Street art is a commodity in 2015. Banksy is opening a huge five-week exhibition that will see half the civilised world cancel their holiday plans and head to Weston-Super-Mare. Huge brands like Sony are taking to the streets of Shoreditch to spray paint adverts on the walls. And celebrities are falling over themselves to buy work by a secretive female street artist known only as Bambi.
Artwork by the so-called “female Banksy” has been cropping up in London for the past eight years but gained traction recently when celebrities like Rihanna and the Jolie-Pitts commissioned pieces by her.
Who is she, you ask? No one has the foggiest. Aside from similar styles of work and names that are phonetic cousins, it’s the anonymity that is fuelling the Banksy comparison, and all the hype that goes with it. If anything, she’s even harder to pin down, with fewer print runs than her counterpart.
Here’s what we’ve got on her so far…
Bambi is a born and bred London girl who apparently splits her time between London and LA. Born on Liverpool Road in Islington, she’s rumoured to still live in central Islington. According to her manager Lenny Villa (of Villa Framing in Islington), Bambi also just happens to be an international pop star. The names on the table are M.I.A, Paloma Faith, Victoria Beckham, Adele or Geri Halliwell.
We’re not sure why two fifths of the Spice Girls are in the list seeing as we doubt they have the street savvy or would want to keep it a secret. And neither of them are in the charts at the moment (or the past half decade), which Lenny says she is.
We’re ruling out Adele. She may have a penchant for pavements, but she commissioned a Bambi piece for herself and we don’t believe she’s that self-obsessed.
That leaves us with M.I.A or Paloma. To narrow it down, here are the snippets picked up in previous interviews and investigations: she’s in her early thirties, she went to the City & Guilds of London Art School, in Kennington, south London, before doing an MA at St Martin’s School of Art, she drives an Aston Martin, loves wearing Vivienne Westwood and Agent Provocateur and gets her name from her jazz musician father who derived the nickname from ‘bambino’ (child in Italian).
While it’s the kind of badassery we love to expect from M.I.A, she is of Sri Lankan heritage and certainly wasn’t born in Islington. She did graduate from St Martin’s but she’s also 40. M.I.A also released a book of her art in 2012, which people would have drawn comparisons to if it were tangible. Besides which, her dad heads up the Global Sustainability Initiative.
So, Paloma. The brightly-haired songstress ticks most of the boxes. She’s from East London, graduated from St Martin’s, and has often donned her similarly hued designer friend’s clothes as well as held a job at Agent Provocateur. Her father was Spanish, which is where the bambino could have come from, but she’s also remarkably cogent at Italian as the intro to this video proves. Plus, she fits into the age bracket at 34.
If we were betting men, we know who we’d place our bob on. But then, of course, this could all just be a cunning ruse to amplify Bambi‘s presence.
Whoever she is, her style resonates with that of Banksy, so much so that they did an exhibition together. Her mystery mate is also the only person other than her manager and mother to know her true identity. Like superheroes, neither talks about the other’s day job.
She focuses mostly on timely Brit pop culture, with perhaps a little less wit than her counterpart. Donning white overalls and a mask, she paints at dawn with a crew of decoys to colourfully stencil famous faces from the royal family and Bond to Amy Winehouse and Cara Delevingne. With the occasional kooky tagline and signature ode to her Disney namesake, her work is instantly recognisable.
When the ever-classy Kanye gave Kim Kardashian a Bambi of herself bare butt as a wedding present, the artist was catapulted into the mainstream. Her work increased in value to £450 minimum for a print, of which a new lot has been released should you wish to get your hands on one. Her most expensive original was commissioned for Kate Moss for £50,000. It was a portrait of the model.
The hype around her has placed her next to the likes of Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst and every celeb wants a piece. Dubbed the Andy Warhol of Islington, the high demand for her work has simultaneously resulted in a drive for street art and questioning about what her prices mean for the scene. Just like the streets of Shoreditch, when something that was once the epitome of urban grit becomes only accessible to the wealthy, it sometimes spells the end.
Probably, if you can afford to. Nobody knows what would happen to the value of her work if Bambi is unmasked, but you can expect it to rise in value if only because her print runs are so limited. Check out the collections at Walton Fine Arts. Or, if you’re more interested in decorating your Instagram feed than the walls at home, get yourself and your phone to the streets of north London.