Author Topic: Art for Art's Sake  (Read 6556 times)

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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Art for Art's Sake
« on: February 20, 2010, 09:55:01 am »

About two years ago, I was watching (and iphonephotographing) Mr. Brainwash's stuff in East NoHo (2nd and 3rd Streets between 1st Avenue and Bowery):

and then this winter I (accidentally) went to the opening of his show, Icons at Opera Gallery (115 Spring Street, between Greene and Mercer).
Clever, clever guy!

The Art of 'Mr. Brainwash'
by Anthony Haden-Guest

The mysterious street artist has designed an album cover for Madonna and been the subject of a Sundance documentary. Anthony Haden-Guest talks to the art world's new star.

The art world establishment stayed away in droves from the opening of Mr. Brainwash’s show, Icons, in New York’s West Village on February 11. And this would seem to be just the way the artist likes it.

Thierry Guetta—his real name—is French-born Los Angeleno who began as a documentary filmmaker, working closely with street artists, including the infamous Banksy. Over time, he became a street artist himself: the splendidly named Mr. Brainwash. MBW’s sheer determination made him an increasingly visible presence. And 2008’s Life Is Beautiful,  a massive show in the old CBS building on Sunset Boulevard made him a star.

Click Image To View Our Gallery Of Mr. Brainwash’s “Icons”

Mr. Brainwash

The following year Mr. Brainwash was commissioned to do the cover of Madonna’s CD Celebration, along with art for her DVDs and singles, fifteen pieces in all. And this year he was a central figure in Exit Through the Gift Shop,  a film by Banksy (which I have not seen) that deals with street art, celebrity, marketing and especially Guetta and himself, and which was a hit at Sundance.

Icons  is the attempt of Mr. Brainwash, who represents himself, to storm New York.

He likes the challenge. A couple of days before the opening I had asked him how closely he followed the art world? For instance, does he read art magazines?

“Never,” the 44-year-old artist said, unblinking eyes dimly visible through dark aviators.

Does he go to exhibitions?

“Nevaire!” His rising voice had taken on Inspector Clouseau inflections, surprising for a fulltime Southern Californian. “I don’t look at people, what they do. I am completely outside of the art world. I know a couple of names—Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons. But I don’t know anything. I have my own little world.”

Mr. Brainwash’s little world right now included this show of 200 or so Neo-Post-Pop paintings, mostly portraits, and more than a dozen sculptures spread over the 15,000-square foot ground floor space of this building which is also occupied by the blue-chip gallery, Sperone Westwater, and the Bohen Foundation. One piece in the show, a portrait of Jim Morrison constructed from broken vinyl records, had already sold for $100,000. Others were being offered for three times that.

That was one paradox. Another was that the introduction of this self-proclaimed outsider artist to Manhattan was being orchestrated by the sleek publicity machine that is Nadine Johnson. So, given the serpentine thinking natural to the worlds of art and celebrity, one shouldn’t be surprised at the rumors that the Mr. Brainwash phenomenon was the creation of Banksy, whose face has never actually been seen. Indeed, some have speculated that Mr. Brainwash is Banksy.

Absolutely not. Thierry Guetta’ backstory is too eccentrically, even touchingly, plausible. He had lived in LA for many years with his family and he says that it was the deaths of his mother and father that inspired him to videotape his entire life, 24/7, much as Josh Harris was doing concurrently in New York. But whereas Harris was working behind closed doors, Guetta was out on the streets, with artists becoming increasingly part of his universe.

Some prominent street artists he filmed include the agit-Pop transformer of billboards, Ron English, who was at the West 13th Street opening; Invader, who is his cousin, and who had shown pieces made from dissected Rubik’s cubes a couple of weeks before at an art party in the former Tower Records; and Shepard Fairey, best known for his Obama image, Hope.  Fairey has said that he was impressed by MBW’s willingness to hoist his camera to the most dangerous vantage points, by his sheer obsessiveness. Fairey has also said “I want to hug him one second and smack him the next.”

This street art energy amped up after Banksy came to LA in 2006. Guetta, who was introduced by Shepard Fairey, became Banksy’s accomplice/assistant and filmed him during the lightning strikes when he would make a piece, most notably as he installed a blow-up Gitmo doll alongside the rides at Disneyland. But Guetta then edited the footage afforded by this unique access into a film which has been described as opaque to the point of unwatchable. In one of his sub-Comandante Zero-type communiqués, Banksy described Guetta as “maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera.”

