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Paper 'reveals Banksy's identity'

13 July 08 12:32 GMT

Mysterious graffiti artist Banksy is a 34-year-old former public school pupil called Robin Gunningham, The Mail On Sunday has claimed.

The paper says it has identified the "guerrilla artist" from a photograph taken four years ago in Jamaica, which shows a man kneeling by a spray can.

But a spokeswoman for Banksy refused to comment on the report. "We get these calls all the time," she told the BBC.

"I'll say what I always say: I never confirm or deny these stories".

Banksy's stencilled artwork appears unannounced in public spaces around the world.

In January a piece of his graffiti in Portobello Road, west London - which shows a painter finishing off the word "Banksy" - attracted a bid of £208,100 in an online auction.

But the artist is also renowned for his audacious stunts - such as leaving a life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee at Disneyland in 2006.

His fiercely-guarded identity only adds to his subversive appeal - and members of the Hollywood elite including Christina Aguilera and Angelina Jolie have snapped up his paintings.

'Extremely talented'

The only solid biographical fact about the artist is that he was born and raised in Bristol.

It has often been rumoured that his real name is Robin Banks and that his parents think he is a painter and decorator - but no-one close to Banksy has ever verified these stories.

Now, the Mail on Sunday claims to have uncovered his true identity.

The newspaper says it traced the artist using a photograph purporting to show Banksy at work in Jamaica in 2004. Former friends and acquaintances identify the man in the picture as Robin Gunningham.

Scott Nurse, who went to the £9,420-a-year Bristol Cathedral School with Gunningham, tells the paper he was "extremely talented at art".

"I am not at all surprised if he is Banksy," he is quoted as saying.

Luke Egan, an artist who later exhibited with Banksy initially denied knowing Gunningham, but eventually agreed he had shared a flat with him.

Asked by the paper whether Gunningham was Banksy, he replied: "Well, he wasn't then". Gunningham's father Peter said he did not recognise the person in the photograph, while his mother Pamela maintained she had never even had a son.

'Crushing disappointment'

The picture the Mail claims is of Banksy was taken by Jamaican photographer Peter Dean Rickards.

It first appeared on the internet and then in the Mail's sister publication, The Evening Standard, in 2004.

Banksy's agent Steve Lazarides told The New Yorker that Rickards' picture did not depict his client - although Colin Saysell, an anti-graffiti officer in Bristol who has followed Banksy for years, concluded the photo was legitimate.

Two years later, Banksy insisted the public should never discover who he is.

"I have no interest in ever coming out," he told Swindle magazine.

"I'm just trying to make the pictures look good; I'm not into trying to make myself look good.

"And besides, it's a pretty safe bet that the reality of me would be a crushing disappointment to a couple of 15-year-old kids out there."

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