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Mr. Brainwash: Our Interview

Mr. Brainwash, left, still has his fans
Mr. Brainwash, left, still has his fans
Nanette Gonzales

In the 2010 documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, Mr. Brainwash hires a team of artists to create his art for him and becomes a millionaire after just one hugely successful Los Angeles show, despite the fact that other artists in the film think he's a hack and possibly mentally ill. It's not exactly a flattering portrayal.

"That's why at the end of the film, when people said 'Oh you're not this, you're not an artist,' I said, 'Time will tell,'" Mr. Brainwash told LA Weekly in an interview on the closing day of his recent "Art Show 2011" on Sunday. "You'll follow me through time and you'll see who I am."

Artist or not, no one can deny that Mr. Brainwash, a French native whose real name is Thierry Guetta, is very talented at self-promotion.

On Sunday afternoon, Guetta paraded around an 80,000 square foot warehouse in Hollywood. Wearing his signature aviators, zip-up sweatshirt and mutton-chops, his every turn was shadowed by camera crews from various outlets.

Reporters who wished to interview Guetta Sunday were asked by a press agent to sign a contract that stipulated, among other things, that his company would have to approve the interview before the article is published (the Weekly declined to sign.)

"Ask him simple stuff," one reporter advised another.

He paced quickly, seemingly oblivious to the photographers trying to keep up. Getting an interview required speed-walking and constantly dodging long gun microphones.  

"This blows me away," said a fan with a faux-hawk while introducing himself to Guetta, one of thousands of fans who came by the warehouse during the show's run.

The art was displayed on five different stories in the building, with the artwork thinning out as the floors got higher, as the top floor had nothing but spray-painted hearts on the walls and the phrase "Follow Your Heart" written on the ground. 

A major criticism of Guetta's work in the film is that there doesn't seem to be much thought behind it, other than just trying to make stuff that looks cool. When asked Sunday if there was any underlying meaning to his work, Guetta responded, in his thick accent, "It's just what I love to do. That's it."

He continued, "I follow my heart. I wake up in the morning, I want to do a horse with little things like this, I'm going to make it happen. That's what's inside my head. What you see here is what's inside my head. It's nobody else's head. It's mine."

To accusations that he's purely a businessman with minimal artistic abilities, he said, "I'm not going to play stupid and say  'Oh no, I'm not a businessman, I don't know how to do things. I want to stay in my field. I am an artist, that's it.' That's not me. I have a brain, and I have to use it."

While Guetta said that he has no negative feelings about Exit Through the Gift Shop, he did seem eager to show the world that he's more artistic than the bumbling opportunist portrayed in the film.

He also defended his dependence on hired artists to put together his shows, though he wouldn't elaborate on the division of labor used to create his art. "Every painting that I do, I paint it all, or I put my hand on it. Every sculpture, like something like this," he said, pointing to a gigantic sculpture of Mr. Potato Head, "I put my hand on it. But I'm not going to put my whole week to do it."

He added later:  "I don't know one artist in the world right now who works alone. I don't know one."

Follow @amysilstein and @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.

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