About thirty years ago, an 18 year-old was vandalising trains in a rail-yard.
He was spraying big bubble-lettering along the side of a train: “BE ON TIME FOR ONCE”.
Now if you’re doing it properly, decent spray painting takes quite a while.
In the middle of spraying it, the police turned up.
He ran, but with all his cans of paint he couldn’t run fast enough, so he hid under a lorry.
While the police searched the area he just lay there, with oil dripping on him from the lorry.
He thought to himself: “I can’t keep this up , it takes too long. I’ve either got to pack it in or find a faster way of doing it”.
As he lay there he looked up at the bottom of the lorry.
On the fuel tank was stencilled: FILL TO LINE ONLY – DO NOT OVERFILL.
And he thought: they’ve stencilled that, it looks perfectly even, every letter the same size, all correctly spaced, but all it took was one quick spray with a spray can.
Then he thought: that’s what I’m gonna do, switch to stencilling, do all the hard work at home, cutting out the letters and pictures.
Then when I get to the site, one quick spray and I’m done.
And when he did it, he was so pleased with the result he wanted to sign it.
But it was illegal, he couldn’t use his real name, he needed a name like Robin Hood, so he called himself Robin Banks.
His friends naturally shortened his name, and he became known as Banksy.
So right there is how the problem became the opportunity.
And that pretty much sums up Banksy’s subsequent career: look for a problem and turn it into an opportunity.
Wherever Banksy wasn’t allowed to paint, that’s exactly where he would paint.
The stencilling technique, and the witty satirical content, became unique.
Banksy’s work stood out from all the crude tagging that everyone else was doing.
His work was fun, enjoyable, people began buying it, celebrities began collecting it.
Instead of removing it, some councils actually protected it and restored it.
His work even sold at auctions.
In 2018, his artwork, Balloon Girl, was sold at Sotheby’s for over £1 million, all the major news networks covered it.
But they got an even bigger story when, as the auctioneer’s hammer came down, the artwork began to shred itself, from a shredder built into the frame.
As this was the first time an artwork had ever been destroyed while it was being sold, the value of the piece immediately doubled to £2 million.
Again, Banksy finding out what he wasn’t allowed to do and turning it into an opportunity.
He’s done the same with paintings, sculpture, films, books, exhibitions: doing what you’re not allowed to do has become his media, he now owns that whole area.
By turning problems into opportunities.
When he published his book, he thought a quote from the police on the cover would be a funny thing to have.
So he asked them for a quote, naturally they refused.
So Banksy used their reply on the front cover:
THERE’S NO WAY YOU’RE GOING TO GET A QUOTE FROM US TO USE ON YOUR BOOK COVER – Metropolitan Police Spokesperson
For most people the problem is what stops us.
As soon as there’s a problem we run away from it.
But for Banksy, the problem is where he starts: the problem is the opportunity.
That’s why the most creative people behave like an enfant terrible.
They look for problems, or they create problems, because that’s where the fun is.