Imagine Paul McCartney not wanting to discuss the Beatles, or cricketing legend Dennis Lillee refusing to acknowledge the existence of wicketkeeper Rod Marsh.
That’s how it feels when French pop art provocateur Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, feigns ignorance at the mere mention of Banksy, the English street art deity who made the owner of then-unknown vintage clothing store via the scintillating and satirical 2010 Documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Guetta says in a thick Gallic accent from his adopted hometown of Los Angeles.
“I have no idea. I know banks, like Bank of America but, pffft, I have no idea. I hear that word many times in many conversations but I have no idea.
Looks like the 56-year-old has either been brainwashed, or he’s just fed up with the usual questions. Who is Banksy? Is it Banksy?
“Exactly,” is Guetta’s final word on the subject when I return to the subject later in an interview ostensibly to promote his first-ever Australian exhibition at the Gullotti Galleries in Cottesloe, which opens August 8.
Although he will not attend the opening due to health reasons, Guetta will appear via video link at the VIP launch on August 7.
He created Perth is Beautiful, a 55cm x 76cm serigraph on paper inspired by American painter Norman Rockwell of two children on a park bench overlooking the Swan River.
Eighty of these prints, signed by Mr. Brainwash, will be available for purchase through Gullotti Galleries.
The exhibition is the result of a chance encounter at Art Basel in Hong Kong between Guetta and gallery owner Paul Gullotti, who learned about his work through Exit Through the Gift Shop.
There’s no denying that whether it’s about Banksy or not, the documentary helped transform Guetta from shop owner and family man to fashionable property in a street art movement that had already taken over galleries and shops. consumer auction houses.
However, prior to the documentary, Madonna had hired him to design covers for her 2009 greatest hits compilation, Celebration, and Michael Jackson had purchased several of his works, including one titled Peter Pan.
Mr. Brainwash’s fanbase includes world leaders (including Pope Francis and Michelle Obama), famous sports figures (Brazilian soccer legend Pelé and basketball superstar LeBron James) and music big names (Rihanna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Black Keys, David Guetta, Avicii, Rita Ora and Rick Ross).
He has spent much of the decade since Exit Through the Gift Shop collaborating with companies, corporations and brands such as Coca-Cola, Sunglass Hut, Burger King and Google, while also hosting his own Life is Beautiful exhibitions around the world.
“There’s something going on with a movie, it travels everywhere,” Guetta says.
“It goes to every country, so you’re in airports and people from all over the world come up to you and say, ‘I can’t believe it, I saw the movie’. You get recognition and gain recognition. credibility much more quickly thanks to the film.
“The film was a big surprise for everyone, even me. We didn’t expect to be nominated for an Oscar and for it to be one of the most viewed documentaries in the world.
True story: While on our honeymoon in New York, my wife and I stumbled upon Mr. Brainwash’s first solo exhibition, Life is Beautiful: Icons, in the Meatpacking District.
I recognized his unapologetic pinch-magpie style of Warhol, Pollock and, indeed, Banksy in a giant image of the Beatles depicted in greasepaint Kiss and an actual yellow cab wrapped up like a Matchbox car.
Then I spotted the man himself, who greeted us, bombarded us with questions and then invited us for a drink. (We were ridiculously hungry and had a reservation. Shit.)
Exit Through the Gift Shop ends with Guetta as he makes accusations that he is a charlatan who is content to paper over the work of others stating that “time will tell” whether or not he is an artist.
Twelve years after the documentary, and our meeting in a huge warehouse in New York, I asked him his question.
“Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life, you know, and he died a little sad that he never achieved anything,” he says.
“But today, there is not a single piece (of him) that does not belong to a museum. Time will tell us.”
Guetta has also compared himself to Marcel Duchamp, best remembered for his grooming, and Pablo Picasso, who is often credited with coining the phrase “talent borrows, genius steals,” which whether he said it or not.
He thinks the first caveman to depict a woolly mammoth was probably blamed for ripping it out.
He prefers people to think of Mr. Brainwash as a DJ, mixing, sampling and blending different influences and existing images.
“I always mix it up,” he says. “The world is round and it spins and spins like a record.”
And the latest sensation or distraction in art are non-fungible tokens, or NFTs – unique digital artworks that have sold for millions through reputable auction houses.
“Art is something that is always alive, it’s alive,” says Guetta. “Who hasn’t heard of these things because people woke up one morning and said (screaming) ‘I’m making millions with NFTs’.
“I think it’s an evolution of the art…you know me, I like everything, so I accept everything.
“There is pop art, there is street art, there is contemporary art, there is everything but in the end it is only art.”
While Mr. Brainwash cleared Banksy, the master of self-promotion is happy to chat about some of his famous fans.
He says late pop icon Michael Jackson was trying to stay in touch with his inner child, much like Guetta who says he visited Neverland (“his big, big, giant home”) on several occasions.
“For everyone, Michael Jackson is Michael Jackson, he shook the world with his music,” he says.
Madonna is a perfectionist, who ended up getting Guetta to do 13 different designs for various Celebration-related releases as well as a mural for her Hard Candy Fitness gym in Mexico City.
“I get why she’s Madonna after that because she’s way above everything she does, in a good way,” he explains.
In March 2016, Guetta installed a mural at Union Market in Washington D.C. to celebrate Independent Women’s Day with then-First Lady Michelle Obama putting the finishing touches on the artwork.
Her support for her Let Girls Learn movement led to a visit to the White House, where the incorrigible entertainer couldn’t resist leaving a bit of Mr. Brainwash behind.
Guetta laughs as he recalls smuggling a length of duct tape, emblazoned with his mantra — “Life is good” — which he then placed on the side of the door leading to the Oval Office.
“I tagged the White House,” he laughs, “in a good way.”
True or not, it’s a good story.
Art is something that is always alive, it’s alive.
From Madonna and Michelle to Pontiff – Guetta has met with Pope Francis three times to create artwork in support of the “Painting Bridges” educational foundation.
While he jokes that these projects were “pope art”, he sees them as “true miracles” that make him grateful to be alive – something he takes less for granted than ever before.
Earlier this year he found himself suffering from severe headaches, leading a doctor (‘a savior’) to tell him that death or permanent disability were real possibilities if they didn’t operate. not to fix brain swelling.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not,” Guetta says, adding with a chuckle that “Brainwash had brain surgery.”
While he can see the irony now, back then he feared time was up.
“By the time you go to surgery, where they drop you off, you think you’re never going to wake up,” he says.
“When you wake up, you see life in a different way. Life is a gift. Life is beautiful.
“I’ll tell you something,” Guetta said with rare sincerity. “We are all rich, very rich. Being healthy and waking up in the morning is more important than any money in the world.
“You would give anything to get back on your feet. Everyone is a diamond and should be grateful for each day.
“Life is beautiful.”
Perth is Beautiful runs from August 8 to September 19 at Gullotti Galleries, Cottesloe.