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Mr. Brainwash reveals how Banksy helped create him

February 21, 2011 |  8:45 pm

As Banksy art begins popping up mysteriously around Los Angeles in the days leading up to the Academy Awards,  Mr. Brainwash -- a.k.a. French-born Angeleno Thierry Guetta --confirms that he is as much a creation of Banksy as he is an autonomous creature.

"Banksy captured me becoming an artist," Guetta told The Times over cigarettes and fries (of course). "In the end, I became his biggest work of art." (He doesn't allow whether he in fact may be Banksy, as some have suggested.)

Debates about modern art aren't the first thing one expects from the Oscars. But with the best-documentary nomination of "Exit Through the Gift Shop," British phenom Banksy's examination of the street-art scene and the derivative sensation that is Mr. Brainwash -- or is it the other way around? -- that's pretty much what we have.

Among the questions the film has raised: How much of "Gift Shop" is an elaborate joke staged by Mr. Brainwash? Or by Banksy? Or are they, perhaps, even the same person?

In a talk with The Times' Jason Felch -- Guetta's first extended interview since his movie became a hit at last year's Sundance Film Festival -- Guetta describes how Banksy pulled the strings on his now-infamous 2008 show, in which a host of work from Guetta's Mr. Brainwash that paid, er, strong homage to other artists quickly became a sensation.

"He gives me a brush and a can, and he took the camera," Guetta said, adding that Banksy even told him when to open the show. " 'Go make your own show and have people filming it.' "

Felch also finds that while Guetta -- who began dabbling in the art world by documenting the street-artist Space Invader before becoming a subject himself -- hardly seems credible in the film, his personal story checks out. "The details of Guetta's unlikely biography are broadly supported by a review of public records, which trace his life in Los Angeles from his arrival as a teenager in the early 1980s. They are also consistent with the accounts of friends, former business associates and employees over those years," Felch writes.

Guetta, who refused to comment on whether he'd seen Banksy recently in Los Angeles or whether the artist might come to the Oscars, does tell The Times that he and Banksy remain friends. Guetta says he harbors no hard feelings toward the artist despite Banksy having turned the camera on him in the movie.

But Guetta also says he deserves respect for the way he sacrificed himself for his art in the run-up to the 2008 show. "I put everything I had to make it happen," he said. "If this didn't happen, I was going to lose everything."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: An alleged Bansky piece on Sunset Boulevard. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press


Is 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' true?

Banksy sightings around Los Angeles: Publicity stunt or is he here?