French street artist Mr. Brainwash is our kind of guy – wild, innovative and passionately dedicated to his work.
Thierry Guetta rose to prominence via the 2010 Banksy film Exit Through The Gift Shop, where we discovered his love of all things pop culture. Audiences across the globe were intruiged by this curious man, and so were we. When we found out Mr. Brainwash was exhibiting his work in the UK for the very first time, a trip to London’s Old Sorting Office was definitely in order…
Guetta’s unquestionable talent for cultural street art combinations was prominent as soon as we arrived at the huge venue, on the corner of New Oxford Street and Museum Street. An unmissable mural featuring The Beatles in outlaw masks sets the unmistakeable tone of the exhibition – this will be a fun, often unexpected interpretation of the cultural icons we all know and love.
Spread over 200,000 square feet of floor space, the exhibition takes full advantage of this huge canvas. And it’s necessary, as many of the most dazzling pieces are absolutely enormous. Visitors are greeted by a 20ft tall figure of King Kong brandishing a pink paintbrush – impressively, the piece is made entirely from recycled rubber tyres. Further on are famous images of all our favourite screen icons; Marylin Monroe, Elvis, Kate Moss and Michael Jackson, but in a form never seen before. Violent splashes of paint and lurid colours characterise the work of this eclectic artist, teamed with busy layering and larger-than-life messages.
Mr. Brainwash was keen to include iconic elements of British culture, in-keeping with the spirit of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic games. In that vein, we see an array of red, white and blue spray cans arranged to form the Union Jack, and a wonderful, gigantic British phone booth.
Not everyone is a fan of his work. The artistic value of a triptych of portraits of Elvis Presley holding a toy machine-gun guitar-style or a giant boombox made of wood is up for debate, and with good reason. Art website The Artlyst said: “Mr Brainwash’s art is so bad it’s good. It is kitsch multiplied by twenty!”
We agree, to a certain extent. His frenetic style can often leave pieces feeling cluttered, with the exhibition’s ‘Superman’ portrait providing a prime example. Packed with energy and movement, the background somewhat detracts from the central figure. Saying that, there are many instances when the Frenchman’s cheeky humour is visible in the right dose. A black and white Picasso holding a paintbrush in front of a graffiti-ed wall looks utterly confused – even he’s not sure why he’s there. Kitsch at it’s best!
We agree that the work isn’t saying anything vital, but art should be about fun and surprises… and Mr. Brainwash has plenty up his sleeve. If you’re looking for boundless enthusiasm and unapologetic humour, head to the Old Sorting Office before 31st August.