Meet ‘NYC’s Banksy,’ who turns signs and subways into artistic tributes

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British street artist Banksy still operates anonymously around the world.

But New York City’s version of the mysterious artist is a Brit named Adrian Wilson, who has just begun attaching his name to his pieces, cheeky alterations to subway signs that pay homage to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Bowie and more.

Wilson has spent the last week working on his latest public project: a 10 by 12-foot mural to honor rock ‘n’ roll icon Eddie Van Halen, who died last week at age 65 following a lengthy battle with cancer. This display at 246 Bowery, commissioned by the arts nonprofit Little Italy Street Art (LISA) Project NYC, shows the outline of a van blended into the image of an electric guitar over “HALEN” painted in bold letters.

“I’m trying to give people a more quirky way of remembering somebody that’s not so solemn,” said Wilson, 56, who grew up in Manchester, England, but now lives in New Jersey. “It’s more playful, but visually has an impact.”

Onlookers will never see his name, a promotional hashtag or his Instagram handle (@Plannedalism) written beneath his work. And that’s why the hundreds of folks who shared his underground homages never knew the identify of the artist, an architectural photographer by trade.

He managed to remain anonymous for years even as he outfitted subway stations, and even street signs, with subtle designs that memorialize beloved celebrities who have passed away, including Prince and Bowie. But in September, Wilson started coming clean — feeling emboldened to identify himself because he’s now an American citizen and, he said, no longer fears criminal charges.

“When I did these all anonymously, it was way easier, it was way better,” he said. “I had personal satisfaction … People in my community knew it was me.”

NYP Features - Van Halen Mural Bowery

Adrian Wilson works on his tribute to Eddie Van Halen.

Stephen Yang

NYP Features - Van Halen Mural Bowery

NYP Features - Van Halen Mural Bowery

Adrian Wilson works on his tribute to Eddie Van Halen.

Stephen Yang

NYP Features - Van Halen Mural Bowery

NYP Features - Van Halen Mural Bowery

Adrian Wilson works on his tribute to Eddie Van Halen.

Stephen Yang

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This subway and street sign work is all technically vandalism, and therefore illegal, although he’s never been apprehended for these specific stunts. (He told The Post he’s been arrested twice for trespassing and graffiti. Both cases have since been dismissed.)

In September, Wilson worked with artist Matt Duncan to alter the mosaic tile signs at the 50th Street C/E subway station with stickers to read “RUTH ST.” in honor of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, who died several days earlier at age 87 of pancreatic cancer. It was the first time he ever took credit for one of these stunts, posting a few snaps and videos on Instagram.

“It didn’t cause any major disruption,” he said of the Ginsburg work, which stayed up around six hours before being removed. “Maybe [it was] about time to say, ‘Yeah, it was me.’ ”

Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, who died in September at age 87, was saluted by Adrian Wilson at the 50th Street C/E subway station.Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, who died in September at age 87, was saluted by Adrian Wilson at the 50th Street C/E subway station.Matt duncan

Earlier this year, for the fourth anniversary of Bowie’s death, Wilson affixed stickers to the Broadway-Lafayette Street subway station sign so that the B/D/F/M signs read “BDWIE.” In 2018, when news broke that Aretha Franklin had entered hospice, Wilson — in the span of five hours — decked out the Franklin Street 1 train stop with stickers spelling out her hits “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and “I KNEW YOU WERE WAITING,” as well as stairway stickers that read “ARETHA MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A NATURAL WOMAN.”

“Absolutely everything came together and I even surprised myself,” he said of the Franklin tribute, which was removed the next day but replaced with more permanent, MTA-sanctioned “Respect” stickers.

Adrian Wilson saluted Aretha Franklin with subway-step stickers in 2018.Adrian Wilson saluted Aretha Franklin with subway-step stickers in 2018.Adrian Wilson

And following the death of Prince in 2016, Wilson headed to the Prince Street N/R station to sticker over the “ST.” tilework to have the signs read “PRINCE RIP,” although the decals didn’t cover it entirely.

“If it’s too perfect, people don’t even see it,” said Wilson.

Wilson said his favorite tribute was his first, several weeks after Bowie died in 2016, scrawling “David” onto an overhead Bowery sign at the corner of Bowery and Houston Street. Overnight, and in the middle of a blizzard, Wilson and several others dragged a flimsy ladder to the intersection to make it happen. The idea, Wilson said, came from his brother, who mentioned that the city should rename the Bowery as David Bowery, as the street runs near Bowie’s former Soho home.

“New York is about taking risks and showing people it’s OK … whatever that risk is,” said Wilson, a single father of two children in their 20s.

Adrian Wilson Prince art

Adrian Wilson Prince art

Adrian Wilson adorned the Prince Street N/R subway station following the death of Prince in 2016.

Adrian Wilson

street artist named Adrian Wilson

street artist named Adrian Wilson

The 2016 death of David Bowie prompted Adrian Wilson to write “David” on a street sign at Bowery and Houston Street.

Gregg Lefevre

tiananmen

tiananmen

Adrian Wilson remembered the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests last year with this trio of tanks at 188 Allen St. 

Adrian Wilson

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But Wilson’s repertoire is more than “plannedalism.” In 2019, he painted three tanks and the Chinese characters for “remember” on the facade of 188 Allen St. to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. He’s even made MTA-style stairway stickers to put in subway stations that read “CREATE SOMETHING” in place of “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.” He’s spray-painted discarded chairs (one pair says “SONNY” and “CHAIR,” a riff on Sonny and Cher) and even writes on freshly cut tree stumps — one example says, “THE FIRST CUT WAS THE DEEPEST.”

Wilson also completed those works anonymously, since his goal is to create art in an effort to inspire others to do the same. A proud moment for him: Following the January death of Kobe Bryant, someone, in Wilson’s own style, affixed stickers to Bryant Park subway station signs to read “Kobe Bryant Park.”

“I’d rather do something that doesn’t tell people how to think … but encourages them to think,” he said.

Adrian Wilson has his own take on the city's "If you see something, say something" motto.Adrian Wilson has his own take on the city’s “If you see something, say something” motto.Adrian Wilson

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