Independent Art Voice

Banksy Identity Revealed Through Geoprofiling Study At Queen Mary University London

Has the identity of Banksy been compromised? A study at Queen Mary University, London has tested methods of geographical profiling on the elusive artist and has concluded that the likely candidate, as a result of “geoprofile” is Robin Gunningham, named by the Mail on Sunday in 2008 and by Artlyst in 2011. The artist’s lawyers have intervened and the results due to appear in the Journal of Spatial Science a week ago have now been blocked from publication. Geo-profiling uses specific locations to find ‘hot spots’ of activity that could lead to a list of potential suspects.

Banksy’s legal team contacted QMUL staff with concerns about how the study was to be promoted. Those concerns apparently centred on the wording of a press release, which has now been withdrawn. However here are some of the deductions from the press release. Writing in the Journal of Spatial Science, the team show how the spatial pattern of Banksy artworks in Bristol and London. The study’s author Michelle Hauge produced the study as his final year undergraduate research project. 

The shadowy artist Banksy is one of the UK’s most successful contemporary artists, but his identity has remained anonymous. He is a mystery and a true enigma of our times. The study uses a Dirichlet process mixture (DPM) model of geographic profiling, a mathematical technique developed in criminology for finding increasing application within ecology and epidemiology, to analyse the spatial patterns of Banksy artworks in Bristol and London were scrutinised. The model inputs the locations of these artworks, and calculates the probability of ‘offender’ residence across the study area. The analysis highlights areas associated with one prominent candidate (e.g., his home), supporting his identification as Banksy. More broadly, these results support previous suggestions that analysis of minor terrorism-related acts (e.g., graffiti) could be used to help locate terrorist bases before more serious incidents occur, and provides a fascinating example of the application of the model to a complex, real-world problem.

The team pinpointed 192 artworks in the two cities. In London there were 164 and in Bristol there were 28. Once they had dotted each ‘hit’, they determined which areas were targeted the most and found a number of obvious coincidences between Banksy and Gunningham. Both, in London and Bristol, Banksy’s peaks were in close proximity to areas linked to Gunningham – including where he grew up, where he went to school and also where his girlfriend, now wife, lived. Biologist Steve Le Comber, a co-author of the report, told the BBC: “I’d be surprised if it’s not (Gunningham), even without our analysis, but it’s interesting that the analysis offers additional support for it.  “What I thought I would do is pull out the 10 most likely suspects, evaluate all of them and not name any.  “But it rapidly became apparent that there is only one serious suspect, and everyone knows who it is.  “If you Google Banksy and Gunningham you get something like 43,500 hits.” 

This is the closest they’ve got so far, but do we really want to know the name behind this iconic artist?  Robin Gunnigham is in his early forties, went to Bristol Cathedral School and is married to Joy Millward they live in the Great North Road area of Bristol and near Old Street in London. 


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