Steve Lazarides brings unauthorised exhibition The Art of Banksy to Melbourne

Nobody gives the finger to Warhol's 15 minutes of fame theory like street artist Banksy does. That's why, after 25 years since he first emerged as a graffiti artist in Bristol, his identity still remains unknown.

It begs the question if we will ever stop caring about the identity of elusive UK street artist Banksy? His ex-manager and friend Steve Lazarides says society mainly loves the mystery.

"Nobody really wants to know who he is because it will close the myth. It's like telling a five-year-old Santa Claus isn't real," he says.

According to Lazarides, a quick five-second Google search will take you where you need to be to find out who Banksy is.

"People want to know, but they don't want to know," he alludes.

People expect some God on a white horse to come through not a fat plumber with a hair-lip.

Steve Lazarides

"People expect some Nordic God on a white horse to come through not a fat plumber with a hair-lip. I told Banksy he could out as himself and nobody would ever believe it."

The art of a mystery

This summer, The Paddock behind Melbourne's Federation Square hosts The Art of Banksy, an unauthorised exhibition of original works pulled together by Lazarides, who says his aim is to show Banksy's prolific work over a 15-year period.

The works on show, all originals, were purchased by everyone from council flat dwellers to billionaires – but he won't name names.

"I managed to get a bunch of collectors to give me the work and that's what's on show here," he says.

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"They come from all walks of life. When I first started selling pieces a print might have sold for 55 quid and 100 quid back in 2001. Now that work is worth £400,000 ($651,000) today. Some people I know still live in a council flat in London and own a Banksy piece, but they won't sell it even though they could buy a house with it."

Early days

According to Lazarides, during their time together, he spent 50 per cent of his time trying to hide his mate's identity to the world media but also helped him become one of the richest stencil/graffiti artists on the planet.

"Banksy's anonymity started as self-preservation," says Steve Lazarides.

"Bristol in the early '90s was a very harsh place and it was a time when Banksy was very prolific. That's what really held him back from revealing his identity, then it became a disease and I spent majority of the time covering for him," he says.

A former photographer, part-time carpenter and son of a kebab shop owner, Steve Lazarides knew nothing about art and how to wheel and deal in the business when he became Banksy's agent.

In 1997, Lazarides was working as a photo editor for Sleazenation magazine in London and was approached to take Banksy's portrait. They both came from the same graffiti scene in Bristol.

"After that I got a call from him that he had done a piece and for me to go and take a photo of his work. That was the beginning of us working together," says Lazarides.

"I never studied art, went to art college or worked in an art gallery," he says.

Anecdotal ends

Lazarides and Banksy no longer talk. That friendship ended in divorce in 2008. "It was time to finish up," he says but offers no more insight.

But Lazarides says there's been plenty of highs spent with the man who put stencil art in dinner conversations. The funniest moment was turning up to a farm with Bansky when he wanted to stencil the side of a cow. He told the farmer he planned on painting a cow and the farmer gave him the go-ahead.

"I think he thought Banksy would pull out his easel and watercolours," he laughs.

"I saw him run around after a cow for two hours before he did that stencil. It was one of the funniest moments."

The unauthorised story

While this new exhibition has not gained Banksy's approval, the work is legitimate.

"For the most part Banksy and I got on quite well," says Lazarides – a married father of three who lives in London these days.

"But he's a miserable, scabby little git and on the first day I met him we went out and got s--t-faced. That's the kind of way things rolled for us from the beginning."

The Art of Banksy is open noon-8pm at The Paddock in Federation Square until January 22. Tickets start from $30 and are on sale now.

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