In this monthly series, Artsy’s Curatorial team features a group of five emerging and noteworthy artists who are working in a similar style or spirit as a well-known or established artist. This month, we focus on Banksy, the infamous street artist who has turned into a global phenomenon through his trademark style and penchant for dramatic and very public presentations of his work.
Blek le Rat
Xavier Prou, better known under the pseudonym Blek le Rat, is a pioneering French street artist. After studying etching, lithography, and painting at L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the artist pursued a degree in architecture, where he learned to read the urban landscape that later became his canvas. Inspired by the graffiti scene of 1970s New York, Blek le Rat began embellishing walls in his home city of Paris in the early 1980s with his signature tag, the rat. The artist’s name is a play on Blek le Roc, a 1950s Italian comic book character, with the substitute of Rat as an anagram for art. Like his name, the artist’s work is clever, weaving socio-political commentary into otherwise familiar imagery.
Referred to as the “father of stencil graffiti” Blek le Rat developed a style of stenciled wall painting that has influenced many street artists to follow. Banksy has noted the influence of the artist’s work on his own, and was quoted in a 2008 Daily Mail interview saying “every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it too, only Blek did it 20 years earlier.” Now, nearly forty years after the start of his career, Blek le Rat’s work is widely recognized in both the graffiti and fine art scenes. His stenciled figures adorn the walls of cities around the globe, and his paintings and lithographs have exhibited internationally at gallery spaces such as Jonathan LeVine Projects and Opera Gallery.
Artist Robin Rhode began engaging with the practice of street art in the early 2000s after graduating from the University of Johannesburg and the Association of Film and Dramatic Arts. Unlike many street artists, murals are a small piece of a much larger process for Rhode, whose multidisciplinary practice involves graffiti, performance, and photography. He is best recognized for his photographic series, which document a single figure interacting with, and seemingly manipulating, a painted mural. The final images are presented in a sequence, reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of motion.
Born in Cape Town during apartheid, artist Robin Rhode’s work merges individual expression and social commentary, meditating on the trauma and lasting impact of apartheid on South African communities. Rhode often works with local collaborators in Johannesburg to help realize his ambitious, site-specific projects, noting to the New York Times that “my community are my studio assistants.”
Rising in international prominence, Rhode has exhibited at major institutions including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. From April through June of this year, Rhode’s work was shown as part of a two-person show titled Power Wall with his representing gallery, Lehmann Maupin, in Hong Kong. He currently has a solo exhibition on view at the Kunsthalle Krems museum in Austria, and is included in a forthcoming group show of works from the collection of the Perez Art Museum in Miami, which was slated to open this April.
Bambi, a London-based street artist, first gained attention in 2010 when her signature tag appeared under a stenciled portrait of the late singer Amy Winehouse in the Camden Town district of London. A decade later, her work can be found scattered throughout London and its surrounding neighborhoods. Wielding a spray can from the young age of nine, Bambi received her undergraduate degree from the City and Guilds of London Art School and her masters degree from Central Saint Martins at the University of Arts London.
Hailed by critics as the “female Banksy,” Bambi resents the expression, and has in turn referred to Banksy as the “male Bambi.” While an esteemed artist in her own right, it is impossible not to draw parallels between two artists’ work. Like Banksy, Bambi employs satire in her work to highlight political and social injustices. She critiques current events and a celebrity-obsessed culture by reflecting images of contemporary society back to the viewer. A staunch feminist, Bambi’s work often speaks to the negative portrayal and villainization of women in media. In a 2019 artwork titled Weapon of Voice, a female figure holding two spray cans is seen surrounded by 22 red stars—similar to those of the Paramount Studios logo—with each star containing the name of an iconic female figure, from Nina Simone to Marina Abramovic.
Today, Bambi continues to expose harsh truths on the streets of London, while also producing limited-edition prints with her exclusive publishing company, Endangered Editions, which have been exhibited at galleries such as TAG Fine Arts at the art fair INK Miami in 2019. Her work sits in the collections of esteemed art collectors, including a slew of known celebrities like Brad Pitt, Rihanna, Adele, and Kim Kardashian.
The Los Angeles–based street artist known as Plastic Jesus creates timely work in response to hot-button topics. Working as a photojournalist for over two decades, Plastic Jesus was discouraged by the media’s coverage of current events and turned to street art as a way to “shine a small light into some of the dark corners of society,” according to his website.
Born and raised in the United Kingdom, the self-taught street artist moved to L.A. in 2007 and after a few years began staging work throughout the city. Plastic Jesus is particularly critical of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, mocking celebrity culture with works containing phrases like “stop making stupid people famous.” The artist has staged several works to coincide with the Oscars awards show, his statue titled Casting Couch from 2018 is a primary example. The work depicts a male figure recognized as Harvey Weinstein sitting on a sofa wearing only a silk robe.
Plastic Jesus has acknowledged the influence of Blek le Rat and Banksy’s work on his own practice, stating his admiration of Banksy and “his ability to create poignant social messages within his pieces” in an interview with SunGenre. Similarly, Plastic Jesus confronts his viewers with criticism of corporate greed and consumerism that challenges their complacency and complicity. He explains that, like a plastic Jesus figurine, his work provides a reminder of morality and ethical principles.
Aiko Nakagawa, otherwise known as Lady AIKO, is best recognized for her large-scale, colorful murals that merge popular Japanese and Western art styles. Born and raised in Tokyo, Lady AIKO moved to New York City in the mid-1990s, working as an apprentice for artist Takashi Murakami before going on to pursue her M.F.A in media studies at the New School. Later in the decade, Lady AIKO teamed up with artists Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller to form the artist collective known as FAILE. She worked with the collective for several years before branching off and establishing her solo career as Lady AIKO. Around that same time, she collaborated with Banksy for the production of his film “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”
Working in the predominantly male field of street art, Lady AIKO established a style uniquely her own, painting mostly female figures and reclaiming the male gaze. Her heavily layered murals are the product of hundreds of hand-cut stencils, and draw on a range of influences from Japanese woodblock prints to graphic novels and pin-up art. Quickly recognized and respected for her artistry, Lady AIKO’s murals now grace walls in cities across the globe from Los Angeles