Dear well informed, as the pandemic set about establishing its status as more than a mere interruption to routine service and more akin to not just being a rogue Elephant in the room but more like the whole of Noah’s ark and their cousins, I elected to speak to a plethora of creators and makers to see how they were coping with not being able to leave the house and be further imprisoned in their minds. Thirty-plus interviews later, we decided to knock the covid dialogue on its head, but like new variants, I’ve returned unexpectedly and possibly more lethal than last time.
London is very special because London is pure creativity – Mr Brainwash
In this new series, assuming this makes the grade and isn’t scrapped after the pilot, I’ll be permitted to spend around 15 mins with an artist to conduct a friendly interrogation and ask plenty, assuming the PR hasn’t restricted certain subjects matter, pending a full legal investigation (this hasn’t occurred so far though)
So before I cover myself entirely in a sturdy fabric of solid disclaimer and wrap my own arc de Triomphe in waffle, I’ll commence and will take a French exit to leave eventually.
About four weeks ago, when we were all seduced by the warmth of a late summer bloom and in some quarters praising global warming, I was beaconed to Long Acre In Covent Garden by the ‘street art’ gallery Clarendon Fine Art, to get 15 mins in a relatively quiet room with the Artist declared on his passport as Thierry Guetta, a cross between a Beaver and John Belushi, just without any traces on the day of speedballs, but gallic balls of steel and sunglasses on throughout our chat, despite the only light source being artificial. His poker face never dropped, but nor did mine.
OM: So, what’s it like to be in London?
MBW: Incredible. You know, it’s been lockdown for a long time, you know to be able to see something else to see you know to come to London it’s a gift.
OM: Seasons. You don’t have seasons in LA; you just have wildfires.
MBW: I know, but you know for me there are no seasons. Seasons are erm, it’s just time. Time, I just learned in my life that time is just time. It doesn’t matter where we are, what the weather is. It’s just the time that you.
OM: So you haven’t been in here in February, it’s really fucking cold
MBW: I know. I arrived. I arrive and like FUCK man, but you know. Sometimes when you live in the sun, and you see the rain and the cold, you appreciate it.
You know, it’s like, you know there are a lot of people who live in London and have been living here forever and they like it. They, still here. Nobody, if not, everybody would be left with a big gun. or smoke, it’s smoke, isn’t it You know. But It’s life. It’s a London thing.
It’s London, it’s the beauty of it, you know?
OM: I suppose it’s one of those cities. They’ve been good at their propaganda for a very long time, ever since Londinium was established.
MBW: London is very special because London is pure creativity. It’s very important, it’s part of the world you know, many artists, many directors, many many arts come from London.
OM: It’s one of those places.
MBW: London is a niche of true creativity.
OM, And don’t forget punk!
MBW: Well, that’s true! Yeah, exactly! It is what it is. Without punk. And the queen! You know!
OM: the original punk!
MBW: Exactly! So, in the end, even driving is amazing, everything to take in, it’s not like anywhere else.
OM: And whilst we are blowing the great London trumpet, without punk, we’d have no post-punk and probably no street art in its current guise.
MBW Exactly. So it’s all part of London. It’s very clever and smart.
OM: So the first proper question. In the early days, you were known as having a fascination with putting your lens at anything in the world and, in particular recognisable public figures like Noel Gallagher. What does it feel like to have the lens on you as it were, having been in that position, a shift from being the watcher to the watched?
MBW: What do you mean?
OM: I mean, once upon a time, you were sort of running around with your camera and
OM: And now people want to take pictures of you
OM: There’s like a flip of the kind of
OM: The narrative
MBW: It’s like give me a break
OM: Yeah, fair enough
MBW: Give me a break somewhere. The cameras followed me when I used to follow the camera. So it’s like, life you know you never know, what’s going to happen.
You know you think that you’re going to be the one who is going to hold the camera forever, but at the end of it, there are other people who are going to hold the camera for you. So in the end of it, it’s an evolution, it’s a moment of life that continues, you know?
OM: And you don’t have to edit.
MBW: I know what you mean, not as many tapes stacking up. Yeah, for sure. You know it reached a point I was not just as passionate about it. It was more like an obsession to just have more and more tapes.
