Not an Agatha Christie novel, but a heated debate around a sculpture with an ecological message and a resemblance to an ancient idol.
An art exhibition in a local library has aroused controversy as visitors respond to its ‘satanic’ statue centrepiece.
Currently on display at the library in Water Street, Pembroke Dock, the September 2023 exhibition includes paintings, prints and sculptures by artist William Billy Gannon.
Once again the mystery surrounding the identity of Banksy emerges as visitors discuss the art on display, but what has really upset some of them is a giant sculpture resembling a goat-headed pagan deity that is associated with satanism.
Climate Change statue by William Gannon (Observer pic)
In a letter to the editor, K Holt said:
I am writing to tell you how disgusted I am as a former resident born and bred that Pembroke Dock Library is showing off a huge statue of Satan slap bang in the middle of the library itself.
The statue has been made by Billy Gannon whose real name is Billy Gunning who is that vandal Banksy. He says he isn’t but he is and he has just put up a load of his Banksy rubbish on the walls of our library to prove it along with a huge statue of THE DEVIL. This is a CHRISTIAN country. How is he getting away with this? And why is the Council letting him? A lot of us are angry and if the council doesn’t do something then we will.
“Oh dear, no,” was William Gannon’s response when talking to the Observer. “The statue is sculpted from rubbish found locally and represents climate change. There is an explanation right next to the statue. Anyway, how does anyone know what the devil looks like?”
The sculpture is not based on the devil but on Baphomet, a deity allegedly worshipped by the Knights Templar, but these allegations came from their persecutors, so to describe the idol’s origins as Christian would be going too far. It was French priest-turned-magician Éliphas Lévi who created in the 19th century the best-known representation of the creature by now well associated with the occult: a winged, humanoid goat with a pair of breasts and a torch on its head between its horns.
“These satanic statues are going up everywhere nowadays,” another respondent to the exhibition has remarked on the Facebook-based Pembroke Dock and Pembroke Residents’ Forum.
The artist’s response: “She is a modern Baphomet in the form of Climate Change; an old god born new from waste and pollution, bringing catastrophe with her.”
The explanatory key describes Climate Change:
She is made from rubbish picked up from the beaches and playgrounds and the rivers and the roads of West Wales. On her head Climate Change carries one single pearl of wisdom which is the truth that climate change will bring disaster to everyone around the world. No-one will be spared. The snake that sits below the pearl bites itself to heal itself, just as Climate Change will unleash her children, Fire, and Flood and Drought and Death, to purge the earth of us and our pollution to restore balance to the natural world… with one hand Climate Change points upwards and with the other she points down. Both high and low will suffer equally… Her mother Gaia gifted Climate Change with her horns and animal form and sustains her through the roots that rise from the earth below to cover and nourish her.
William Gannon continues: “Whilst satanists have adopted Baphomet as one incarnation of Satan, Baphomet is a different god. The statue in the library is based on Baphomet but is of Climate Change, not Satan.“
Underlining his own position regarding spiritual doctrines and ecology, Mr Gannon adds: “Climate Change is different from Satan because Climate Change is real and Satan is not.”
Of his art he says: “I work in stone dug out of the ground, leftover cement and scrap paper. I use plastic picked up from the streets and playgrounds and beaches and riverbanks, leftover wood and metal and glass and odds and ends of crayon and spray paint and just about any other material I can get my hands on.
“And I use it to tell the stories of people like us. People who have to use whatever they can find to tell their stories because they haven’t got anything else.”
"I am not Banksy": The town councillor hunting Banksy to clear his own name
William Gannon just wanted to retire in peace, until a conspiracy theory that he’s the anonymous street artist reared its head in his small Welsh town
William Gannon began working as a community artist around the end of the 1970s, travelling up and down the country with a group of other artists in a transit van, to create art with disadvantaged kids and vulnerable communities. “From that I learnt my one guiding principle,” he tells Dazed. “Which is that to create relevant art we have to use what we have got.” Often, this meant relying on spray paint as a cheap and accessible tool for making art. “Tags and throw-ups were a powerful way to cover a lot of ugly urban space, and stencils were a way for everyone to take part because they made image making easy.”
