Here’s our insider’s guide to three artists who are about to make it big on the art scene. Now’s the time to invest in their work before the rest of the art world catches up.
Born Marquis Lewis in Los Angeles in 1979, the acclaimed street artist RETNA is best known for his striking typography and intricate letterwork which is rich in hidden meaning and symbolism. The artist chose his unusual moniker from the lyrics of a Wu Tang song which was particularly important to him when he was young and became interested in street art after spotting grafitti along the highway.
RETNA’s work includes large-scale murals and sculptures as well as smaller, more gallery-friendly pieces featuring his charismatic geometric script which is aesthetically reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Native American symbology. His text is not written in an identifiable language, since RETNA explains that “I want my text to feel universal. I want people from different cultures to all find some similarity in it—whether they can read it or not.”
RETNA’s work has been snapped up by the likes of Usher, Swizz Beatz, and expert curators and collectors like Jeffrey Deitch, and his pieces have consistently over-performed at auction. Examples include his “Soldiers is Another Frame of Mind” (2013) which sold for $36,400 against the high estimate of $22,800, while at the annual Clara Lionel Foundation Diamond Ball in September 2017 Dave Chapelle made a successful $180,000 bid on a RETNA painting.
Nicknamed the “Godfather of street art”, Richard Hambleton was born in Vancouver in 1952 and is best known for his sinister shadowman silhouettes daubed on buildings in New York. Hambleton studied at the Vancouver School of Art and began his striking “Image Mass Murder” series in 1976, taking influence from the chalk outlines drawn by the police at murder scenes.
In 1979 Hambleton permanently settled in New York and began to work in his studio rather than directly on the streets. During the 1980s art boom he enjoyed significant success and was considered part of the influential group which also included Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Today Hambleton’s works grace top galleries and museums across the world including the Brooklyn Museum, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Although until now Hambleton has lagged behind contemporaries like Basquiat, his work is now receiving the recognition it deserves. The recent sale of “Opening” (1983) which beat its €7,000 low estimate by over 20 times at Blindarte in Milan, with a closing price of €150,000.
This is not an isolated event; over the past couple of years the value of his work has shot up from a couple of thousand dollars to 6 figures. The current record price for a Hambleton work is for “As the world burns” which sold at Artcurial in 2018 for $553,332. The future looks very bright indeed for those who own or are able to obtain Hambleton pieces before prices climb even higher.
Mark Sloper is the genius behind Illuminati Neon which draws on the artist’s punk roots as a friend of the Sex Pistols and producer of the recent Sky TV documentary, Punk 67. Sloper went to art college in Sheffield before falling in love with punk. In the Illuminati Neon studio in Shepherds Bush each piece is bespoke and hand-blown, featuring witty punk messages which bring a touch of irony or humour to the image.
Illuminati Neon is rapidly developing a dedicated following on the international art circuit, and in September Mark Sloper’s work featured in the world’s best emerging artists exhibition at the prestigious Saatchi Gallery in London. For the moment Illuminati Neon’s pieces remain extremely affordable, making this artist exceptionally attractive to art investors looking for the next big thing.
Early Banksy collectors were among the lucky few who either spotted the opportunity, or simply fell for the (then relatively unheard of) Bristolian graffiti artist. 150 lucky buyers purchased Banksy’s signed print of Girl with Balloon in 2004 for just £150, an unsigned print cost just £74.99. One of those very same signed prints sold at Sotheby’s in September 2019 for £260,000, including the buyer’s premium at auction, which equates to 25% plus VAT. That means those who have traded in signed Girl with Balloon editions since then have seen an extraordinary average annualised return of 56% on their investment, or a staggering 233,000% return over the 16 year period.
Arguably the most controversial street artist in the world, the works of Banksy have become a subculture in their own right. Banksy’s political statements and disruptive vision have impacted cities across the globe at vital moments in recent history, provoking alternative viewpoints and encouraging revolution in the art world. His identity remains unknown, even after more than 30 years of involvement in the global graffiti scene. He has worked in many different street art mediums and in many different styles, breaking down the boundaries and expectations of street art critics. His work includes many powerful, often controversial images, encouraging their rapid spread across the internet. Today, his iconic works have been re-shared and repurposed beyond measure.
Banksy born in Bristol in 1974 is the son of a photocopier technician. He began his graffiti career by admiring the works of Richard Hambleton the godfather of street art and Blek Le Rat by recycling the artist’s old ideas, moulding his own distinctive voice and style as he went. Initially, he hung around with a graffiti crew in Bristol by the name of DryBreadZ Crew or DBZ. Soon after, he began to partner with Inkie, another notable graffiti street artist.
At the age of 18, Banksy was nearly caught vandalizing public spaces by police. As his crew fled from the scene, Banksy was stuck hiding beneath a dustbin van. Banksy noticed stencil letters sprayed onto the truck, and as he had been looking for a faster way to paint, he decided decided stencilling would be his new graffiti type.
Now, the most common form of street art Banksy practices is stencilling. His works are often in the form of multi-layered stencils and are often combined with other media sources. He sometimes includes objects pre-existing in the streets, such as street signs, to convey his message by crafting striking street art installations. His artwork is often satirical, combining dark humour with messages surrounding art, philosophy, and politics.
