So what do David Bowie, Charlie Chaplin, Campbell’s Soup, London black cabs and tongue in cheek street-art all have in common? As well as being great icons, they’re all also tired clichés.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to a time when street-art could better claim it was intrinsically political. Well, ok, not in my memory. By the time I was thrust onto this planet much of what we call street-art was most certainly in a process of rendering itself mundane and apolitical. The political activist come graffiti artists were already a parody of themselves; backward caps, grubby clothes, dreadlocks and a political message so overt and apparent that it is barley worth mentioning were already the expectations set for the street-art scene. Sure its changed a bit now, in a decade where the hipster in eternal identity crisis is the most prominent and visible counter culture, everyone, street-artists included are free to mix and match clichés and identities to their hearts’ content, never really paying any attention to their original significance or meaning.
Maybe there was a time when street art held subversive political potential, when it was more than a random combination of pop icons and trendy phrases. A visitor to Paris in 1968 may have come across all kinds of political messages, “Politics is in the streets”, “commute, work, commute, sleep….” or “barricades close the streets but open the way” are just a few of the messages one may have found scrawled across billboards, on the metro or lining the boulevards. But that was then and this is now, the sixties are well behind us and those very social movements which were perhaps at one point avant-garde or subversive have now become as much a part of the system they challenged as anything else.
Many street-artists out there are now fully aware of this, and Mr Brainwash is one of them. The identity of the star of “the story of how the world’s greatest Street Art documentary was never made”, Exit Through the Gift Shop, is in itself questionable but for the sake of those who are yet to see this film I shall avoid speculating and instead take it as face value that Thierry Guetta is indeed, as he and Banksy claim, Mr Brainwash. Banksy’s movie was a huge joke, a demonstration of how Pop Art, Street Art and commodity culture have converged to the point of becoming indistinguishable, and this joke is yet to reach its punch line.
The exhibitions and art of Mr Brainwash are but the latest phase in this long running piss take of the art world, of street art, of politics and of all of us. Take a pop icon, change it just a little, add some neon colours, maybe a cute message, perhaps some drips of spray paint, and you’ve got contemporary fine art of the most sellable nature. Cans of Campbell’s tomato soup become tins of Campbell’s spray, and while making these tins why not add HP Sauce into the mix for a truly British piece of pop art. This is what Mr Brainwash does, mixes and matches hollow images of once meaningful symbols to create works which scream ‘you’re all stupid.’
Visitors to the latest appearance by this comedy-cliché-commando will see the usual representations of pop icons alongside some more current comments on topics such as the Olympic and Damien Hirst’s new obsession with coloured dots. And guess what, you’ll even get some free posters so you can be reminded how stupid, you, art and our society are, even in the comfort of your bedroom. Mr Brainwash’s current exhibition is to be found in the fitting location of the car park of The Old Sorting Office on New Oxford Street until August 31st. Entry is free and it is well worth a visit so long as, when you are there, you do not take yourself, or the art, too seriously, like all those funny Americans.
Words – Toby Austin Locke
For further information, visit www.mrbrainwash.com