One of the pioneers of urban art, Mr. Brainwash is...

One of the pioneers of urban art, Mr. Brainwash is bringing his work to the Algarve with ArtCatto

Mr. Brainwash - BanksyThrower 24x36

By: Ben Austin 

Mrs Brainwash has collaborated with superstars such as Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wyclef Jean and Michael Jackson

Mr. Brainwash is the moniker of the French street artist, Thierry Guetta. Derided and dismissed by some as a “tacky Banksy wannabe” (or could he actually be Banksy? As there were some rumours circulating in the wake of the hugely successful 2010 Banksy film), he is venerated and seriously collected by others, including major celebrities.

Mr. Brainwash was first introduced to the street art scene by his cousin, fellow artist Invader. Fascinated by the genre and sub-culture, he documented the street artists of the 2000s as well as running a used clothing store. After a casual suggestion by Banksy, he hosted his first exhibition, Life is Beautiful, in 2008. The rest as they say, is history.

He has since collaborated with superstars, such as Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wyclef Jean and Michael Jackson, along with of course Banksy on the Oscar nominated 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which charts Mr. Brainwash’s artistic development and self-discovery.

His art is the ultimate in Urban Post-Pop Postmodernism. The riffing and appropriation are all part of the shtick. A visual mash up, a mixing of names, genres, and icons – ‘graffiti hybrid’, if you will. His work co-opts famous images and overlays them against a spray-painted background, whilst upbeat and positive slogans such as ‘life is beautiful’, ‘keep it real’ and ‘follow your dreams’ complete the pastiche. Van Gogh, Warhol, and Banksy are all fair game.

“It used to be that only people who came from money really had money. So how art is valued suddenly has no rules,” he states. “The art world is a big game and anyone who plays thinks they know it but really, they don’t. But then, everything is a game – art, work, love, business, our whole lives.”

His output and energy are extraordinary and, coupled with marketing savvy and business acumen, he has been able to stay in the limelight. He delivers big on the spectacle, producing a series of mega shows, with the US being the natural home for the ‘bigger is betterethos.

The Mr. Brainwash phenomenon began with his Life is Beautiful show in LA in 2008, which had people lining up the street for blocks to see it. The show included a life-sized recreation of Edward Hopper’s famous Nighthawks painting.

In 2010 he opened Life Is Beautiful: Icons, in New York, featuring portraits of musicians made of broken vinyl records of their songs as well as massive spray cans. His signature super-sized cans were also prominent during the Toronto Film Festival in 2011, where there were numerous installations across the city.

For the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Mr. Brainwash popped up in the Old Sorting Office in the West End, displaying large-scale work referencing British culture, including a six-story-tall Queen Elizabeth II, in her coronation attire and a 20ft-tall Kate Moss mural on the outside of the building.

Art Basel Miami Beach, a renowned modern and contemporary art fair, was the perfect event for Mr. Brainwash to showcase his bold and even brazen artwork. In 2010 and again in 2011, he took over a building in South Beach for his Life is Beautiful: Under Construction and Life is Beautiful: Untitled popup shows.

Despite his relentless self-promotion and approbation of artwork, Mr. Brainwash makes room for others and for his Life is Beautiful: Art Show 2011, he gave almost 20,000 square metres of space to showcase artists from all over the globe. He is also civic minded and in 2014 in New York City, he created a huge mural in honour of the victims of 9/11 and returned to the site the following year to create another mural on the wall of the Century 21 department store (which was deeply affected by the terrorist attacks).

Mr. Brainwash’s collaboration with musicians and fashion designers is well documented, with the most famous probably being his album design cover for Madonna’s 2009 greatest hits compilation, Celebration. Like fellow urban artist Shepard Fairey (who designed the Barack Obama “Hope” poster for the 2008 US presidential election), Mr. Brainwash has been involved with political activism and has designed artwork for the “Rock the Vote” campaign in the US, which reminds the youth about the importance of voting to secure democracy.

As an artist working outside to traditional norms, it comes as no surprise that Mr. Brainwash has recently opened an immersive museum in Beverly Hills. The Mr. Brainwash Art Museum (a temporary space designed by the architect Richard Meier) is a culmination of a decade’s worth of work and global exhibitions. Throughout the museum, scale is to the max. There is a massive Kobe Bryant signed basketball and a two-story dinosaur made of books.

With a nod to Instagram content creators, Mr. Brainwash has created a life-sized walk-in replica of Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles, a mirrored room filled with sunflowers and a whole legion of full-scale Stormtroopers from Star Wars. On the second floor there is a New York City reimagining of a subway space, complete with telephone booth and graffiti walls. These exhibits are surrounded by his framed artwork, the remixing of Pop icons, from Albert Einstein to Marilyn Monroe, in a perfect reflection of what Mr. Brainwash and his team do best. All good fun for all the family, an interactive playground of street artwork in a safe space.

For an artist, it is one thing to get noticed, it is another to stand the test of time, to evolve and develop into what many successful artists have become today, a brand. Mr. Brainwash, alongside Banksy and Shepard Fairey, is one of the original pioneers of street art. The Exit Through the Gift Shop film not only gained him fame and fortune, but also reflected his creativity and passion for urban art as a genre. He has since become synonymous with the movement.

“It is a real coup for ArtCatto to stage a Mr. Brainwash exhibition,” states gallery owner Gillian Catto. “I have been following his extraordinary career since watching that brilliant film, as I am also a huge Banksy fan. Mr. Brainwash is now one of the biggest names in the urban art scene and I’m thrilled to showing his amazing work here in the Algarve.”

A selection of works from Mr. Brainwash will be on display with ArtCatto starting in late June.

Follow ArtCatto and Mr. Brainwash on Instagram.


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