OM: You must have been grateful for digital
MBW: I remember not being about to sleep if I didn\t know I had tapes for the next day. If I didn’t have No tapes, I would drive for hours and hours and hours to find tapes.
OM: Well, that sounds familiar
MBW: I would rely on a hundred tape, two hundred tape you know it’s the same way that I was breathing. I had to have enough tape to tape whatever I saw and felt at the time.
OM: Well, thank god for Sammy’s video!
MBW: Exactly! Sammy’s you tell him about me and he says fuck this guy was cleaning us.
OM: And now that Calumet has gone, hasn’t it? It’s just Sammy’s! It’s annoying.
MBW: Exactly. Ah, it went out? I didn’t know.
OM: I’ve got a bit of an LA connection was there in 2008 and I think that’s when “life is beautiful” was going on around the place, and you know, I was an English person who didn’t have any idea about anything and seeing it it’s quite an arresting image, due has a wonderful duality to it.
MBW: Like I say. Life is beautiful – it’s not just a sentence. It’s medicine. It’s medicine for peoples’ brains. You know that you have to be thankful because everybody’s life is beautiful.
OM: I mean, you know, when I look at your work, it’s like it’s a celebration of life. You know it’s joyous and you seem a joyous person, but your work shouldn’t be about you; that is the liberating thing about being an artist.
MBW: It’s about giving. I was giving love for now. But I still develop my practice on the side, doing exactly what I want to do.
But I never show it. And in December, I’m going to reveal 15 years of work on the side.
OM: Nice. I am Look forward to December.
MBW: It’s going to be big.
We’re onto question number two now. We’ve got quite a few to get through. We’ve got ten. We might run out of steam.
OM: So passion and crazy – which one do you think is a positive and which one is a negative, if at all?
MBW: There is no negative. Passion and crazy go together.
OM: Do you see crazy as a compliment because I see crazy as a compliment.
MBW: Crazy is passion. You know, you wouldn’t be passion if you were not crazy.
OM: Exactly, because you have to suspend disbelief, don’t you, in life, otherwise everything’s fucked right?
OM: Yeah, So the “message”, the beautiful message at the core of your work, do you think that focus has shifted at all or has it been at the heart of your practice for the last 15 years? Has that been the driving core?
MBW: I made a choice. I made a choice to see life. You know everybody sees life in positive-negative, negative-positive. And I decided to see my life as a positive. So whatever it is, it’s always positive. So I turn even the negative to a positive message at the end of it. Even if something happens to me and it’s negative, I see that there is something bigger that is positive, so in the future, going through my life, I always discover the positives. Hence, I decide to go forward with as much positivity as possible.
OM: Do you think that’s a lesson you’ve learnt in life, or do you reckon that’s something in your DNA from when you were a young child?
MBW: I think you learn. You learn. You grow. You learn. You decide. Yeah, it’s a choice.
You grow. It’s a choice of life. You decide and you make it happen, you know.
Every day is a new life. Everyday is a gift.
OM: Do you think that’s quite a good way of encapsulating your unlikeliness?
That’s how you’ve been sort of described by Banks in the documentary? Do you know, like pulling a rabbit out of the hat? You know the type, just things people wouldn’t envisage you were able to do you have done, in terms of the scale and all that stuff. Do you think what you just said would kind of capture that?
Yeah, that’s interesting.
OM: You’ve described yourself as a bird, not wanting to be locked down, um, flying from one Artist to another. I suppose that’s a reference to your video work, um, being a bird, how did you initially respond to Covid?
I don’t know. Being a bird, It’s to be free. To live as freedom. To be able to be close to people, but they never catch you. You do what you want somewhere and you don’t hurt a bird. Little bird won’t hurt you, but it’s going to be full of life. And it’s going to be a way to fly, to be free. There is no window; there are no doors. There are no walls. Just go. And fly. You know. Fly like a bird. Free as a bird. I am free
OM: Speaking of a time when you weren’t free, um the secret police of Disney rumbled you um, has that sort of, a bit, you know, are you a bit like. I don’t want to put Disney on a painting because those bastards, or are you. After all, it sounded quite strange yesterday. What happened there?
You know whatever happened. It’s a moment of life and you had to be strong about it.
