The identity of infamous street artist Banksy is one of the great mysteries of the 21st Century. People have been speculating about who the person behind the art is since they gained prominence over 20 years ago. An array of links have led to fans theorising that Banksy is the secret identity of Robert Del Naja, a creative otherwise known as 3D from the band Massive Attack. Are these just coincidences, or is their truth at the heart of this theory?
Before Massive Attack became a successful outfit, De Naja was a prominent street artist in Bristol and a figure that Banksy has been on record as stating as their primary influence. The artist made the comments in a book about Massive Attack, recalling: “When I was about 10-years-old, a kid called 3D was painting the streets hard. 3D quit painting and formed the band Massive Attack, which may have been a good thing for him, but was a big loss for the city.”
This theory regained prominence in 2018 when Goldie appeared on Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces podcast and seemingly said Banksy’s name. “Give me a bubble letter and put it on a T-shirt and write Banksy on it and we’re sorted. We can sell it now. No disrespect to Robert,” he added. “I think he is a brilliant artist. I think he has flipped the world of art over.”
A year before Goldie’s comment, journalist Craig Williams wrote an in-depth blog post matching the appearance of Banksy murals with Massive Attack tour dates. He discovered that Massive Attack played a show at Toronto’s Sound Academy on the same day Banksy murals appeared in the city. Another example arrived when Massive Attack took a residency in New York while Banksy’s ‘The Street Is in Play’ popped up in the city. The same pattern also emerged in Melbourne, Boston, LA and New Orleans — which seems too coincidental to dismiss.
“Rumours of my secret identity are greatly exaggerated,” he told The Daily Mail, paraphrasing Mark Twain. “It would be a good story but sadly not true. Wishful thinking, I think. He is a mate as well,” Del Naja added. “He’s been to some of the gigs. It’s purely a matter of logistics and coincidence, nothing more than that.”
Speaking with Peter Crouch, journalist and documentary maker Louis Theroux remembered an encounter he had with Banksy before he was famous, a meeting which occurred in the corporate box of a football stadium: “One of the other people in the box was a young artist. He was a little bit sheepish, he wasn’t terribly outgoing, and I said, ‘What do you do?’ He said, ‘I’m a street artist,’ and he gave me a little booklet of his art, and I looked at it and it looked quite good and I kind of made awkward chit-chat, and I said, ‘Oh, what’s your name?’ and he said, ‘Banksy.'”
Theroux added: “Fast-forward a year, and people kept going, ‘Have you heard of this bloke Banksy? No-one knows who he is.’ And I said, ‘Banksy? Yeah, I know who he is – we went to a QPR game together!’ I couldn’t really remember anything about the encounter,” Theroux admitted, “But just the fact of having met Banksy at this random thing has stood me in good stead the last 20 years. I’m one of the only people to have met Banksy – and we bonded over Peter Crouch!”
Theroux’s encounter with Banksy pours scorn on the idea that Del Naja is the secretive street artist as Crouch played for QPR from 2000 until 2001. Massive Attack were already famous, and 3D would have been 35, which would prevent him from being a “young artist”.
Seemingly there are links between Del Naja and Banksy, but the age-gap between the two seems to be the biggest stumbling block in the connection. It is reported that Banksy is around 47, whereas Del Naja is 56, but if their name remains unknown, then nobody can be sure how old the artist is.
However, an image taken of a man in a Mercedes van acting suspiciously on the day of a Banksy piece of work popping up in the same place does share a striking resemblance to Del Naja. Hull resident Richard Tilson took the secretive image in 2018 as he was worried they would steal from his business and hadn’t even heard of Banksy when he snapped the footage. This image offers up the most compelling proof that he is Banksy or associated with the artist.
If Del Naja isn’t Banksy, then the two undoubtedly move in the same circle. Perhaps, the coincidences between Massive Attack shows and Banksy murals were a deliberate effort to obscure people from the real scent of the artist’s real identity by framing 3D. Perhaps even Goldie name-dropping Banksy as ‘Robert’ was another deliberate attempt to play with the public and shy away from the street artist’s true identity.
The mystery of Banksy is part of his allure, and even though there is so much that suggests it is Del Naja, it remains up in the air.