In 2012, Hanksy was a street artist gaining a degree of notoriety for his street art depicting Tom Hanks as a Banksy rat. Since then, he has sold out multiple New York gallery shows, created a large and loyal band of internet supporters, energetic detractors, and is about to open his first show in Los Angeles, at Gallery 1988. Since my first interview with Hanksy, we have become good friends. I do not believe this infringes on my ability to ask questions about pun-based street art.
EA: Hanksy, we meet again. The first time I interviewed you was in February of 2012. How much has your life changed since then?
Hanksy: Well damn, time flies. And so does my "art career" apparently. It's been hectic and nonstop. When we first chatted I had just wrapped up my first show and I was unsure what to do next.
EA: And now you're about to do your first west coast show at a new gallery.
Hanksy: Yeah! Crazy. I sadly moved away from exclusively mashing up my namesake with iconic Banksy images. And with this new work came new opportunities. I had a second sold-out NYC exhibition back in December of 2012 and now I'm out in LA, ready to give the West Coast some light-hearted pun in the sun.
EA: Can you talk about moving away from the solely Tom Hanks/Banksy image? What was the impetus?
Hanksy: Well after my first show, I was wondering how long or far I could take this whole pun thing. Like how many times could I beat the horse before it ceased to exist? So I made myself a deal: put up one round of work, all revolving around celebrity puns that did not involve my century's greatest thespian. And if the public or my lonely internet fans liked it, I'd keep going. And the response was great. Probably better than anything I had received previously. So I kept going and going. And here I am today. Killing the pun game, yo!
EA: Were you concerned about criticism that you were a one-trick pony?
Hanksy: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, despite the ever-glowing ember in my heart dedicated to Tom Hanks, even I was getting tired of the whole schtick. It's like, I fucking love Haribo gummy bears right? But I can't eat them 24/7. Too much of a good thing can rot one's teeth.
So I decided to step away from that one golden pun, but still wanted to do street art. And some artists unfortunately work years to build up the recognition I thankfully was given. So I kept putting up art, all involving puns, and kept the Hanksy moniker. Which is still a goddamn good pun in itself.
EA: In the build up to your west coast show, you've been doing a lot of press —a mini doc for Pharrell's YouTube channel, shooting with E! Entertainment News. What's it like to have a degree of fame when a year ago you were just a fan of a famous person? What is surprising you?
Hanksy: Everything. Everything is surprising. Like a shitty plastic bag caught in the wind I'm completely blown away. Let's face it, my degree of fame is super-tiny at best, but it still exists and every time a new article pops up or I'm contacted for an interview, I still give myself a palm to the face and shake my head like, "Wow, what is this world?"
EA: Do you feel guilty that you're getting attention?
Hanksy: Yes and no. Yes in that here I am, some schmuck from the Midwest who is slightly talented at best, getting all this recognition. And no because I'm still going out and still putting up work. It doesn't matter if the subject material is George Clooney holding a banana that looks like a dick, I'm still playing the game.
EA: What do you find is the most common question you get asked?
EA: Why Tom Hanks, you mean? Or why do it at all?
Hanksy: The latter. And my response is always, "why not?"
EA: "Why make art"?
Hanksy: Let's use the term 'art' loosely. Why not do something that makes me laugh and I enjoy?
EA: What about the word art makes you nervous?
Hanksy: It's a loaded word. People and students spend thousands of dollars buying or creating art. It's sacred for some and meaningless to others. I have a hard time labeling what I do as art. Because it is so trivial and lighthearted. But that's what I enjoy most about it.
EA: Is there an aspect to your hesitance to use the word because of criticism you've gotten in the past? Your critics are pretty vocal.
Hanksy: I usually embrace the hate as it's just an additional layer to my crazy trip thus far. I once had another street artist say that he "wouldn't piss on me if I was on fire." Which is interesting.
EA: Is it harder when the criticism is from other street artists than when it's just random people on the internet?
Hanksy: Not really. I always lump the criticism into one big pile. Then dance around it in my Spiderman briefs singing "haters gone hate" over and over. What avid fans of street art need to understand, is that I'm like gateway drug to better, more talented, and serious art. That segment of the general public, who have no interest in street art other than Academy Award nominated documentaries, might come across my work on Tumblr or Instagram and enjoy it. Then one thing leads to another and before they know it, they are knee deep in the graffiti world. Spoon full of sugar and all that.
