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Banksy is the most exciting artist to come out of the UK for more than a decade - or so many people on both sides of the Atlantic will tell you. But is he really much more than a prankster with a spray can? Hollywood, the New Yorker magazine, Sotheby's (which sells him), Damien Hirst (who collects him) and Glastonbury (where he recreated Stonehenge with a group of portable toilets) all concur that Banksy is the artist of our time, the rising star, the news. A poll of 18- to 25-year-olds recently named him an "arts hero" in third place behind Walt Disney and Peter Kay, and ahead of Leonardo da Vinci. Most people believe that Banksy - who has so far concealed his true name - comes from Bristol or its environs, and his surviving murals in that city have become objects of local pride. When it was announced that a new building development in Bristol, instead of destroying his street painting The Mild Mild West, it will be incorporated and profit from the association. I totally respect Banksy, because he is an ambitious artist. He went to Ramallah to paint on the dividing wall in the occupied West Bank. Banksy makes open-air sculptures that are like gags from a Dom Jolyesque television show - he put shark fins in a pond in Victoria Park in east London - and this humor has translated easily into his indoor gallery installations. The resulting stardom must surely soon make anonymity impossible. I find it fascinating that his art is done illegally; when he was painting graffiti as a teenager, he was chased by the police: hiding under a van, he saw a stencil-like plate on its chassis and decided there and then to use stencils to design his street art. That way he could paint faster and elude the law; but this also meant he could paint better, becoming something far more like a proper artist. Banksy's stencil technique is now what makes his style so recognizable, like Andy Warhol's silkscreens. I have always enjoyed making stencils, and my old Volkswagen van was...
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