By the early 2000s, Banksy had relocated to London, where he began to gain notoriety; but, at the same time, his international work took off. Eventually, he decided to travel to Palestine and the West Bank, where he stencilled nine images on the Bethlehem Wall. These images were an instant hit, and exploded online.
At this time, Banksy’s silkscreen prints and stencil paintings were racking up record-breaking sales in storied art auctions such as Sotheby’s and Bonham’s of London. These successful sales marked Banksy’s entry into the commercial art world. In 2010, Banksy assumed the role of author and filmmaker for his film “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”
Very little is known about Banksy himself, as he refuses to be interviewed and carefully maintains his anonymity. A world-renowned mystery man, Banksy has risen through the ranks to become one of the world’s greatest street artists partly by creating an urgency and desire to understand and unveil his character. Street art fanatics are consistently impressed by the far-reaching scope, variety, and bravery of every artwork he delivers, but are always left wanting more. This tactic encourages viewers to explore a completely new perspective or idea, often inspiring both amateur and professional artists. This inspiration is also known as the “Banksy Effect.”
A number of claims have been made over Banksy’s identity, fuelling media interest. Most recently, many sources, including an entire newspaper publication, suggested he was a Bristol native by the name of Robin Gunninham. Though the prospect of uncovering Banksy’s identity would allow for a greater understanding of his motives and mission, no claim had ever been confirmed. His identity has reputedly even been concealed from his family.
In October 2013, Banksy undertook a month-long residency in New York in 2013 named “Better Out Than In”. During this time, he unveiled a new piece of work everyday. On Day 13, the artist disguised himself as a typical street vendor and set up a stand in Central Park, where he sold black-and-white original paintings for $60. Only eight pieces of art were sold. The following day, Banksy authenticated those eight canvases on his website, alongside the message: “Yesterday I set up a stall in the park selling 100% authentic original signed Banksy canvases. For $60 each”. A year after, ‘Winnie the Pooh’, purchased during Banksy’s New York residency, sold for £56,250 on July 2nd 2014 at Bonhams in London.
In summer 2015, Banksy opened Dismaland in the seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare; a dystopian theme park. Prepared entirely in secret, the project unveiled 10 new works by Banksy as well as works from 58 other artists.
In March 2017, Banksy participated in the designing of the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, opposite the Israeli West Bank Barrier. With nine rooms designed by Banksy himself, guests could literally sleep inside a work of art. Originally intended as a temporary and provocative piece of installation art, the Walled Off Hotel rapidly became a top tourist attraction. Alongside the spot on which Jesus was reputedly born, a traditional pilgrimage site, the controversial 700-kilometre-long wall is now a surprising tourist site.
In October 2018, a painting by the anonymous street artist sold at Sotheby’s auction house in London for £1.04 million. Shortly after the hammer came down, the print of Banksy’s 2006 ‘Girl with Balloon’ began to pass through a shredder installed in the frame, shredding half of it. “It appears we just got Banksy-ed,” reported Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s Senior Director and Head of Contemporary Art in Europe. The piece was a famous Banksy print known as “Girl with Balloon” created back in 2006. Banksy’s balloon girl, which was voted UK’s best-loved work of art in 2017, became the first instance of a self-destructing painting. Banksy posted a video to his Instagram account to confirm the move was intentional and demonstrate how he built a shredding device into the large golden frame. The work was then given a new title: “Love is in the Bin”. One less than savvy Banksy owner, that actually shredded their own Banksy print in the hope the stunt would add value to their investment, was very disappointed.
Banksy recently stencilled the image of a migrant child signalling for help with a neon pink flare beside one of the Venice canals along a series of nine oil paintings, which, when placed together, depict a large cruise ship. The work aimed at denouncing the mass tourism which is endangering the Italian city.
In 2017, Banksy donated a series of three paintings, entitled ‘Mediterranean Sea View’, to auction to raise money for a hospital in Bethlehem. The oil paintings were in a detailed, traditional style that has grown more prominent in Banksy’s more recent works. Of course, the stunning landscapes came with a Banksy twist: life jackets washed up on the shore, intended to highlight the growing European migrant crisis.
Perhaps one of Banksy’s most poignant artworks, Girl With A Balloon – now the subject of hundreds of prints as well as one shredded painting – was voted Britain’s most loved work of art in a 2017 poll. The work originally began life as a mural on Waterloo Bridge and was later reproduced on a wall in Shoreditch which was then sold at auction for £500,000.
In October 2019, another Banksy artwork took the country by storm. Amidst the political controversy at the time, Banksy released ‘Devolved Parliament’; a painting that depicts the House of Commons overtaken by apes. It sold at Sotheby’s for an astonishing £9.9 million, making it the most expensive Banksy painting sold to date. In typical Banksy fashion, he responded to the sale on Instagram with a line from Robert Hughes: “But the price of a work of art is now part of its function, its new job is to sit on the wall and get more expensive.”
In response to the global Coronavirus pandemic, Banksy hung a brand new black and white artwork, depicting a young boy playing with a ‘superhero’ NHS nurse doll, in the foyer of Southampton General Hospital. He released a statement saying that he hoped the painting brightened up the hospital, and thanking the NHS for their work.
Banksy’s artistic endeavours continue to take him around the world. Artworks have cropped up in Australia, France, Italy, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, and Israel, and are instantly protected and revered.