Mr. Brainwash is one of Contemporary art's most controversial & polarising figures. Catapulted to fame off the back of Banksy's film Exit Through The Gift Shop, Thierry Guetta has become an instantly recognisable figure on the international art scene. Here we discuss his art, the nuanaces of buying & selling & whether Mr. Brainwash represents a good investment.
French-born, LA-based street artist Thierry Guetta - aka, Mr. Brainwash - was first introduced to street art by his cousin, fellow artist Invader. Filming street artists throughout the 2000s, as well as running a used clothing store, Guetta forayed into the world himself after an off-hand suggestion by Banksy, hosting his first exhibition, Life is Beautiful, in 2008.
Mr. Brainwash has since collaborated with the likes of Madonna, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Wycleaf Jean and Michael Jackson, with his artistic evolution mapped in Banksy’s Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop. There is even widespread speculation over whether Mr. Brainwash is just another stunt created by Banksy to poke fun at the absurdity of the art market.
Whether Mr Brainwash is a hoax or not, his art sells for thousands on the primary market. Here is our comprehensive guide to Mr. Brainwash’s work, how to buy and sell his prints, and our take on whether his work is a good investment compared to other street & contemporary artists.
Mr. Brainwash blends Pop Art and Street Art to create what he describes as his own form of “graffiti hybrid”. His work often co-opts famous copyrighted images and juxtaposes them against a spray-painted background, drawing direct inspiration from artistic bastions such as Banksy, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. Compared to other street artists, Mr. Brainwash's work is unashamedly enthusiastic, frequently featuring the upbeat slogans ‘life is beautiful’, ‘keep it real’, ‘follow your dreams’ and ‘love is all we need’. Mr. Brainwash uses a number of assistants to produce his commercial work.
Here are some more of the key themes and motifs in Mr. Brainwash’s artwork.
Famous historical figures and recognisable characters feature often in Mr. Brainwash’s graffiti collages, generally depicted in black and white stencilled form against a colourful background. Micky Mouse, Charlie Chaplin, Muhammad Ali and Marilyn Monroe, amongst others, have all appeared in works by the artist, often paired with positive slogans or iconography.
Since his debut, Mr. Brainwash has also worked with celebrities themselves, designing signature portrait collages for murals, posters and album covers — perhaps most famously tasked with creating Madonna’s ‘Celebration’ album cover in 2009, and working on artwork for Michael Jackson’s ‘Xscape’.
As well as replicating historical and cultural figures in his artwork, Mr. Brainwash frequently reuses the work of other artists. Much of Mr. Brainwash’s work may seem familiar due to the very recognisable characters they feature, including Banksy’s balloon girl, Andy Warhol’s soup can, Jeff Koons’ balloon animals, and even Basquiat’s dinosaur.
According to Mr. Brainwash, this re-use of popular images and themes by other artists is part of his mission to create art that can be experienced by everyone, everywhere.
In some cases, Mr. Brainwash’s work even more directly draws upon historical works of art. His 2018 collaboration with throat and neck cancer charity It’s a Thing saw him recreate Rodin’s The Thinker in car tires, overlay Van Gogh portraits with Basquiat-style heads, and paint Robert Indiana’s classic LOVE image into a traditional floral still-life.
Banksy is the most obviously referenced artist throughout Mr. Brainwash’s work — further fodder for the popular conspiracy theory that the artists are one and the same. Motifs such as the Girl with Balloon, Turf War and ‘Keep it real’ monkey appear repeatedly in Mr. Brainwash’s street art style collages, and are often either directly replicated, or subtly edited to transform the original scathing cultural critique of Banksy’s work into a more placid message of positivity.
Keith Haring’s instantly recognisable icons are also frequently co-opted into Mr. Brainwash’s collages, as well as appearing as incongruous additions to naturalistic landscape paintings and portraits of the Madonna and child.
Andy Warhol and his iconic Pop Art portraits clearly inspire Mr. Brainwash, both in subject matter and style. Like Warhol, Mr. Brainwash often features famous images of the well-known in his work, as well as recreating his signature colourful stencilled technique.
In some pieces, Mr. Brainwash even refers to Warhol’s work directly. Tomato Spray, one of the artist’s most recognised works, transforms Warhol’s Campbell Soup can into a street art inspired spray canister, stencilled onto a background of Banksy motifs and Jackson Pollock inspired dripping paint.
Warhol’s iconic Flowers series has also been played upon by Mr. Brainwash, who loosely replicated the artist’s quartet of colourful blooms in his 2021 collection FLOWARH$.
As well as silk-screen prints on paper, Mr. Brainwash is also known for larger scale work, including graffiti walls. One of his largest projects was a 9/11 memorial in 2015, for which the artist emblazoned a Manhattan department store wall with the words ‘New York City is beautiful’ in pink block letters, against one of his typical street-art inspired colourful collages. Like all of his work, Mr. Brainwash’s graffiti walls feature a blend of pop and street art components, bright colours, and generally feature a slogan of positivity.
A more recent work was an LA mural dedicated to the late Kobe Bryant, featuring a huge photographic paste-up of the basketball player with his daughter outside of the artist’s studio.
Mr. Brainwash’s relentless optimism and positivity is a constant throughout his work, and is reflected in his official motto - ‘life is beautiful’. The slogan features frequently in pieces by the artist, whether scrawled in the background of a larger collage, or, in a recent sculpture collection, cast in resin in a neat cursive.