Decades later, however, in 2022, Gannon’s preference for spray painting stencils has had an unanticipated effect, drawing accusations that he’s actually the super secret street artist Banksy. Of course, these kinds of claims are nothing new. One week Banksy is Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja of Massive Attack, the next he’s that presenter from Art Attack. (Everyone denies it, but Banksy would deny it, wouldn’t he?) The difference is, Gannon has been forced to resign from his post on the town council of Pembroke Dock, Wales – where he moved “to begin easing into retirement” – under the weight of the allegations.
According to Gannon, the Banksy accusations are part of a broader campaign of targeted harassment. In a timeline of the controversy, he says that the harassment started in January 2022, when someone entered his studio space and took unauthorised pictures of his work.
“They later contacted me by phone to tell me that they ‘knew what I was up to’ in the studio,” he says, adding that he went on to become the target of coordinated social media attacks and IRL stalking. Emails were also sent to the Pembroke Dock town council, alleging that he’d changed his name several times, to distance himself from his former life as “a notorious vandal in Bristol and London” – AKA Banksy. Gannon finally announced he was stepping down late last month, explaining in a resignation letter that he feared for the reputation of the council.
So far this sounds like the sad, simple tale of a man whose retirement has been ruined by the Banksy conspiracy machine. However, Gannon isn’t giving up so easily. “I joined the council to fight injustices and give something back to the people who had welcomed me into this community,” he says. “Not being on the council means that I am going to have to fight back using art instead.”
So far, this has involved producing 999 badges that bluntly address the rumours – in white text on a black background, they read: “I Am Not Banksy” – which Gannon distributed among the people of Pembroke Dock. The idea? If everyone in the world who isn’t Banksy wears an “I Am Not Banksy” badge, then the identity of the real Banksy will be exposed. Admittedly, this places a lot of faith in Banksy’s honesty, and Gannon’s ability to mass-produce almost 8 billion badges. Really, it’s more about the broader concept, he says: “Finding Banksy is about keeping it real. I hope to illustrate the absurdity of trying to find a mythical figure.”
You might be wondering at this point, what does Gannon think of Banksy himself? Is he flattered by the idea that he’s secretly the nation’s favourite artist? To answer the latter: not really, but it’s not Banksy’s fault. “In a country where the rich are becoming obscenely richer, while the poor are increasingly having to choose between heating their homes, paying the rent, or feeding their kids, the commodification of art left most of us with little or no access to it,” he says. “Banksy challenged that by putting the art where the people were, for them to enjoy, and making it about their lives.”
What the allegations against him have exposed, Gannon goes on, is the lingering idea that art is only made by a select group of celebrity artists: “If you are a street artist you MUST be Banksy, because Banksy is the ONLY street artist that there has ever been.” This plays into the myth of the “white male individual genius” that is used to commodify a once-egalitarian art form, he adds – a myth that has seen Banksy’s artworks rake in millions at auction in the last few years.
“For that reason, I am not flattered by the mis-identification, because it reveals the increasing cultural poverty of a society that diminishes the non-celebrity artists in order to promote the ‘elite’ and the commodification of our culture,” says Gannon. “In the UK, money is the only thing that matters, so the only artists that matter are the ones making money. That is culturally poisonous, and I refuse to play that game.”
The campaign that claims the real Banksy is hiding in plain sight in Pembroke Dock isn’t the only Welsh controversy connected to the artist in recent years. An actual Banksy stencil titled Season’s Greetings popped up in Port Talbot back in 2019, leading the unsuspecting owner of the shed it was painted on to deal with huge crowds and vandals. The owner eventually managed to get if off his hands for a six-figure sum, but even then a local tried to break in and destroy the artwork, to protest it moving out of Wales.
Again, Gannon notes, this controversy wasn’t caused by Banksy himself (although you’d think the artist could predict the reaction to his public artworks by now), but by its commodification. “It was only when money became involved that things got nasty,” he says. “Suddenly it was bought, and then moved out of the town. Where is it now? Sitting in a freeport shipping container or bank vault as a commodity, accumulating monetary value as far away as possible from the people for whom it was intended?”
