What Has Mr. Brainwash Been Up to Lately?

Some might remember Thierry Guetta from the popular, offbeat documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) as the fedora-wearing Frenchman who becomes the inadvertent star of both the film and the art world. Or, more immediately, some may have seen his recently unveiled mural on the wall of the Century21 Department Store in New York. Guetta, an event planner-turned-vintage-clothing-seller-turned street artist, who goes by Mr. Brainwash, has been adorning walls and canvases alike for more than a decade now. His interest initially ignited in 1999 with the discovery that his cousin was the well-known street artist Invader. It was another famous (and famously anonymous) street artist, Banksy, who first encouraged Mr. Brainwash to try his own hand at this underground craft. “I work with a passion and my passion is what drives me into craziness and sometimes craziness makes you do things that you don’t do normally,” Mr. Brainwash has said, and, true to form, this drive has fueled his production of new, bright works in 2014.

In keeping with his interest in famous figures from history and art history, many of his latest compositions—ranging from mixed media sculptures and paintings on canvas, paper, and metal—feature portraits of the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Einstein, and Charlie Chaplin. Sinatra and Dylan are represented with a pastiche of broken vinyl records and acrylic paint on canvas in Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra (both 2014). Aiming to capture not only their likenesses but also the essence of their personalities in these works, Mr. Brainwash shows Sinatra smiling broadly and dressed nattily, facing out at viewers, while Dylan is presented in a more self-contained pose, wearing his signature sunglasses, his face directed down toward his harmonica and guitar. In other works, like his exuberant stencil and mixed media painting Juxtapose (2014), the artist sets Einstein and Charlie Chaplin (as his famous character, The Tramp) against an explosive background of splattered paint and images of such instantly recognizable figures as Mickey Mouse and Captain America. Through such free-ranging sampling in this, and in all of his works, Mr. Brainwash makes his philosophy about art manifest: “Art doesn’t have any way—art is freedom and you can do it any way you want.”

Karen Kedmey