Pip Valence: Mr Brainwash at the Opera Gallery


Last Thursday saw the great and good of the art world descend upon the Opera Gallery for the preview view of Mr Brainwash new show

By Pip Valence        

Mr Brainwash, aka Thierry Guetta, is the star of the docu-film “Exit Through The Gift Shop” directed by Banksy. 

He has designed album covers for Madonna and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and is the cousin of the international French artist, Invader (renowned for placing mosaic style space invader characters on street walls around the world).

He is soon to be on the cover of Time magazine.

Until Thursday I had never met Guetta and had only ever seen his work online or on TV. So I was interested to see both him and his work in the flesh at the private view of a new exhibition launching Friday last week.

Mr Brainwash creates discussion and stirs emotions within art collectors and supporters, with many criticising his need for a team of people to make the work for him, or how derivative the work is of other artists he is influenced by.

When he releases a print edition it is sold out within seconds and heavily flipped (bought and sold to make a fast profit).

The Private View was billed as a red carpet event. A preview of works from his enormous, London warehouse show that it is planned to run at the same time as the Olympics here in London.From 5 August Mr Brainwash is taking over The Old Sorting Office on New Oxford Street, creating a massive solo exhibition of installation, sculpture and painting within.

Needless to say I am excited by this possibility of an all encompassing experience and eager to see what feelings this introduction to his work would create in me.

Mr Brainwash new exhibition at Opera Gallery

Photo by Pip Valence

On arriving at Opera Gallery, slightly saturated from the heavy London rain. I spy Guetta standing outside, busy talking to a crowd and signing on request a packet of Pro-Plus “Can you write life is beautiful or something like that” the fan asks. I decide to go and check the work within the gallery space before anything else.

The gallery is packed tight with potential buyers, bigwigs, towering ladies in incredibly high heels and a man with a dog in a handbag. All looking beautiful and very dry (I resembled a small drowned rat). It is almost impossible to view the work.

The first piece that draws my attention is an effigy of a Mickey Mouse style character, it’s created from the replica retro tin signage that are often found being sold by street vendors in the States. The effigy looms above the busy crowd and waves to them, echoes of the Disney ride, and the song “it’s a small world” plays in my head.

Mr Brainwash new exhibition at Opera Gallery

Photo by Pip Valence

The rest of the exhibition – apart from a decoupage sculpture reminiscent of the signage of His Masters Voice record label and an arrangement of painted crates at the front window – are wall based works.

They consist of collage and multi layered stencilling on printed canvas. A continuous theme being superheroes, cartoon characters and celebrity.

Other artists are bought to mind in viewing this work, it’s impossible not to consider Banksy (although the works don’t have the editing, subtlety or sarcasm that Banksy is renowned for). The imagery of monkeys, His Masters Voice and stencilling are synonymous with him.

Warhol is also an obvious influencer here. What is really interesting is that it’s like Mr Brainwash has created a study in Pop art. It is zeitgeist in its visual overload of imagery. It’s reported that our attention spans are so much shorter due to the continual flicking between TV stations, internet web pages, 140 character instalments of our day on Twitter and 30 second advertisements.

This work, in its almost repulsive overload of colour, images and celebrity, reflects the shallowness of media and our desire for the instant. The show is like a nostalgic relay between the pop art movement of the 1950’s-70’s and iconic imagery of today.

Mr Brainwash new exhibition at Opera Gallery

Photo by Pip Valence

The show continues downstairs, it was quieter here and I preferred the works. They seemed calmer but that may well have been down to the fact the hustle and bustle was upstairs and here I could take some time and view the works. The theme continues with characters and celebrity imagery. A ventricular of Micheal Jackson doing his crotch-grab-tiptoe thing, hangs on the right as you come down the stairs. A simpler canvas of Marilyn Monroe works very well and my favourite piece of the whole show is a canvas of Goofy and Mickey debating a paste up of Kate Moss, it seems so relevant to the show and the discussions that surround Mr Brainwash.

Mr Brainwash new exhibition at Opera Gallery

Photo by Pip Valence

I head off to go outside and speak to Thierry Guetta (Mr Brainwash).

The work in the show seems to want to dictate to the viewer the message that anything is possible. It is romantic in its happiness and although I view the work as a discussion on our current visual culture there is a bubble of ‘Disney’ style safety that it exudes – the shallowness of celebrity perhaps?

Thierry greets me in the rain, very warmly. He looks like he has stepped straight out of Exit Through The Gift Shop; the almost iconic beard, glasses and hat are all the same (he does feature as a stencil in some of his works).

He wears a leather jacket and has paint splatters on the rims of his glasses and a jacket giving the ‘just left the studio’ impression. He tells me about his vast show planned for August, and how he’s in London until the end of the week and then flying back to Los Angeles to continue working on the show before returning for its installation (not to mention the cover of Time magazine he will shortly be featuring on).

I ask him if he is nervous?  The Old Sorting Office is a huge space to fill. He coolly states he is not, that he is happy to make work and if people like it, then that’s great, and if not then that’s the way it goes! I’m interested in the ‘artist struggle’. Most artists I meet have an almost overwhelming desire to be liked, they are generally insecure and strive to create the best they can. I wonder if Mr Brainwash’ confidence comes from the factory team he has behind him, bringing his ideas in to reality ala Warhol, Koons and Hirst, or if he truly feels that positivity promotes positivity.

Mr Brainwash new exhibition at Opera Gallery

Thierry Guetta aka Mr Brainwash Photo by Pip Valence

On my return home I decide to re-watch “Exit Through The Gift Shop”. I am fascinated by Thierry Guetta but for different reasons. The film came about because Guetta wanted to make a film about street art.

He filmed everything.

In turn it was revealed that he has hundreds of films that he obsessively makes but never watches them back – he just stores them. A connection is discussed regarding his relationship with his mother and the desire for him to immortalise moments that he experiences in his life. This fascinates me and peaks my interest, I would like to see some film from Thierry Guetta within a gallery space. To create a discussion using the visual media he references would be truly an overwhelming experience.