Written by Charity Lantz
Who is Mr. Brainwash? Mr. Brainwash is the alias of Thierry Guetta, a filmmaker/street artist gaining recognition in urban art culture for various negative and positive means. Although Guetta was born in France, the majority of his life is based in Los Angeles pursuing filmmaking, and eventually art making. Guetta had his debut show in 2008 titled “Life is Beautiful” at the CBS Studios in Los Angeles. The show included numerous paintings and prints, along with colossal installations and sculptures. The reception was a huge success, and jumpstarted his career. Commissioners of his work included Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Guetta’s story begins when he left his clothing business behind in order to create a film that documented graffiti artists at work. His interest in graffiti can be contributed to his relationship with the street artist Invader, his cousin. Invader introduced Guetta to such graffiti giants as Banksy and Shepard Fairey. The process of filming exposed Guetta to countless ideas and inspirations for his own work, which he started producing before finishing the film.
Mr. Brainwash’s work includes stencil work, paintings, and sculpture. Guetta’s subject matter categorizes him as a Pop artist. Most critics may negatively associate Mr. Brainwash with Andy Warhol due to his popularized subject matter and method of art making. Rather than traditionally creating the artwork himself, Guetta actually employs numerous artists to carry out the work, while he oversees them. This method is highly reflective of Warhol, and in turn allows more art to be made. Guetta is similar to Warhol in his movement and style. Warhol is known for his repetitive silkscreens, distinguished from each other only through varied arbitrary color. Though not as repetitive, much of Mr. Brainwash work is in this same style. A difference between the two would be how Warhol did not appropriate other artists’ work, rather he just took popular icons to create his own work. The same cannot be said for Mr. Brainwash.
Revolutionary graffiti artist, Banksy, created the documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which illustrated the initiation and development of Guetta’s artistic career. The 2010 film’s success likely amplified Mr. Brainwash’s already increasing reputation. However, Exit Through the Gift Shop did not paint Mr. Brainwash in a very flattering light. The documentary suggested Mr. Brainwash exploited other artists’ intellectual ideas and styles.
Exit Through the Gift Shop has been received and analyzed in various ways. Some go as far to speculate that Mr. Brainwash is actually a controversial concoction created by street artists Banksy and Shepard Fairey in order to promote their own work. However, these accusations have been apparently disproven. Theories hold that Banksy is himself Mr. Brainwash, because of the similarity in their artistic styles. This idea cannot be completely dismissed considering Banksy’s identity is still unknown.
Let us return to our initial question. Who is Mr. Brainwash? Is he an artistic genius capable of making highly accessible and relatable art? Or is he more so an entrepreneur of sorts, taking advantage of popular culture and ideas in order to turn a profit? Is he an artistic embodiment of popular culture or merely a faux avant-garde icon? I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not to be Brainwashed.
The Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla features local artists that have been influenced by the street and graffiti art scene. More about the artists and their art can be found on the Thumbprint Gallery website. It is located at 920 Kline St. #104 in La Jolla, San Diego. The gallery exhibits contemporary, urban, lowbrow, and graffiti art from local artists, and it is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12-4pm.