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Thierry Guetta as Mr. Brainwash in street art and advocacy

«The messages of my artworks and what I do are about sharing and giving» – Mr. Brainwash’s art: from Bellini Nautica and Leonardo to the Pope

Leonardo’s La Gioconda

When Leonardo da Vinci painted Mona Lisa – La Gioconda and the wife of Francesco del Giocondo – as oil on poplar plank the Italian artist dressed her up in Florentine fashion; seated her behind a landscape of mountains, hills, lakes, and roads; and employed sfumato – the use of fine shading – as his medium. The composition portrays only half of her body, a view of three quarters where the sitter’s position turns towards the viewer and a deviation from the convention of profile pose Italian art helmed. Mona Lisa’s right hand clasps over the left one, which folds over the arm of the chair she sits on. When Thierry Guetta thinks of a staple in Italy’s culture, he nods towards La Gioconda. The street artist crops Mona Lisa’s portrait in black and white, taking her face and collarbone out of the painting, and plasters it at the driver’s seat of the Aquarama Super, the historical model of Riva motorboat. Mona Lisa wears the expression where her grin stretches her lips a bit, speeds away with her Riva motorboat – the hood glistens in brown and vertical lines – by the towers of houses behind her in Lake Iseo, and makes splashes in colors of white, blue, red, pink, green, and yellow as her motorboat swings upward and downward from the pace of her vehicle on the water. 

Mr. Brainwash X Bellini Nautica: Iseo Lake is beautiful

Bellini Nautica is specialized in sale and restoration of vintage Riva yachts and motorboats and based in Clusane d’Iseo in the North of Italy by the Lake Iseo. On the third and fourth of July, the Island of Loreto, positioned at the heart of the lake, will host the presentation event Mr. Brainwash X Bellini: Iseo Lake is beautiful. For two days, the island will open its shores to visitors to access and view the Riva motorboat Mr. Brainwash customized, accompanied by a selection of the street artist’s works. As the CEO of Bellini Nautica, Battista Bellini comments: «Going against every rule – and, if you like, also against all stylistic coherence – we decided to put the timeless beauty of this symbol of the Dolce Vita, tradition and classicism to the test. With Mr Brainwash’s input, we want to magnify the beauty of an Aquarama by setting it on a collision course with the creativity of this artist. We made an Aquarama Super available for the project because we liked the idea of bringing together two of our biggest passions: vintage Riva boats and art». When Guetta signed up to collaborate with Bellini Nautica, he read up on the Riva motorboat to acquaint himself with its history and look, and discovered its beginnings in 1971, two air intakes on the side, and a limited production – to name a few. From this research, he insisted on retaining the paragon of the motorboat’s visuals. «The Riva motorboat may represent Italy. I decided not to use too many colors on it since the boat was the primary subject of my media, and I wanted to make it as classic as possible – it is a historical boat, after all. I opted for a laidback color palette here, such as that where Monalisa was driving the motorboat, but a couple of artworks have colors that have long established my style». The street artist pertains to the Riva Aquarama Super he pastes at the center of his canvas, outlined by a white border. It hovers behind marks of graffiti in the transitioning green and white, sprays of paint cans in blue and black, comics and newspaper cutouts, scotch tapes of FRAGILE in blue and white, an instruction that writes OPEN A CAN, and a streamer in yellow with the text NEVER GIVE UP in black and bold. 

Mr. Brainwash at work

Lampoon talks to Mr. Brainwash

In 1999, Guetta flew to France and discovered his penchant for street art as his cousin introduced him to staying on the street from one until six in the morning – the period where the majority of the residents slept and feigned disinterest to the two young adults sneaking with paint cans in tow. From photography, as he had wanted to take photographs of people and capture their moments in life, to street art, Guetta welcomed the rush as his energy reached its peak, persisting to the street artists he had been following at the time and to his cousin to keep strolling onto the streets at night to experiment by spraying and splashing colors on the walls of alleyways. As he moved the spray paint in his hand, squeezing the cap to elicit the blue color, Guetta birthed Mr. Brainwash. When Lampoon asked the street artist during the interview on his decision to tattoo the moniker as his signature: «It was a decision that I had to make since in street art, one may not be able to sign their name in this illegal art, so it is imperative to use a moniker. I have been doing this for a long time, perhaps since the conception of desire to become a street artist, and stopped signing my street artworks with my name, but just three letters: MBW». In their younger years, Guetta and his brother would snag the slogans of brands and rebrand them to their taste: Nike’s Just Do It became Just Did It and Toys R Us turned into Boys R Us. One time, Guetta found himself in hot water as one of the companies tapped him to complain about his use of their slogan. He stopped, noted how he needed a new name, and marked Mr. Brainwash as his own. «When I first came across it, it felt perfect – a representation of the public. Everyone is brainwashed. Whether they listen to music or look at a certain brand, these commodities have altered their mindsets and thinking. I never knew what a name would entail until it came about and formed its meaning. Years after I took this name, people sometimes yell ‘Mr. Brainwash! Mr. Brainwash’ from across the street»

