Last night, I watched Banksy’s 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. The documentary began as documentarian-turned-artist Thierry Guetta followed a myriad crew of street artists, from Shepard Fairey to Banksy, filming their work and undercover installation.
“I don’t know when the camera came into the picture,” Guetta says early in the documentary. “All I know is once it was in my hand, I was obsessed. It became part of my identity.”
The street art documentary came as a byproduct of Guetta’s film obsession. The idea struck him after he had set his mind to following around his cousin, a street artist called Invader. It was a project that consumed the next eight years of his life, but was born directly out of his identity. The film was a byproduct of Guetta being Guetta. He didn’t think about how he could sell it or how to make it more marketable. It was art in its purest form.
The documentary takes an odd twist after Guetta’s decision to turn his passion into a project. He decides to become the subject of his study, a street artist, and organizes a massive debut and self-funded exhibit in Los Angeles called “Life is Beautiful.” He calls himself Mister Brainwash. Enter: brand. He produces a bunch of paintings that are oddly reminiscent of Banky and Fairey’s. And, despite no background in art, he sells a couple million dollars worth of art in the first few days.
“The people say I’m just as good as Banksy,” Guetta tells the camera.
“I don’t know if he’s crazy or a genius,” Banksy responds.
Eight years later, Guetta is still relevant in the Hollywood art scene. Working through art dealers and celebrity clients, Mister Brainwash was even commissioned to design Madonna’s Celebration album.
So what can we learn from all of this? Did Guetta just get lucky?
Guetta’s brand was created, but his identity was organic.
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