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Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Faces of the week
Faces of the Week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above is a work by BANKSY (main picture), with NEANDERTHAL MAN, WHITNEY HOUSTON, CHRIS LANGHAM and WYNTON MARSALIS.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy

BANKSY

It could be at the dead of night, with look-outs posted, that a rat with a saw, or a policemen with a smiley face, or Pulp Fiction assassins with banana arms, appear on street walls.

It may be during the day in a famous gallery that an illicit painting of a bucolic scene disfigured with police incident tape, or a Warhol-type can of soup bearing the Tesco label, or a version of Monet's Water Lily Pond with a shopping trolley in its reflective waters, or the transformation of Rodin's The Thinker into The Drinker by way of a traffic cone placed on the subject's head, are surreptitiously placed among the legitimate exhibits.

This is the work of Banksy, the London-based so-called "art terrorist" whose current exhibition in Los Angeles has been making waves, in particular its centre-piece of a live elephant painted in a wallpaper design and housed in a building decorated with the same wallpaper.

His cheeky, political art, which combines graffiti with cartoons drawn with a distinctive stencilling technique, has built-up a cult following over the past few years.

"Art should have your pulse racing, your palms clammy with nerves and the excitement of creating something truly original in a dangerous environment," Banksy once said.

A Banksy painting on Israel's security barrier
A Banksy painting on Israel's security barrier
His real name is Robert Banks, a 32-year-old from Bristol, that cultural melting-pot of a port where graffiti art has a long heritage.

People who have met him say he has something of Dickens' The Artful Dodger about him.

He has no formal art education but learned his craft designing bootleg rock memorabilia. Before that, he'd started spraying graffiti when he was an unhappy 14-year-old schoolboy.

He was expelled from school and has reportedly served time in detention for petty crime. But, by the very nature of his covert career, the details of Banksy's life remain sketchy and few photographs of him have been made public.

He is a part of a tradition of artistic subversion reminiscent of those counter-culture posters of the late 1960s' Vietnam War era, and which encompasses the graffiti artists of New York's ghettoes in the 1980s.

Political

It is art which speaks directly to the masses; humorous but often thought-provoking. His large-scale image sprayed on to a wall in North London recently, named Sweeping It Under the Carpet, was a metaphor for the West's reluctance to tackle issues like Aids in Africa.

Similarly, the elephant in the room in Los Angeles represents the failure to face the big issues that surround us. Last weekend this week, he smuggled an inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanemo Bay prisoner, into Disneyland in California, to highlight the plight of inmates there.

Last year, he took his art to the controversial Israeli security wall. Among the images he stencilled on to the Palestine side of the West Bank barrier were of children digging a hole through the wall, and of a ladder going over the top.

Peckham Rock, Banksy's hoax cave painting placed in the British Museum
Peckham Rock, Banksy's hoax cave painting placed in the British Museum
As a subversive artist, Banksy has eschewed the art establishment, refusing to entertain the idea of selling any of his work to a patron like Charles Saatchi whose background as a Thatcherite he detests.

Yet, Banksy consorts with many of those, like Damien Hirst, who have become establishment figures.

According to art critic and Turner Prize judge, Louisa Buck, "Banksy needs the art establishment in an inverted way, because if it didn't exist, he wouldn't have something not to care about; like a naughty boy who needs a parent to rebel against. But he's a genuine artist who lives in the real world."

Banksy's profile is increasing almost daily. His graffito depicting a woman in her underwear, her jealous husband, and her naked lover dangling from their bedroom window ledge, appeared one night on the wall of a Bristol Council Sexual Health Clinic.

It proved so popular that, after an online poll, the council decided to keep it. Banksy originals now go for tens of thousands of pounds, and books of his images sell well.

History is littered with anti-establishment figures that end up embracing the establishment they rail against, particularly as they grow in popularity.

Banksy may or may not be in this category. Certainly he will remain subversive as long as what he once described as "the thrill of painting something big where you shouldn't do" remains.


Neanderthal Man
NEANDERTHAL MAN

Fossil hunters excavating deep inside a cave in Gibraltar appear to have uncovered the final refuge of Neanderthal Man. Carbon dating of fragments of charcoal and tools used by the occupants place them at 28,000 years ago at least. It was previously believed that all Neanderthals died out in Europe some 7,000 years earlier. This shows that a small group hung on possibly because of the stabilising influence of the Atlantic on the local climate.

Whitney Houston
WHITNEY HOUSTON

Singer Whitney Houston has announced she has filed for divorce against her husband, the RnB artist, Bobby Brown. Their 14-year marriage has coincided with a decline in Ms Houston's record sales and a reported descent into drink and drug abuse. The couple recently appeared in a reality TV show, Being Bobby Brown, which subjected viewers to a graphic depiction of their relationship. One reviewer described Brown as having robbed Houston of her dignity.

Chris Langham
CHRIS LANGHAM

The award-winning actor and writer Chris Langham has been charged with nine alleged sex offences. These are in addition to 15 charges of making indecent images of children placed four months ago. Mr Langham, who recently won a BAFTA award for his role in the BBC comedy, The Thick of It, pledged to clear his name. Mr Langham has two children by his current wife, and three by a former.

Wynton Marsalis
WYNTON MARSALIS

The jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis was among those musicians who played at the memorial to the victims of 9/11 at Ground Zero on Monday. Marsalis played a slow version of Down By the Riverside for the assembled mourners who included family and friends of the victims as well as members of the emergency services. In 1997, Wynton Marsalis became the first winner of the Pullitzer Prize for music for his epic oratorio on slavery, Blood on the Fields.




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