Banksy is perhaps the most beloved, world renown vandal the world has never seen… and perhaps its most hated, as well. While other practitioners in their field watch their art get accosted by rival artists and whitewashed by property owners, Banksy watches as his pieces are dissembled and sold for thousands upon thousands of dollars on the open market. This is an artist who has turned street art, a masked graffiti-filled endeavor complete with hidden identities and temporary canvases, into a profitable long-standing career. Whether by design or not, Banksy has gingerly walked the line between art and commerce, and has thus been ousted by his fellow street art vandals as being a plagiarizer and often accused of selling out. This is a career of back alley tricks, after all, of slipping in and out of very visual arenas in the dead of night undetected.

Even trickier than tracking the career of this single moniker bandit is the daunting task to write Banksy’s biography without costing the mogul his or her anonymity. This challenge was put to the test in the new hardcover book Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall. Former chief reporter and New York correspondent for The Sunday Times Will Ellsworth-Jones chases Banksy leads from city to city. Not an easy task for an ever changing, disappearing landscape of canvas. The author often comes up empty but shares as much as he can without naming the world’s most famous bandit.

In the book, Ellsworth-Jones sheds light on Banksy’s childhood in Bristol as a graffiti enthusiast at a youth club, and captures his rise as guerrilla street artist grabbing ladders and hiding from cameras to how he grew to become an international exhibitor. In the process, he kicked the door open for street art to become accepted by the stale, insular art establishment. Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall even hints at the possibility that Banksy is not the working-class artist the world has come to assume. But in the murky world of street art, secret identities are possibly the most important element to success and continuation — Ellsworth-Jones remembers this well, eliminating any information that would inevitably cost Banksy his career and cause a firestorm in the art community.

Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall also gives a wider look at the world of street art in general, including contributions from the scene’s other big timers such as veteran Parisian artist Blek Le Rat, from whom Banksy has frequently stood accused of stealing ideas (and whose Original Stencil Pioneer documentary we posted last year). Throughout the book, Jones is as allegedly forthcoming as it’s going to get, unless Banksy’s mum herself were to start hacking out a bio. You can pre-order Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall from Amazon for about $17.

The alternative cover of “Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall” after the Jump…