Pope Francis and Mr. Brainwash

If one meets Mr. Brainwash, they may take note of the signature the street artist has formed as part of his identity: his fedora hat and sunglasses – off when he converses with the public and makes splashes on the walls with paint brushes and spray cans, but on when he shoots clips to post on his social media and website or showcases his artworks to the camera. Mr. Brainwash shares how these accessories signal a lifestyle and an identity as he says «you decide to wear a hat – you wear it. Years go by and people know how you look, the way you are, and the choice you made to ground this style. It is my identity». He wore the fedora hat, but took off his sunglasses in December 2019 when he stood next to canvas with the words el inmigrante in blue brushes and a heart in pink to replace the dot on top of the letter I. As the crowd flocked the room as small as a bathroom, the cameras flashed in frenzy as Pope Francis – Jorge Mario Bergoglio as his birth name – entered the room in his white cassock, soaking in the scene of men in suits and artworks on the walls. He fixed his gaze at Mr. Brainwash, who stepped forward – a brush between his fingers while holding his smartphone on record to capture the event from his perspective – and offered his hand to the Pope to shake, pre-COVID. Then, the street artist passed on a brush to the Pope and directed him to the palette made of wood over which blobs of hues had already been iced. The Pope dipped his brush in the blue shade while Mr. Brainwash picked pink. The two walked towards the canvass: the Pope drew a cross with a hook below while the street artist crafted a heart, two symbols of their agreement to advocate the celebration of immigrants and the hopes of bringing awareness to the cause. Before their meeting ended – the paparazzi kept locking them into the space – the Pope dipped another brush in the white shade and drew the same cross he had placed on the canvass behind Mr. Brainwash’s suit, eliciting grins on both of their lips.

Thierry Guetta as Mr. Brainwash

A purpose Mr. Brainwash serves anchors the delivery of advocacy to his audience, far from politics and closer to one’s psyche. «The messages of my artworks and what I do are about sharing and giving – to share and give to people who may need words, phrases, or visuals to change their mind about an idea or thought. I perceive these as essentials as we need these to help each other and better the system of the society and the world one step at a time. To help the public not only open their eyes, but also their hearts which allow us to share love and help, and be selfless. This makes our life beautiful for all of us, and not just for the selective groups of people. We should not forget to always do our best to help other people, and I never stop sending these messages out there through my street art: follow your dreams, and never stop dreaming and believing – to name a few. If I can change one person with these messages and artworks, giving them hope to live through their day or at least making their life a bit better, it becomes a testament to why I am doing what I am doing». Once, he mentioned how an artist lived in one’s calling and that art knew no boundaries. In Lampoon’s interview, he underscores the statement by adding the ways an individual may find the artist within them – a painter, writer, singer, or even a businessperson. To invoke it in their nature poses as the dare. He shares how no walls or a canvass may limit the freedom and expressions he bears and installs, and that many may not understand today, but, like the other artists such as Vincent Van Gogh or Jean-Michel Basquiat – as he named them – the public will soon catch up and bestow appreciation. «When one looks at the artist, they understand the artist’s personality apart from the artwork. It is no longer about what they do, but what they are, and their audience becomes the art themselves. It makes me want to wake up every day and fight for love, happiness, and to tell everyone as loud as possible that life is beautiful. That is what I think everyone should know and feel as that is what it is».

Mr. Brainwash artist

For more than a decade, Thierry Guetta, under his moniker, Mr. Brainwash, has been orchestrating the collision of street art and pop art as his act. The tipping point for Mr. Brainwash was his groundbreaking footage from the documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, where the film demonstrates the evolution of the street art movement with Mr. Brainwash, who, alongside Banksy, brings the art to the masses.

Matthew Burgos

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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