Mr. Brainwash is the tag used by street artist Thierry Guetta, who came to fame with the success of the 2010 Banksy film, Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Through public records, and a 2011 interview with the Los Angeles Times, it is known that Thierry Guetta was born in 1966, in Garges-les-Gonesse, a rough suburb, just a thirty minute drive north of Paris.
Guetta was the youngest of five children, whose parents, Tunisian Jews, moved to France to escape persecution. Guetta’s mother died when he was four. When Guetta was fifteen, his father moved the family to Los Angeles, where they stayed in a shabby hotel on Fairfax Avenue. That hotel, today, is the chic Farmer’s Daughter Hotel.
After the family moved to a nearby apartment, Guetta’s father returned to France, where he died, leaving the children to fend for themselves.
After dropping out of Fairfax High School, Guetta said that he spoke no English but managed to organize nightclub parties in Hollywood, which, he claims, attracted celebrities. He also worked Security at a vintage clothing store in Venice, where he sat on a ladder, watching for shoplifters. Guetta said that his work ethic…showing up early and staying late…earned him a promotion to store manager. He, eventually, wound up owning the store.
A true entrepreneur, Guetta said that from the mid 1980s through the late 1990s, he imported cheap clothing from France and marketed the clothing as high-end vintage. He and his brothers also designed, or redesigned clothes, using Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters cut from beach towels, and sold their creations to stores in LA, New York and Miami.
When Warner Bros. found out about the Guetta’s copyright infringement, rather than sue them, Warner Bros. hired them to design products for their store and eventually gave them a merchandising license. The relationship between Warner Bros. and the Guetta brothers lasted until 2006.
Guetta says that though he did well in the clothing industry, he tired of it and began to invest in real estate. He also bought a video camera and, what began as a hobby to film his children, became an obsession with filming everything.
Career as Mr. Brainwash
Guetta traveled to France in 1999, where he discovered that his cousin was the street artist, Invader. That trip began Guetta’s chronicling of the clandestine work of Invader, Shepard Fairey and other artists. The video taping led Guetta to establish 3E Entertainment, a company that made avant-garde videos and websites for corporate clients.
In 2006 Guetta met Banksy. Guetta filmed Banksy’s LA Barely Legal show. In Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy recounted his reaction to Guetta’s film: “It was at that point I realized that Thierry maybe wasn’t really a filmmaker,” Banksy said, ”He was maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera.”
What happened next in Exit Through the Gift Shop, was the creation of Mr. Brainwash. Banksy told Guetta to organize a show of his own work in LA. “He gives me a brush and a can, and he took the camera,” Guetta said, “‘Go make your own show and have people filming it.’ “
Guetta did as he was told. He took out a $320,000 line of credit and used it to pay for his show. “I put everything I had to make it happen,” he said. “If this didn’t happen, I was going to lose everything.”
Banksy orchestrated the filming and production and hype, while Guetta invented his alter ego, Mr. Brainwash and created work for his show, which he called Life Is Beautiful, a slogan that has become his mantra.
When the show opened, in 2008, thousands of people lined the streets to see it. The show, which was featured on the cover of LA Weekly, ran for three months, attracting about 50,000 visitors.
Exit Through the Gift Shop was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary.
Mr. Brainwash went on to create album covers for Michael Jackson, Madonna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and continues to create art installations across Europe and America.
His net worth is estimated at around $8.5 million.
“Banksy captured me becoming an artist.” he said. “In the end I became his biggest work of art.”