The Generalist

Mr. Brainwash

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Mr. Brainwash poses in front of one of his works.

Mr. Brainwash — often stylized as MBW — is the moniker of Paris-born, Los Angeles‒based filmmaker and street artist Thierry Guetta. According to the Banksy-directed film Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), 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. Guetta was first introduced to street art by his cousin, the street artist Invader.

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 realize the finished pieces. Like 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.

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 and critical success. In 2009, Madonna paid Guetta to design the cover art for her Celebration album.

Madonna's 'Celebration' album art created by Mr. Brainwash.

Madonna’s ‘Celebration’ album art created by Mr. Brainwash.

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.” 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…”

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.

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