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Mr Brainwash aka Thierry Guetta is an LA based artist and the inadvertent star of Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was originally intended to be about Banksy himself, but Guetta turned out to be more entertaining. The association with possibly the world’s most famous street artist has resulted in exhibitions in LA, New York and London for Mr Brainwash, whose current show opened in London this week.

He stops short of using a live animal like Banksy did in his first LA extravaganza, hiring and painting an elephant to match the wallpaper. However, animal themes permeate the cavernous Old Sorting Office in the West End where the central exhibit is a giant gorilla made of old tyres. A carosel of decoupaged and painted horses are dancing around the space, a cute baby elephant made of rubber and daubed with pink paint is sitting on a plinth in the corner, whilst spray-painted cows, horses and a bull pop up all over the place.

mr brainwash with a fanMr Brainwash may be the rightful heir to Andy Warhol, who made his name by repeating icons until they became meaningless. Then, according to Banksy, “Thierry really made them meaningless" and, “There’s really no-one quite like Thierry even if his art does look a lot like everyone elses.”

Guetta (pictured) looks like a slimmer, more hirsute version of John Belushi in the Blues Brothers, and has successfully “Brainwashed” the faces of The Beatles, Madonna, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Elton John, Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix to name a few.

Some of these iconic portraits are made of the shattered fragments of shiny black vinyl records which work well under the lights. A screen print of Mr Spock’s face with Marilyn Monroe’s hair is not so pleasing to the eye. But the standard of oil painting is high; Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey (pictured) is re-interpreted with Kate Moss and an iPad. And, a portrait of Posh and Becks as Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews (1750) is wryly executed.

hopperThe tools of the street artist are also the stars of the show; giant size paint tins, 8 foot spray cans, a series of big dripping paintbrushes, and an oversized beatbox dominate the space. Everyday household products such as Heinz Baked Beans tins and HP Sauce bottles are neatly subverted into aerosol spray paint cans, and Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbells Soup Cans becomes Campbells Tomato Spray, repeating sequentially across the wall.

This clever ex-vintage store owner and his helpers are clearly spinning a profit. Guetta stencils an eye patch on a copy of the Mona Lisa or puts a pair of sunglasses on a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and says, “It’s like gold, you know, because you spray, and it’s like, ‘How much is it?’ $18,000, $12,000!’” His succesful LA show Life is Beautiful sold over $1million of artwork.

A trip to Paris to visit his cousin the street artist Invader known for making mosaics of the pixelated characters from the video game “Space Invaders” out of dismantled Rubiks Cubes, started Thierry’s obsession with Street Art. From then on he was hooked on the feeling of fear and the danger of filming and assisting artists with a healthy disrespect for capitalist consumerism stick up their illicit posters transforming walls and bridges into an outside gallery  under cover of darkness.

Finding himself in the middle of a rapidly disseminating radical movement bigger than punk, thanks to a million hits on the internet, and travelling the world with Shepard Fairey, whose use of Barack Obama’s image for his iconic red and blue “Hope” and “Change” posters prompted the Associated National Press to sue for copyright, Guetta assumed the identity of a much needed documentary filmaker about Street Art. In reality, he had fallen into the vortex of making art, and his film never made the cut.

banksyWe know next to nothing about Banksy who is dressed hood to toe in black with just a glimpse of the skin on his expressive hands (pictured). Yet thanks to Exit Through the Gift Shop we know everything about Thierry Guetta through their hilarious and often poignant tribulations in filming and making Street Art in some of the world’s most unlikely places. Banksy says in his film that before the success of Mr Brainwash he used to encourage everyone to make art. He doesn’t do that so much anymore.

Mr Brainwash's Life is Beautiful, London 2012 exhibition is a bit like going to a really happening nightclub. There is even a bouncer and velvet ropes guarding the door. But the difference is that it’s free and everyone is welcome no matter what they are wearing. And once inside, this inclusivity continues, the art is accessible and taking photographs is most definately allowed. Mr Brainwash loves to be free and to flit from artist to artist. He extends that right to everyone who enters his show.

All photos by Sam Burcher (c) 2012