Mr. Brainwash

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Mr. Brainwash
Mr Brainwash Paris 2007.JPG
Mr. Brainwash self-portrait stencil, Paris, February 2007
Birth name Thierry Guetta
Born Paris, France
Nationality French
Field Photoshopping
Street art
Social commentary
Movement Pop art

Mr. Brainwash – often stylized as MBW – is the moniker of Paris-born, Los Angeles-based self-proclaimed filmmaker and street artist Thierry Guetta. According to the Banksy-directed film Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010),[1] Guetta began as a proprietor of a clothing store and amateur videographer who filmed street artists through the 2000s and "evolved" into an artist in his own right in a matter of weeks after an off-hand suggestion from Banksy.[1] Guetta was first introduced to street art by his cousin, the street artist Invader.[1]

Guetta does not typically have much physical involvement in the construction of the artwork attributed to him; he passes ideas to his creative team, mostly graphic designers who carry out the artistic side instead of Guetta. Mimicking his associate Banksy, Guetta employs famous artistic and historic images, many of which are copyrighted, and amends the originals in sometimes slight, sometimes significant ways. A number of critics have observed that his works strongly emulate the styles and concepts of Banksy, and have speculated that Guetta is an elaborate prank staged by Banksy who may have created the works himself. Banksy insists on his official website, however, that Exit Through the Gift Shop is authentic and that Guetta is not part of a prank.[2]

His work sold for five-figure sums at his self-financed debut exhibit Life is Beautiful due, it is thought, to a mixture of an over heated and hyped street art market and – according to Banksy and Shepard Fairey as seen in Exit – his misuse of endorsements from Banksy and Fairey. The exhibit was held in Los Angeles, California, on June 18, 2008, and was a popular[3] and critical[citation needed] success. In 2009, Madonna paid Guetta to design the cover art for her Celebration album.[4] Many street artists and graffiti artists have spoken out against Guetta and his practice of allegedly stealing ideas from street artists and mainstream artists alike. Guetta also has come to symbolize the capitalist turn that street art has taken in recent years.

Art and exhibitions[edit]

Mr. Brainwash's uniformly subversive style fuses historic pop imagery and contemporary cultural iconography to create his own pop–graffiti art hybrid.[citation needed] Working primarily with layers of screenprint and stenciled images, Mr. Brainwash's compositions are emblematic of a graffiti wall inundated with 20th Century iconography. Mr. Brainwash is both sly and playful in his juxtaposition of the cultural idols of the past (Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe) with the icons of today (Kate Moss, Madonna). The vibrant palette and references to Pop Artist like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, add a puckish wink to his unique street art style.[citation needed] To add to his intentionally derivative persona, Mr. Brainwash uses a special signature and authentication on all of his unique artworks. All unique MBW artworks have his mantra "Life is Beautiful", his thumbprint, hand-signature, and assigned dollar bill number sequence.

The development of this whimsical Pop-Graffiti art style has catapulted MBW to international superstardom, and he continues to garner recognition from art collectors and street art enthusiasts alike.


On February 14, 2010, Mr. Brainwash opened his second show in New York City.[5] The show Icons covered 15,000 square feet (1,400 m2) of an abandoned warehouse in the Meat Packing District to create a gallery. According to Anthony Haden-Guest, writing in the blog The Daily Beast, a Mr. Brainwash portrait of Jim Morrison made of broken vinyl records in a simplistic version of the style of renowned mosaicist Ed Chapman was sold for $100,000. Massive cans were created for the show, ranging in size from 4 ft (1.2 m) to 12 ft (3.7 m) and are now embodied as prints in a series.[6]

Opera Gallery London[edit]

On October 6, 2011 MBW opened his latest solo exhibition at Opera Gallery in London. The night before the opening of the show the street outside the gallery was sprayed with paint by artist RSH as a statement about the false nature of Mr Brainwash's artwork.[7] When interrogated about this, Mr Brainwash declared that he actually really liked the street thus spray painted and that as long as he stirred reactions from the public / other artists he judged it a success. The exhibition sold out within 2 days, with one private collector buying 14 of the 36 artworks on display.

Publicity and sales[edit]

At commercial auction[edit]

Mr Brainwash made his major auction debut on May 14, 2010 in the Phillips de Pury & Company Contemporary Art Sale: Part II. The piece, a massive canvas, was given a pre-auction estimate of $50,000–70,000. The piece featured a Charlie Chaplin character with paint can and roller in hand. The background of the work was adorned with the artist's Madonna and Heart image, set in an urban/street environment.[8]

The London Fall 2010, Phillips de Pury & Company Contemporary Art Sale marked the artist's second presence in auction, this time represented by two unique works. The two pieces ranging in size, were described as spray and metallic paint, acrylic and paper collage on canvas.[9] The smaller of the two pieces measures 106.7 x 106.7 cm (42 x 42 inches) and featured a portraiture style depiction of model Kate Moss amongst heavy brush strokes and splatters of red, pink, and white paint all amongst a gold background. The larger piece, measuring 162.6 x 121.9 cm (64 x 48 inches), continued the artist's fascination with Albert Einstein and featured the historic physicist in a front of a graffiti adorned wall. The works sold for well above the pre-auction estimates, fetching prices nearly 3 times higher than what was speculated in the estimates. The final prices for the two canvases were roughly $67,000 and $120,000.[10]

Red Hot Chili Peppers artwork[edit]

In early June 2011, cryptic artwork of a robot and the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo with the date 8/30/11 was posted around Los Angeles. The band's management denied that the works were connected with the band; however on July 14, 2011, TMZ reported that the artwork was by Mr Brainwash and part of the official promotion for the Chili Peppers then upcoming I'm with You album.[11]

Copyright infringement lawsuit[edit]

Guetta has been sued by Glen E. Friedman over Guetta's use of his photo of rap group Run DMC.[12]

A Day in the Life[edit]

An episode of the Morgan Spurlock-produced documentary series A Day in the Life follows Mr. Brainwash for a day. He is shown preparing for a large Los Angeles show. In the episode he reveals that all of his work since his 2008 debut has been completed with a team of graphic designers.