No, of course, we’ve all been
OM: It’s a bit of an art moment, though, because the sort of like the juxtaposition between you being at Disney and happy and all that shit and then suddenly you’ve got like the Gestapo on you?
Yeah, it’s a strange thing.
But somewhere at the end of it, you can not come back today, but you can come back tomorrow, not today. So it was a Disney kind of like, in the beginning, it was the scary point, but in the end of it, it was a relief.
Yeah, I had that with immigration in LA once for 5 hours.
Two more questions and then we’re done.
So you’re called Mr Brainwash, um, do you think your work is attempting to brainwash per se or comment on the intersectionality of pop culture imagery, e.g. sort of, what this does to the individual in society?
I feel that it’s a name that err, just that I choose and more that I was going on with my life and I think it makes sense. Everybody is brainwash. You know, the world is brainwash. Everyone is brainwash from something, some sort. It’s um, I feel that in the beginning, it was just a name, but the more that I am going on with my life, the more it makes sense. So I feel…
The more you contextualise it.
Exactly. The things I like around me, that I use around my art, that I like, that I want to brainwash, that people brainwash other people, so we keep brainwashing.
Oh, I see. So I was thinking about it this afternoon and cos I find your work quite positive, but the concept of brainwashing has a negative connotation. That’s why I wanted to discuss it with you.
It’s er. They say it’s a good brainwash.
Yeah, it’s a good brainwash. A positive brainwash.
Another thing, um, at this point in your career would you say you’ve that you feel like a fully formed artist because early on that’s something you said about yourself, that you erm didn’t feel fully formed but in time you would, and we’ve had some time.
I feel like err; they say that I won’t mop?? . it’s just I been stretching myself. But I’m going to hit pretty soon.
You know, it’s only the beginning.
Sure, well, it’s a marathon, not a sprint being an artist, isn’t it?
It’s not a footballer.
No, but everybody’s an artist. You know, on every different day, every direction that they do. You’re an artist as a what you do. This guy is an artist. This guy is an artist. Somewhere we are all artistic. Because that’s the DNA of anybody, it’s just you accept it.
Yeah. Would you say then that you’re working on understanding an artist as someone who sheds light on a situation generally speaking, is it an active role, not a passive role, would you say?
Yeah, I would say that it’s something that you choose, it’s something that you believe; you know if you make it, you think you’re starting to make people believe. So it’s a dream. But that dream that becomes a reality. You know, The Beatles had a dream, you know? They were artists. But err, they never thought they were going to be who they are. Never. But in reality, when you do what you love, you love what you do.
And then John met Yoko and it was even better.
Exactly! But all of them, you know. Jimmy Hendrix, Miles Davis. Whatever football players. Palais. You know, like that came out from nowhere playing with foot and become one of the most influential footballers in the world. And you know, its and there are many many many many different ways and many different directions that err make a dream a reality. And err a beauty of life.
You being a Frenchman in America, I was about to sting on you, you being an English man in New York um, cos um obviously the French have quite an exciting attitude towards American culture because France is one of those unique artistic cultures where it’s like everyone fuck off, we’re French, this is our preservation. You gave us cinema; you gave us seine. So almost in a way, it’s an act of rebellion you indulging American imagery so much, it doesn’t seem like a very French thing to do?
Yeah, I know, It, I was 15 when I came to America, I’m 55, so I live more in America than anything else, so I’m like on both ways – the roof French, but the tree is a mix. So, in reality, it is not where you are. It’s how you feel. So in the end of it, I think that erm love doesn’t have a country. It’s everywhere.
But at least you had a curious mind to make the most of the environment, I guess?
Yes for sure
Cool. I’ve got the last question. It’s instead a silly question. Erm, it doesn’t even have to have an answer, but do you think it’s kind of ironic that a Bansky’s called robin but behaves like batman?
I don’t know. I don’t know who he is.
There you go. And I expected no comment. I tried, though!
I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
No, there we go.
They ask me about this name all the time. And I have no idea. You know the only banks I know it’s the one that holds money. That’s the only bank. Bank of America, and bank this. The bank that, that’s all I know.
Well fair enough
Thank you for talking to Artist?
Thank you. And follow your dream. You will. Don’t try for sure.
Well, I’m 35. I’ve got 20 years.