The phrase is similarly re-used in collaborations with various cities, most recently appearing in large scale sculptures dotted around Beverly Hills in 2019.
‘Life is beautiful’ and similar cheerful slogans have also appeared in various neon light installations throughout the artist’s career. Whether adorning street art collages or bright pink within gilt frames, Mr. Brainwash’s use of neons chimed well with trends on social media, with his positive messages flashing frequently in instagram feeds of the mid 2010s.
Alongside stencils and spray paint, Mr. Brainwash and his team of assistants use silk-screen printing methods to reproduce his work on paper. Mr. Brainwash prints are produced very quickly and often, with the artist continuing to release new limited edition prints. He has several editions of the same subject matter, produced in various colourways. This is in stark contrast to the likes of Banksy and Keith Haring, whose primary market has a finite number of limited edition prints, and are always very high in demand.
Original Mr. Brainwash artworks on canvas can sell for tens of thousands of pounds at auction, with prints generally selling for a few thousand.
When the artist made his auction debut in 2010, the original work on canvas, Kate Moss, vastly outdid its estimate of £7,000 to £9,000, selling at auction for £42,050. Charlie Chaplin Pink, the artist’s highest selling work at auction, similarly exceeded expectations at auction, selling for $122,500 against a $70,000 upper estimate in 2010.
If you are thinking about buying or selling Mr Brainwash prints, this area of the artist’s market is a very different ball game from the originals market. His more recent Bitcoin collection, which co-opts Andy Warhol’s Dollar Sign print designs and replaces the dollar with the Bitcoin symbol, are priced between £2,500-£3,000 per print on the primary market. Another Warhol-inspired Mr Brainwash collection, Flowarh$, produced in six different colourways, each in an edition size of 55, sells on the secondary market within the £1,000-£1,500 price range per print.
Mr. Brainwash prints very rarely gain in value on the secondary market. Over the last five years at auction, 39% of the Mr. Brainwash prints & multiples offered have failed to sell.
Due to the artist's unique signing practice, genuine Mr. Brainwash prints are relatively easy to identify.
Not only does the artist sign all of his pieces, but he also adds both a thumb print, and an assigned dollar bill number sequence, which mirrors the figure on the artwork’s certificate of authenticity. Works will often also have Mr. Brainwash’s mantra, ‘Life is beautiful’, signed on the back.
It is essential to carefully check any Mr. Brainwash print before purchase, as any defects in condition will reduce its value, and therefore the return on investment.
The most common signs of damage are tears and scratches on the paper, or stains and colour fading.
To find out more on how to care for your print, read our A Guide to Restoring and Caring for Modern and Contemporary Prints.
If you are considering buying a Mr. Brainwash print - there are a number of commercial galleries that sell Mr. Brainwash including Clarendon, Whitewall & Rose. Ensure you buy from a reputable gallery with an official relationship with the artist. However the secondary market offers a lot of opportunity for collectors due to weak secondary resale values.
If Mr. Brainwash prints are something that you love and would enjoy having in your home, then they will always be a good investment.
However, due to their high volume and relatively low resale prices, Mr. Brainwash prints may not be your best financial investment option. Demand for them on the secondary market is relatively low, which for fans of the artist offers a good opportunity to acquire works at considerably less than retail. However, the same principle applies if you should ever wish to sell the work.
For example, Mr. Brainwash’s Diamond Girl collection, produced in multiple colourways, can hit the primary market at commercial galleries for around £3,500. However, when these prints reach the auction houses, based on auction histories since 2016, they have sold for a minimum of £1,049 and maximum £3174. When it comes to this market, there is never going to be a finite supply versus demand issue, and so it doesn’t matter what print you choose to buy, it is very unlikely to accumulate value over time.
As Ian Syer, MyArtBroker’s founder explains, “whilst these production lines keep bringing out more and more prints and the supply is high there is never going to be a demand for a secondary market”.
This is in stark contrast to the likes of the Banksy market, where finite supply of editions leads to healthy demand at auction. Our most recent Banksy market report stated that the total return for a Banksy print over a five year period (mid-2017 to mid-2022) remains the highest on the secondary market at 341.3%.
For the retail price of a Mr. Brainwash there are numerous works by artists such as Damien Hirst, Invader, Julian Opie & David Hockney to name but a few, that can be had on the secondary market. These are established artists with significant auction history behind them and track records of appreciation in value. For example, the average return on a Damien Hirst print in the last 5 years stands at 57.6% & David Hockney averages a return of 131.8% over that same period.
It is worth noting that of all prints & multiples offered for sale over the past 5 years (mid-2017 to mid-2022) where the data is available, works by Hirst have exceeded the high estimate 31% of time, rising to 44% for David Hockney. In comparison, Mr. Brainwash has exceeded the high estimate in 21% percentage of sales, excluding the lots that did not sell.
It should also be considered that the average hammer price for a Brainwash during this period was £1381. Hockney in comparison was £19,965 & Hirst £10,413. This is the five year average. If we take the 2022 average then the contrast is more dramatic - Hockney at £29,742, Hirst at £11,254 & Brainwash at £1517 - 5 year returns of 85%, 22% and 14%.
If a return-on-investment is a key consideration, Mr. Brainwash prints are not competitive. However, for Mr. Brainwash fans, they can be acquired for considerably less than retail price on the secondary market.
If you own a Mr. Brainwash print & are looking to sell, we can help you find the right channel to maximise your potential return.
*Data in this report is taken from public auction records.
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