Now that Gannon has left the town council, he also intends to get back to making art for the people of his hometown and others like it. Beyond the “I Am Not Banksy” project, he has plans for sculptures that explore the link between consumerism and animal welfare.
Mr Banksy I presume
Fri 27 May 2022 13.14 BST
To be clear, Billy Gannon is not Banksy. Or at least – that’s what he says.
“The problem I have is that when I say to people, ‘I am not Banksy,’ they say, ‘That’s what Banksy would say,’” says the 58-year-old from Pembroke Dock, west Wales. “Every time I deny I am Banksy … a significant number of people in the town [decide] that I am, or could possibly be, Banksy.”
Not being Banksy may appear unremarkable to many people, the overwhelming majority of whom are also not the elusive street artist and activist. But in Gannon’s case his status as Not Banksy plunged him this week into what he describes as “an existential crisis”, after he resigned from his post as a councillor in the small Pembrokeshire town, in response to allegations spread by email and on social media that he has lied about his identity, is 10 years younger than he claims – and is, in fact, Banksy.
The rumours, which Gannon believes were started maliciously by a rival council candidate, were “undermining my ability to do the work of councillor” and tarnishing the town council’s reputation, he wrote in an email to the clerk earlier this week. As a result, he has stepped down as an independent member for Bufferland ward.
Watching reports of his resignation, and the reasons for it, spread virally in Britain and far beyond over the past few days has been deeply strange, he says. “You know that Kafka novel, I think it’s The Metamorphosis, where a guy goes to bed as a human being and wakes up as a six foot tall beetle?
“What I’m being asked to do is not to prove who I am. I’m being asked to prove who I am not, and the person that I am not may not exist. I mean, how am I supposed to prove that I’m not somebody who doesn’t exist? Just how do you do that?”
For now, he has taken to wearing a small, black badge on his lapel that reads: “I am NOT Banksy.” “I am not Banksy,” he says, “and I have the badge to prove it.”
Part of the problem, Gannon acknowledges, is that there is just enough in his own background to make the rumours at least plausible. An artist himself with a particular interest in community projects, he speaks passionately about working with ordinary people and says he believes art should be available to all.
Originally from Warrington, he moved to Pembroke Dock with his wife and son in 2013, after what he describes as “quite a wild life, living out of the backs of vans and spraying on walls” – though he says he was involved more in legal street art than graffiti. “All the things that Banksy did, I did as well about 10 years earlier, which is why this allegation that I’m Banksy has so much weight to it. I was in the same place doing the same thing at the same time.
“But that doesn’t make me Banksy.”
Plenty of people might consider it a compliment to be compared to the wildly popular artist, and Gannon, as it happens, is among them. “Here’s the thing: I absolutely love him. Or him/her/them. The guy’s a hero. They’re heroes. Just for [Banksy’s interventions in Palestine] alone, he’ll always have a special place in my heart.” He also admires accessibility the artist’s work – “it’s for everyone”.
So why did he feel the need to resign? A spate of vandalism in a local park, just as a number of social media posts and emails appeared accusing Gannon of deceit and a history of illegal graffiti, made him feel his position was untenable, he says.
“Having a councillor who has lied about his date of birth, and is operating under a false name – that would be disastrous for the reputation of the town. And suddenly the only thing we would be talking about in Pembroke Dock would not be how to make people’s lives better, we’d just be talking about how you have an impostor sitting on the town council.” The Guardian has seen the original hostile messages and been shown evidence confirming Gannon’s age and identity.
The story may have begun in malice but it is also, the former councillor says, “so ridiculous. It’s just silly.” And so, in response, he has made a number of his “I am NOT Banksy” badges available to others through his website, with the following statement:
“If you are NOT Banksy, please take an I am NOT Banksy badge and wear it everywhere you go. If you ARE Banksy then please DO NOT take an I am NOT Banksy badge and DO NOT wear it everywhere you go.
“Help us find Banksy.”
