’s because staff have probably hidden them under the bed – they’re worth $2000 a piece, according to the catalog of the current Banksy NY show. Another person who is probably squirreling them away for his retirement is the astute HMV spokesman who said, “Often people might have a view on something but feel they can’t always express it, but it’s down to the likes of Banksy to say often what people think about things.”

It’s interesting to compare Paris Hilton with Banksy. They’re both achieving the kind of publicity no PR firm could easily garner, for free. They’re simply “doing their wrong”, not caring who knows it, and whether you like their style or not, it pays off. Note that they’re also living a seamless work/life, starting at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum, with Banksy slowly but surely closing the gap.

Museum vandal? Unfit mother? Ka-ching!


So if you want extreme publicity, be extreme, it will cost you nothing but your own self consciousness about what people might think. If you’re prepared to settle for less, there are plenty of PR agencies ready to take your hard earned cash.

Banksy’s website contains a number of hi-resolution prints you can download and make your own t-shirts, prints, mugs and so forth. It’s ironic that even with this generous offer, the value of his work is skyrocketing.

I’d like to see him sell stickers, temporary tattoos, iron-ons and other items right beside his high priced works. How about a book of stencils to vandalize our own walls, perhaps?

I’d like to see him start his own art school for blocked kids with overdeveloped math talent, landscape watercolorists and middle managers in carpeted cubicles all dying to cut loose. He’s already doing a show in Europe where all proceeds will go to a worthy cause, said Richard, owner of Artificial Gallery, who is staging the NY exhibition.

Then, after he’s made enough cash to buy a brownstone in Knightsbridge, an island in the Caribbean, an entire building to graffiti in the Bronx, and his messages have stopped wars from erupting across the globe, he could make the ultimate artistic statement, and pull the pin on everything.

Yep, just when his name is put up in fine frosted letters on the glass walls of the Guggenheim and the party invites to the White House start flowing, he could attempt to render all his art, bought by the “morons” at Sotheby’s and the like, worthless – perhaps have signed and numbered editions pour out in the zillions from a factory in China, or collaborate with McDonald’s to sell soda pop in glasses graffiti’d with a defecating rat …


Then, kill himself off in an alley somewhere and create a whole new identity.
We the public, languishing in the fat part of the bell curve, won’t let him fail. We’ll eat up whatever he does, and every print he sells will put him further out of our league.

What might happen to your fortunes if you injected a bit of Banksy “wrong” into your waking, working day?

The naughtiest little prank Lynette Chiang did was to sneak into bookstores and insert flyers for The Handsomest Man in Cuba into books about Cuba. She could learn a lot from Banksy – her book still sells on a good day, for $14.95.




About the author

"Be social and the networking will follow." Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press