Speculation and theories[edit]

Since the release of the film Exit Through The Gift Shop, there has been much speculation that the film and story of Mr. Brainwash are a hoax concocted by Banksy and Shepard Fairey themselves. When Guetta is shown "working", he is only seen splattering paint using aerosol cans to haphazardly color images and clumsily attempting to paste up a poster. Other aspects of the Mr. Brainwash character seem deliberately comical, such as his being pushed in a wheelbarrow after supposedly breaking his foot.

The Times noted that "The blogs buzzed with rumours: that Mr Brainwash is nothing but a front for Banksy; even that he is Banksy."[13] Fast Company concludes that "The whole thing, it's clear now, was an intricate prank being pulled on all of us by Banksy, who has never publicly revealed his identity, with Fairey as his accomplice. ... [His work] looks like Banksy trying not to look like Banksy..."[14]

Some suggest that Fairey and Banksy have been artificially inflating the sales of Mr. Brainwash's work. According to Rebecca Cannon, Mr. Brainwash's work hasn't sold as well on independent forums. "With both shows held outside of commercial galleries, no professional dealers have had their reputation on the line in making fake claims of high sales. However, if Guetta is a hoax, there also exists the possibility that these artworks are actually produced by Banksy himself, in a style deliberately intended to suggest inferior artistic skill.[15]

As the movie opened in North America, in April 2010, The Boston Globe movie reviewer Ty Burr found it to be quite entertaining as a farce and awarded it four stars. He dismissed the notion of the film being a "put on" saying "I’m not buying it; for one thing, this story’s too good, too weirdly rich, to be made up. For another, the movie’s gently amused scorn lands on everyone."[16][17]

The artshow "Life Is Beautiful" depicted in the movie did occur,[18] which implies that if this is a hoax the character of Thierry Guetta has existed since at least June 2008. A trailer for his movie, Life Remote Control, has been on YouTube since 2006. This suggests that, at the very least, genuine details of Guetta's life have been woven into the narrative.

An LA Times investigation found "[the] details of Guetta's unlikely biography are broadly supported by a review of public records, which trace his life in Los Angeles from his arrival as a teenager in the early 1980s. They are also consistent with the accounts of friends, former business associates and employees over those years."[19] Friends the Times interviewed confirmed the film's story that Guetta was constantly filming and several notarized documents prove that he hired someone to assist with the construction of his film Life Remote Control.

However, it also adds that "Of course, it is impossible to prove whether his latest incarnation, Mr. Brainwash, is sincere. The film suggests that Guetta's artistic alter ego is largely a creation of Banksy, a notion Guetta doesn't refute." Guetta told the paper: "In the end, I became [Banksy's] biggest work of art."[19]


  1. ^ a b c Exit Through the Gift Shop. 2010 documentary film directed by Banksy.
  2. ^ "Questions". 
  3. ^ "Obey: Mr. Brainwash – ''Life is beautiful'' Exhibition". Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  4. ^ "Madonna's Celebration to be released September 28th". Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  5. ^ "'Mr Brainwash' opens New York exhibit 4 March 2010". BBC News. 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  6. ^ By:   nicholas.cinque. "Mr Brainwash Spraycan Spray can". Cinque Collective. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  7. ^ "'Mr Brainwash' opens London exhibit 6 October 2011". 2011-10-06. Retrieved 2011-10-06. 
  8. ^ "Phillips de Pury & Company: MR. BRAINWASH, Charlie Chaplin Pink". Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  9. ^ "Phillips de Pury & Company: MR BRAINWASH, Einstein". Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Red Hot Chili Peppers – Targeted by Banksy Apprentice". TMZ. 
  12. ^ Gardner, Eriq, "Legal Drama Shadows Oscar-Nominated 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'", The Hollywood Reporter, January 25, 2011
  13. ^ Shone, Tom, "Is Banksy’s ‘Exit Through the Giftshop’ a hoax too far?", The Times (London), February 27, 2010
  14. ^ Walker, Alissa, "Here's Why the Banksy Movie Is a Banksy Prank", Fast Company, Wed Apr 14, 2010
  15. ^ Cannon, Rebecca, The 21st Century’s first WTF Art Moment: Banky’s Exit Through The Gift Shop, [Artabase, Tue May 18, 2010
  16. ^ Burr, Ty, "Exit Through the Gift Shop: Writing’s on the wall: In ‘Exit,’ street art scene becomes a farce", The Boston Globe, April 23, 2010
  17. ^ Haden-Guest, Anthony. "The Art of 'Mr. Brainwash'",
  18. ^ L.A. Weekly, "Mr. Brainwash Bombs L.A.",
  19. ^ a b Felch, Jason (February 22, 2011). "Getting at the truth of 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'". Los Angeles Times. 

External links[edit]