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Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Could popular U.K. street artist Banksy be in Park City for Sundance?

Published: Thursday, Jan. 21 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Graffiti supposedly done by Banksy appears on Heber Avenue in Park City Wednesday.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Arguably the biggest star at the Sundance Film Festival may have been in Park City since Monday, leaving his calling card around town.

Throngs of A-listers like James Franco and Kate Hudson will all be landing in Utah shortly for the indie fest, but social media sites are abuzz with sightings of the infamous artist who has made a name for himself by, well, remaining nameless.

He goes by the name Banksy.

Rumor has it that popular U.K. street artist Banksy is hiding in Park City, already tagging Java Cow on Main Street and the building on UT-224 across the street from McPolin Barn with his signature stencil technique.

His identity is a mystery, making the guerrilla art he's left all over the world a mythological intrigue.

Sundance's Spotlight Surprise film could be a documentary on Banksy, reportedly titled "Exit Through the Gift Shop."

The Spotlight Surprise premieres Sunday at the library center theater. Sundance staff keep mum on details of the film until the festival gets officially under way Thursday.

Their Web site may provide a hint. The only information about the film is that it will "leave its own unique mark on the festival."

Park City Police Capt. Rick Ryan has already spoken with Sundance officials about it and confirmed such a movie was coming to the annual festival.

"We specifically talked about this film and this artist and that he had committed to not be involved in graffiti and that we would probably have copycats," Ryan said. "At this point, we really don't know if it's the actual artist or copycats."

Others within the city have heard Banksy is not actually in town and the images are fakes.

The city has begun removing some of it, already painting over the "Banksy" name on the city-owned building on UT-224 and a monkey off a power box at the Gateway Center.

It is city policy to remove any graffiti within 24 hours.

"He's tagging historic buildings, so to a certain extent, it's not OK," Park City Mayor Dana Williams said. "It's kind of frustrating. We've spent years and millions of dollars trying to restore these buildings, and then they get tagged."

The mayor, whose band is playing at a Sundance event on Jan. 30, added he thought the image of a videographer bending down to film a flower on the Java Cow building was "cool," and he wished the artist had his own wall, just not on historic property.

Provo resident Veeda Bybee first spotted Banksy's work Monday, while in town to write a Park City guide for the site Design*Sponge (designspongeonline.com).

Bybee and husband Brendan saw the stenciled image of a videographer just past the iconic Egyptian Theater. The Bybees, who lived in London this summer and frequently saw Banksy's work there, immediately recognized it as a possible Banksy.

Before posting a picture and write-up of the sighting on her blog White Lotus Cooks (whitelotuscooks.blogspot.com), Veeda Bybee researched Banksy Park City sightings online to no avail. She figured it was a fake.

She posted it anyway and, hours later, her blog was getting hundreds of hits. The picture Brendan Bybee took was soon posted on sites like Gawker and Flickr.

"To see it in my own home state was really special," said Veeda Bybee. "He's bigger than any celebrity that's going to come to Sundance this year."

"I've been so enchanted by him because he has such neat messages and he's really political," Veeda Bybee said. "I really liked seeing all his artwork in London, because here I'm seeing all this famous stuff in museums like Van Gogh, and then you walk down the street and see a Banksy."

She named the chocolate cake recipe she posted Wednesday after Banksy.

Banksy is a polarizing figure, making headlines for his political satire. He's left images of people climbing over the wall on the Israeli West Bank barrier, painted "I want out" over animal enclosures at London zoos, hung a picture in the Paris Louvre of Mona Lisa with a yellow smiley face and placed an inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanamo Bay detainee in Disneyland.

Some call it vandalism. Others say it's inspiring.

e-mail: astowell@desnews.com

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