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MR BRAINWASH - CULTURAL ENIGMA

To some, Mr Brainwash (aka Thierry Guetta or MBW) will seem to be a whirlwind of mayhem, to others a constant source of amusement, possibly even bemusement! Either way, a very clear character is beginning to emerge from the depths of this confusion.

Banksy’s Oscar nominated documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ charts the rise of Thierry Guetta from amateur film maker to supposedly successful artist, Mr Brainwash. I say supposedly because the documentary was taken by some as a hoax, by others as the marking of a moment in the timeline of art and culture and by others as simply bewildering! Hoax or not, love him, hate him or just know of him, everyone seems to be taking notice of MBW.

Personally, I do not believe Guetta’s work to be part of a hoax, and furthermore, I would go on to compare some traits of his character and working style to those of Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Damien Hirst. Duchamp’s playful injection of humour into what was an otherwise formal and often inflexible world is echoed by the manner in which MBW projects his personality onto his work. Warhol took this a step further by playing with mass production and commercialism, Hirst even more so by adopting Warhol’s ‘factory’ perspective. Short of the similarities mentioned above, there is one underlying factor that connects all four of these artists and that is the fact they have all, at one point or another, come under fire for not being ‘real artists’. Put more simply, the manner in which these artists created their work was deemed to negate their talent and moreover diminish their eligibility to join the ‘upper echelons’ of the art world, a trait they all overcame with time; so much so that Duchamp, Warhol and Hirst are often purported to be some of the most commercially successful and ground breaking artists of all time, certainly in terms of their attitudes and direction.

Along with his sold out exhibitions and unprecedented media exposure, MBW sells new print runs from his website, and it appears very successfully, as the site gets inundated and consequently sold out within minutes of the print being released. Of his contemporaries, only the most respected seem to do this, such as Shepard Fairey, China Mike and Blek Le Rat, yet they are far more established. As Mr Brainwash prints begin to appear at auction houses and online auctions, they seem to be achieving respectable prices at a steady rate of growth and his original works (canvases and sculpture) have already proved themselves to sell at consistently good prices, both due to the overwhelming demand and interest in not just his work, but the artist himself, already having somewhat of a cult status.

Most of the criticism aimed at MBW tends to be directed at the source and inspiration of his work, being often accused of plagiarism, and the creation of his work at his ‘factory’. In terms of plagiarism, many of his contemporaries seem to have attracted much the same stigma, especially Banksy and Fairey, so I see little change there. Moreover, when it comes to utilising a team of workers to produce work, there is an expansive history of artists using their workshops as places of education and apprenticeship. Admittedly MBW’s style of development is unorthodox, but I don’t believe it to be unique and I prefer to see the involvement of his team in a positive light, hopefully spurring on a fuller progression and providing stepping stones for future artists to become well known.

All in all, MBW has made a huge impact in a very short amount of time and the attention received as a consequence, positive or otherwise, has only helped to confirm his position as an entertaining and productive artist and if his progress so far is anything to go by, he will only become more so.

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