Mr. Brainwash (aka Thierry Guetta) is many things: a street artist, a filmmaker, and a real estate investor. He's been rumored to be Banksy, or alternatively, an invention of the famously anonymous street artist, after starring in the 2008 film, Exit from the Gift Shop.
Despite, or because of, these rumors, Mr. Brainwash continues his work as a street artist, taking on projects in cities around the world. New York seems to be a special place for the French expat, who currently lives in Los Angeles, but just bought a space under the High Line. He recently teamed up with Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery (see artnet Asks: Philippe Hoerle-Guggenheim, Gallery Director) to unleash his creativity on the interior of the newly launched New York Edition Hotel. The only problem? He has a mere three hours to get the job done, and isn't sure yet what to do, exactly. We sat down with Mr. Brainwash to discuss the project, his celebrity fascination, and of course, Banksy.
The clock is ticking. How are you going to finish this project in time?
I have learned something after doing it so many times: I always pull it off. That's what my answer is in my head. Whatever I do, I just do it. I don't think, I have two hours, three hours, ten hours, two days, whatever—I always work and make it happen. I just don't give up.
Mr. Brainwash, Kate Moss (2010).
One theme in your art is this fascination with celebrity culture. Where does that come from?
It's not just celebrities, it's people. Firstly, I'm a a Pop artist—a street Pop artist. But when I do [celebrity portraits], it's about people, people who had a dream and let it happen. They show that you can become a legend if you want to be. These people had a dream, but they didn't give up. They let it happen. And that is what I want to show the other people. The message is never, never, never give up, you know? Follow your dreams. Love is the answer, life is beautiful. When you see those iconic people, you realize they are all just people, just like you and me. They become iconic [because] of what they do.
You've become a celebrity in your own right. Does that change it for you at all?
I guess everybody is a celebrity for someone. I'm sure that your mom feels that you are a celebrity to her. She might like you more than Jay Z! I feel that everyone is kind of a celebrity. You accept that you are just a human. When you meet famous people or iconic stars or something, they become like just regular people to you. When you start to hang out with many celebrities, you start to feel like it's just people, it's just humans. They are just people.
Mr. Brainwash, Life is Beautiful (2015).
You've recently become involved in the real estate business.
It's all about building an empire around me. And my empire that I want to build is to make people smile and show them that life is beautiful. I want to help as many people as I can, and bring them into my life, and I will never stop. I'm not materialistic at all, I don't care about any of that. The only care that I have is people's hearts and trying to show them that they are a diamond and they should believe in themselves.
How do you respond to the theory that you are Banksy?
That's what somebody [said to] me yesterday, and I'm like, "No it's not me!" And he's like, "No, it's you," and I'm like, "Well, I don't know what to say."
Do you think that the real Banksy will ever reveal himself?
I don't know.
Mr. Brainwash, Juxtapose (2014).
What's next for you after the collaboration with Edition? Where are you going next?
"I took a space at 450 W 14th street right under the High line to do a pop-up show. It's 8,500 square feet, and it will be open to the public on June 20th."
Mr. Brainwash's collaboration with the Edition hotel and Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery opened with a celebration on May 21, 2015.