Mr Brainwash – An exhibition of all things British

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Mr Brainwash, aka Thierry Guetta rumoured to be Banksy’s guise, opened his solo exhibition of street art in central London yesterday.

In the queue of the first two hundred visitors, I was given a free souvenir spray can and felt the buzz around the exhibition as I went in. Located at the Old Sorting Office, the exterior was art in itself; graffitied with a recurring motto ‘Life is beautiful,’ and images of The Beatles and Van Gogh.

The location was clearly chosen with the intention to revamp and transform; this exhibition truly plays with the old and new. Graffiti added to sepia photographs and an elephant squirting pink paint splashed over the building’s walls, Mr Brainwash is cheeky and inspiring. The graffiti and bold pop art contrasts colourfully with its derelict, lowly lit environment – the 1960s building is perhaps as interesting as the pieces on display. You would not expect to be able to see such modern works amongst its bare structures but Mr Brainwash knows no limits, and manages to bring the two together in a beautiful balance of contrast. The paint – confidently thrown around – does not hinder the traditional building as you may expect, but crosses boundaries in a fresh, experimental way that allows you to enjoy the two simultaneously.

There is a great tendency to rely on emblems of British culture and the current Olympic theme; including the rings made out of empty paint tins, a red telephone box and a life-size London taxi in a toy car box, labelled £3.00. The magnification of the products not only symbolises their importance in our culture and credits them the high profile we Brits often forget to give, but also turns the objects into iconic landmarks that all visitors were keen to be photographed next to. Mr Brainwash feels like an interactive experience, rather than a display of works.

But is he really talented? He’s daring for sure, but does rely heavily on iconic products close to the audience’s heart to win us over, in a way that screams Andy Warhol. Clothing-store proprietor turned street artist, Mr Brainwash probably wouldn’t care if you thought his artwork overly relied on other people’s images and well-known products; his outrageous style and clear sense of comedy doesn’t take itself too seriously.

As you leave the exhibition, it becomes clearer that Guetta’s choice of location was not at all unusual, but that the Royal Mail is the perfect backdrop to a collection of all things British. Works to look out for: a giant 80s boom box stereo, a 1750 Gainsborough painting with the Beckhams’ faces and a 15ft King Kong made out of recycled tyres.

Visiting the exhibition: The Old Sorting Office (21-31 New Oxford Street) is 2 minutes walk from the British Museum, nearest tube is Bond Street. Free entry, open 1-7pm until 7th September.

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