EA: What, if anything, have you learned about yourself in this year?
Hanksy: That the childlike wonder of creativity and mindless humor that I harbored as an adolescent still exists. That years of the stupid robotic grind of adult life can't kill the imaginative spirit. It's refreshing.
EA: And what have you learned about, dare I say it, art?
Hanksy: Well seeing as how I'm a law school dropout with an English degree, I can definitely say that I'm learning along the way. Never had any formal art training or anything like that. From spray paint and beyond, certain progress has been made.
EA: People are now buying your pieces to add to their art collections. How have things changed for you now that money is now more part of your process?
Hanksy: I'm completely flattered that people actually spend money on my silly work. Whenever I create a piece for a gallery or client, the fact that a large chunk of cash is changing hands isn't lost on me one bit. And hopefully it isn't on the receiving end as well. Hopefully they are buying the work because they get and enjoy the humor. Not because I'm big on the internet.
EA: Do you have corporate sponsors?
Hanksy: Yes and no. Sometimes I'm contacted by various companies and they send me free stuff, gadgets, paint, clothes etc, but none that I'm specifically asked to rep again and again. Let's face it, I'm anonymous, so I don't get photographed all too often. It wouldn't make sense for a company to throw a bunch of clothes at me when it'll never get press.
EA: Is this a solitary endeavor? What sort of team do you have?
Hanksy: Not quite. About six months ago I took on a good friend of mine to handle all my business matters. I'm just too nice of a guy when it comes to money. And when things get hectic in the Hanksy world, like right now, he steps in and filters through all the inquiries and requests. I haven't gone Hollywood, but honestly it's been a huge help.
EA: Do you have any interest in stepping away from pun-based work?
Hanksy: Yes, I've started putting up work that is far removed from any pun-related street art. But I don't tag it as Hanksy for obvious reasons. As it's not punny. And Hanksy will always carry the wordplay burden throughout the good and the bad.
EA: Do you feel different about this other work? What is it like?
Hanksy: It's more fantastical and frequent. With Hanksy, I am well aware that I can only put up work every so often. With my side work, I can put up as much as I want and feed that hungry egotistical art beast inside me.
EA: There's whole side of street art that has its own type of ego, separate from other arts. For some, there's a not a lot of work you can get up (before getting busted). How many stickers you can get out there. How long your stuff rides, whose work you cover up with your own. It's nearly competitive—you've even described it as "the game." Do you think ego and a competitive drive are a necessary part of it all, or is it merely an outcome?
Hanksy: Definitely a part of it. It's what keeps taggers and the like coming back for more. Protect your spot, cover up others. For a good chunk of that world, ego is the wheels on the car. Not for me though, as Hanksy is all about the good vibes club.
EA: The first time we spoke, you said, "But not everything in this life has to be somber, serious, and thought-provoking. Street art included. Mindless humor is meant to be had and the success I've seen shows that other people believe that as well." Can you talk to me about what humor means to you? In your private life as well as your life as Hanksy?
Hanksy: For me, humor ranges from simple to convoluted. It can be a 90's Saturday morning cartoon or a heavily layered New Yorker comic. I laugh at it all.
EA: I haven't read any interviews with you, other than mine, where you don't tell some sort of fib, as a joke, of course—one that's usually obvious to anyone paying attention. There was however one interview in which you “confirmed” that Tom Hanks had been to your gallery and bought a piece, which is not true. Would you like to clarify?
Hanksy: I think that might have been a little of the creative freedom journalists to take time to time. If I remember correctly, I was asked about a note that Sir Hanks had sent to the gallery. In the printed interview however, she expanded upon the question and juiced it up a bit. But whatever, obviously while I like to joke around a bit in interviews, I would never tell a fib when it comes to my namesake. That is sacrilegious.
EA: The bigger you get, the more tenuous your grip on anonymity gets. What happens when your cover is blown? Will that be the death of Hanksy?
Hanksy: I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get there. It's something I think about and honestly it would make my life a lot easier. But being a masked street art vigilante who is mildly obsessed with celebrity culture is what's fun about Hanksy. I’m like a completely lame superhero that the internet likes promoting.
EA: Or tearing apart.
Hanksy: Because Hanksy's the hero the interweb deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
E.A. Hanks didn’t mean anything by it.