The elusive French street artist takes Pop Art to the next level with his depiction of media, politics and cultural icons—like a modern-day Andy Warhol.
French native and LA-based Thierry Guetta is enigmatic in every sense of the word, not least in his guise as street-artist Mr. Brainwash. In the public eye, the mysterious artist doesn’t divulge much about himself; but the irony is that this is the very thing that’s made him so popular—just like his fellow cohort Banksy. “I do not shy away from the public,” he says in an exclusive (albeit exceedingly brief) interview with I-S. “I give the public all I have.”
The public have indeed witnessed his mercurial rise: From the controversial Sundance documentary hit Exit Through The Gift Shop, which also featured other underground artists like Space Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy himself, Mr. Brainwash is now one of the most acclaimed street artists of his generation. The documentary sees Thierry playing himself: An everyday man obsessed with street art and subsequently calling himself Mr. Brainwash. Controversy raged about a number of questionable scenes, including one in which Thierry was shown to be “working” but was instead haphazardly vandalizing walls with paint and aerosol. The media has speculated that the film was directed by Banksy and even went as far as to say that Thierry is Banksy. “That is their freedom. Only time will tell,” was all Thierry would say on when we enquired about the subject.
Following that, his debut art show, Life is Beautiful, held at a former CBS studio in LA in 2008, made him a star. The show drew over 7,000 attendees on its opening night, and the artist was later commissioned to work on the cover of Madonna’s compilation CD Celebration, along with art for her DVDs and singles—certainly a coup. After that, his second solo show ICON saw his portrait of Jim Morrison, made from broken vinyl records, sell for US$100,000. A few months later, his piece featuring a Charlie Chaplin character with a paint can and roller in hand, with a background of Madonna and a heart image, was given a pre-auction estimate of US$50,000-70,000. So what’s the distinction between high art and street art, with the latter now fetching such extravagant prices? “They both are the same to me, but street art is available to everyone,” says the artist. “Art is freedom, it has no rules.”
Immerse yourself in the world of Mr. Brainwash and other well known artists like Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol at the exclusive exhibition Art Beyond Limits through Oct 24 at Opera Gallery, #03-05 ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, 6735-2618. Free.