French street artist Blek le Rat paved the way for Banksy having painted political graffiti since the early eighties.
Paris-born Blek le Rat, real name Xavier Prou, is considered by commentators to be the godfather of stencil graffiti having started his campaign of guerrilla art on the walls of the French capital in 1981.
Blek le Rat took inspiration from the New York graffiti scene and created his own style by painting a sequence of stenciled rats around the streets of Paris before taking his art nationwide to Toulouse, Lyon and Marseille.
Prou’s urban art turned overtly satirical in the mid eighties when he exploited Parisian paranoia of Soviet invasion by painting the capital’s walls with stencils of Russian soldiers, which later inspired Banksy to combine politics and humour.
Banksy has been keen to recognise Blek le Rat’s influence on his style of urban art and admits to being a big fan of Prou’s work and longevity.
The Bristolian told the Daily Mail supplement Live: “Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier.”
Prou stated that he sees Banksy as a son of his movement and credits the elusive artist with raising Blek le Rat’s profile and providing him with increased commercial success.
He told the Sunday Times:”I consider him like my descendant. He took some ideas. But he changed them. And he took the movement to a huge level all over the world.”
There are clear differences between the two artists as Prou’s latest political leanings may not inspire the revolutionary Banksy because the Frenchman has recently confessed to supporting the state of Israel and voting for Nicolas Sarkozy.
The pair may differ politically but both believe that graffiti is a method of democratising art and exhibiting to a public who would not usually go to a gallery.
Fans of Banksy are advised to only buy his artwork from reputable sources following the prosecution of two men for selling fake prints by the British graffiti artist.
Lee Parker and Grant Champkins-Howard were given a twelve month suspended sentence and ordered to undertake 240 hours of community service after admitting to selling fake Banksy prints on eBay.
Prosecuting lawyer Richard Mandel said Howard and Parker were: “keen Banksy enthusiasts who exploited the weaknesses of an anonymous artist.”
Banksy prints are popular with celebrities such as singer Christina Aguilera and actor Brad Pitt.