A mystery man in a bowler hat has been seen scoping out a famous site where the illusive artist Banksy left a mural that was inadvertently torn down by builders.
A group of builders think they spotted Banksy himself taking pictures of a site where he painted one of his most recent pieces last Thursday morning. The secretive man in a bowler hat, long black coat and glasses was seen taking pictures at the site of the anonymous artist’s latest work in Broomfield, near Herne Bay, Kent.
TAKING PICTURE OF MURAL
Last week it emerged that the piece – which could have sold for millions – was torn down by contractors who had no idea it was a genuine Banksy. The remains of the mural, called ‘Morning is Broken’, have since been fished out of a nearby skip. Banksy posted a picture on his Instagram on Thursday of the stencilled image on the side of the 500-year-old former farmhouse – before and after it was demolished. And the arrival of the enigmatic figure at the building site this morning (March 20) has sparked speculation that it was the man himself.
Sofia Akin, who witnessed the man arrive at the site and take pictures on a mobile phone, said she arrived about 9:30 am where three workmen were continuing to knock down the building.
She said: “I went to speak to them and ask for further details. Before I had the chance, a man appeared in a long black coat, bowler hat and glasses, seeming mysterious.
“The contractors said ‘that’s Banksy, we saw him yesterday, he was here taking a picture of the mural’.
“They said he was with a crew yesterday before and after the mural was demolished.
“The men were all asking if he is Banksy, including some dog walkers that passed and he just laughed, not denying it.
“He then disappeared off but was seen taking pictures of the site.”
Despite the excitement, pictures of the mystery man have been shared with someone who claims to know the famous artist – and they expressed doubts the individual in the footage is Banksy. The elusive graffiti artist’s identity has never been officially confirmed. In a 2003 interview with The Guardian, Banksy was described as “white, 28, scruffy casual – jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring”.
The journalist said he looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail, from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and Mike Skinner of The Streets. Then, in 2008, a picture emerged of a man in Jamaica who was said to be Banksy.
That photograph was taken by Jamaican counter-culture photographer Peter Dean Rickards of Afflcted Yard fame.
The indvidual in the photograph was claimed to be Robin Gunningham, who grew up in Bristol.
Other reports have suggested he is artist and musician Robert del Naja of Massive Attack, who is also a graffiti artist and member of the Bristol collective the Wild Bunch.
WORKMEN ‘FELT SICK’
In 2020 Art Attack presenter Neil Buchanan was forced to deny a bizarre conspiracy theory that he was Banksy. Whoever he is, his artworks never fail to cause a stir – and many have sold for millions of pounds. The latest, near Herne Bay, was a silhouette of a boy and a cat pushing apart some curtains constructed from corrugated iron.
Workmen at the site said they “felt sick” after finding out the stencilled image at Blacksole Farm – which has been earmarked for 67 homes – was a genuine Banksy.
The remains of the work have since been pulled out of the skip and attempts have been made to piece it back together. Now, Banksy expert John Brandler has said he would “love to restore” the piece and display it in Dover museum.
He said: “We can restore this. This isn’t a major disaster if we are given access to the property and can sort it out.
“We have a big show starting in the summer, then I’d love to lend it to Dover museum to display. “The piece itself is wonderful – I’d love to have it in my collection.”
Brandler could not say how much the destroyed art could be worth, but that it would “depend on how much is salvageable, how much can be restored and how much would be original”.
He added: “To rebuild it, what we would do is get the two sheets of metal, we’d get the surface it was painted on and the surrounding bricks to create the original picture.
“We would then mount it on a backing material so it doesn’t fall apart.”
Resident Adam Brooks said workmen at the site spotted a man in dark clothes taking a picture of the building, not long before the photos were uploaded to Banksy’s Instagram. Brooks said: “I spoke to the builders and they said they had seen someone in black on the hill this morning taking a photo of the building but did not think anything of it.”
While Brooks was speaking with the contractors, others on the site managed to find a large piece of rubble which had most of the artwork on.
He said: “It was like finding treasure. I have a couple of Banksy prints but not originals.
“To see a piece that had freshly come off a building was pretty cool. It was like the holy grail coming out of a skip.”
Brooks lives close to the site and said it is exciting to think Banksy has been right on his doorstep.
He added: “I think it is more exciting that he has come to Herne Bay. It is nice to see something so local.
“I really like Banksy art and to have it initially in my road it makes me think ‘did he drive past my house, did I walk past him on the street?’ – it is a bit exciting.
“I think he must have wanted it to be destroyed because he usually posts his work if he wants people to see it.
“He has obviously been hanging around for it to be demolished so it is obviously his intention that it was destroyed in some way for this particular piece.
“I know a lot of his pieces tend to be more political whereas the ‘Morning has broken’ piece really was about a derelict building being torn down.”
This is the fourth Banksy piece to have been created in Kent – with the latest being a woman in 50s-era dress painted onto the side of a home in nearby Margate, called Valentine’s Day Mascara. It is currently being removed ahead of being relocated to Dreamland on the seaside town’s promenade. Perhaps the most famous is the giant Brexit mural the artist created in Dover, Kent, before it was mysteriously whitewashed in 2019.
Although there are now plans for it to be recreated when the building is redeveloped. Banksy’s first work in the county was a piece called Art Buff in Folkestone. That too was removed and sent to America where it went up for auction but failed to sell. It is now back in the town and on display in the Old High Street.