Sarah Cascone Thurs 26 May 2022
’I Am Not Banksy!’: A Welsh Politician Resigned After a Viral Rumor Identifying Him as the Mystery Artist Made It Impossible to Do His Job
"I don’t know if I’m in some mad, fantastic kind of delusion," William Gannon said.
Sarah Cascone, May 26, 2022
William Gannon is an artist, but he's not Banksy. Photo by David Street, Photobenfro.com
A local politician in the U.K. has resigned in an effort to quiet baseless yet persistent rumors that he is the anonymous British street artist Banksy.
Pembroke Dock town councilor William Gannon, age 58, was just elected earlier this month, but he couldn’t quell rumors about his supposed illicit artistic activities in January, which he believes may have been started by his political opponents.
“If I’m Banksy, then everybody is,” Gannon told the Telegraph. “It’s so ridiculous that it’s laugh-out-loud funny, but there’s also a sinister element to it. The joke is on me.”
Gannon is, however, an artist, and his work often includes public murals at sites such as children’s playgrounds and hospitals. His website described his work as “Banksy-esque, not intentionally,” and includes a photo of him spray painting a skateboard ramp back in the 1980s.
To help resolve the issue, Gannon has started an “I Am Not Banksy” campaign, and is handing out pins with the message to local residents. His hope is that the project could solve the mystery of the artist’s identity once and for all.
“If everyone who is NOT Banksy wears an I Am NOT Banksy badge and Banksy is the only person who is NOT wearing I Am NOT Banksy badge (because they ARE Banksy),” the project website states, “then everyone will know that Banksy IS Banksy (because they are NOT wearing an I Am NOT Banksy badge) and, most importantly, Banksy will finally have found out who they are for him/her/them self(ves).”
Gannon has made 300 signed and numbered buttons so far and plans to hand out 999 in total.
“The buttons also question the nature of identity and the value of ‘authorship’ in art, which are important questions,” he told Artnet News in an email. “The buttons are individual works of art.”
Gannon announced his resignation on a community Facebook page. The police are reportedly investigating the social media pages where the allegations against Gannon were made, following complaints from nine other individuals who claim to have been similarly targeted.
The Banksy claims, which circulated on several social media pages, were “undermining my ability to do the work,” Gannon wrote in his resignation letter. “[People were] asking me to prove who I am not and that’s almost impossible to do.”
In resigning, Gannon has also put the kibosh on plans to erect a public sculpture in town, out of concern that people would vandalize it due to the Banksy rumors.
“That project is dead,” he told the Sun. (In happier news, Gannon has two life-sized figurative sculptures at a show at Volcano Art Gallery in Swansea, Wales, opening June 8.)
Gannon was one of 10 councilors in Pembroke Dock, which has a population of around 9,000. He was concerned that the Banksy controversy could damage the council’s reputation, especially after he was wrongfully blamed for a local graffiti incident.
The suggestion that the small town politician in Wales is in fact the world’s most famous street artist is particularly absurd given that Banksy has never done an artwork in Pembroke Dock—the closest he’s come is Port Talbot, about 70 miles away. (That piece, a mural titled Season’s Greetings, was removed in January by art dealer John Brandler after plans for a street art museum in town stalled.)
While details of Banksy’s biography remain something of a mystery—the most persistent rumor is that his real name is Robin Gunningham—the one agreed-upon fact is that he comes from Bristol, not a small town in Southwest Wales 136 miles away.
Nevertheless, it became clear that a growing contingent of people believed the rumor.
“Every time I say to somebody ‘I’m not Bansky’, they say ‘Ah, well that is exactly what Bansky would say,'” Gannon told ITV. “The more I deny it, the more people believe it.”
And Gannon’s resignation has only fueled the fire, triggering a deluge of Facebook messages demanding to know who he really is.
“I don’t know if I’m in some mad, fantastic kind of delusion or some dreadful nightmare,” Gannon told Insider. He admits that as a U.K. street artist, he was “running around at the same time as Banksy, doing the same things as they were doing, in the same places.”
If Banksy did ever decide to visit Pembroke Dock, Gannon would welcome a work by the artist.
“Banksy is a very responsible artist and it would do a lot good,” he told the BBC. “Imagine what it would do to our tourism.”