If I use a pseudonym can I sign documents and contracts with a gallery under my legal name?

Historically there have been many artists who have signed their works without using their full legal name, or any part of it, including:

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi)
El Greco (Dominikos Theotokópulos)
Le Corbusier (Charles Édouard Jeanneret);
Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky)
Picasso (Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso)

They either used a pseudonym that had become a professional nick-name by which they had become well-known, or invented one. When signing legal/business transactions they either used their pseudonym alone, or their legal name alone, or both – as the artist decided based upon circumstances of each transaction. This is still the case today in most countries, including the UK.

In recent times increasing numbers of artists are signing works with pseudonyms in order to conceal their true identities, such as Banksy and other street artists. For legal/business transactions involving such artists, they use their pseudonym alone when the circumstances of the transaction do not require use of their legal identity. Or, when the circumstances do require it, they use of their legal name alone; but they never use both (so that the document could be used to prove their legal identity was synonymous with their pseudonym).

Below are two examples of ways to use pseudonyms in art while keeping one’s identity a secret:

1. Hiring an agent/manager/ who is legally contracted never to disclose the artists’ legal identity, and who is authorised to conduct legal/business transactions for and on behalf of the artist whose pseudonym is stated in any documents together with the fact that the agent/manager is acting with the authority of that artist. By doing so, the artist chooses an agent/manager who already knows their legal identity, who the artist knows intimately, and whom the artist completely trusts – Banksy and his college-days buddy Steve Lazarides are a classic example of this type of close personal and busines relationship.

2. Establishing a separate legal entity, such as a Registered Limited Liability Company wholly owned by the artist, and conducting  legal/business transactions through that company and using the company name, as and when appropriate. The key disadvantage of this approach is that the artist’s legal identity would be required to be used for signing and filing the company’s registration documents, which would then be available for all to see if they wish to search the companies register. However, Limited Liability Companies can be registered in overseas states where public access to company registration documents is not allowed; and/or solicitors/accountants specialising in company/tax laws are often able to suggest other technically complex ways of legitimately preserving business anonymity.

3. It is possible to officially change your legal name to that of your pseudonym, by using the UK Deed Poll Service or Deed Poll Office

Still need help? Contact us

Similar Artlaw articles

Related articles / resources

Related External Resources

Featured project

Peer Mentoring workshop at the ICA


Z-Crits are informal, fast-paced online crit sessions for artists. Registration for Z-Crits session 7 is now open. Peer Mentoring workshop at the ICA Z-Crit 7 Deadline for Registration: Monday 18 Octo… Continue Reading Z-Crits

Read more


This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.