The work in “Icons” features a wall of artist portraits. These include Takashi Murakami, Jasper Johns, Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, and two identical Basquiats. Banksy is represented by an image he has himself supplied, which looks like a character from Planet of the Apes run through a computer redesign program. And at either end of the wall, wittily, are portraits of Magritte and Norman Rockwell, each wearing a truly ridiculous hat. “Norman Rockwell is the one who really gets close to me,” MBW told me. That these are rather more than the “couple of names” he had dropped didn’t surprise. Self-presentation has become a basic art world tool.

Other icons, like the Jim Morrison portrait, are made from fragments of vinyl record. I noted that it looked like he had used a special tool.

“These are my secrets. When you go to a good restaurant the chef is not going to give you his pepper sauce,” Mr. Brainwash said. This was endearing.

A Banksyesque stencil of Einstein carries a sign bearing the most unBanksyesque: message LOVE IS THE ANSWER. Other portraits come with references. The Rolling Stones are backed up a frieze of Warhol soup cans and Yves Saint Laurent is shown against a backdrop of Damien Hirst spots which have themselves become a sort of abstract Neo-Pop.

And there are portraits of Unknown Celebrities, such as the creators of YouTube and MySpace. “A lot of people tell me, ‘What are you doing? Nobody knows them,’” Mr. Brainwash said. “I say, ‘These young kids here, they changed the world.’”

Sculptures on view include several giant spray cans; one whose central image derives from the Beatles crossing Abbey Road, remade from piles of vinyl records; and a life-size horse, prancey as a de Chirico, fabricated from rubber tires.

There was also a Warholesque portrait of Kate Moss. Banksy has, of course, represented Moss after the manner of Warhol’s Marilyn. And Warhol’s Marilyn, which has taken on a significance as a cultural marker far beyond itself, is the dominant image in Mr Brainwash’s show. But he has been careful. Rather more careful than Warhol himself, in fact. I asked—only partly a joke—whether he had heard from the Warhol Foundation?

“No. For what?” MBW said. “Whatever I did, it’s all my creation. It has nothing to do with Warhol. They make sure with the Warhol Foundation that we couldn’t use it So I had to come up with two different pictures—what I create and what’s Warhol. It’s completely, completely different.” He added “It’s not some little people that are waiting to get sued. In the end I come up with my own thing.”

So here we see Obama-as-Marilyn, Damien Hirst-as-Marilyn, Marilyn stacked next to Marilyn, including the Maddona-as-Marilyn, which was the Celebration cover, and—but of course—Andy Warhol-as-Marilyn.

Mr Brainwash’s works lack both Banksy’s singular precision and the political edge, the in-your-face attitude that also characterizes such street artists as the UK’s Mutoid Waste Company. But he does have politics, of a sort. Of the tire horse he notes, “I work with tires because that’s the only thing you can’t recycle, the only thing you can’t get rid of. You cannot burn them, you cannot bury them. I want to come up with the idea that art can be doing something to save the planet.” This retro ‘60s side to Mr. Brainwash is clearly genuine.

Some images are strong. Many are sloppily melodramatic and the show seems thrown at you unedited. And—this is his Euro-origins, I think—Mr. Brainwash’s take on Americana can be as off as Paris, Texas or Zabriskie Point although it’s a great deal more more goofily enthusiastic. It seems to the point that one of Thierry Guetta’s pre-Mr. Brainwash pieces was a bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin.

And the obsessiveness is real and all-embracing. A friend had heard that Mr. Brainwash had staked everything he had on this show. He asked him whether this was true.

“Yes,” Mr. Brainwash said.

I kind of want to believe that.

Plus: Check out Art Beast for galleries, interviews with artists, and photos from the hottest parties.

Anthony Haden-Guest is the news editor of Charles Saatchi’s online magazine.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2010, 06:08:59 pm by jmmgallagher »
"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)

Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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Re: Art for Art's Sake
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2010, 08:50:25 pm »

Lucian Freud on the couch
by Geordie Greig

Lucian Freud in his studio, December 2009

The Painter is Surprised by a Naked Admirer (2004-5)

Interior in Paddington (1951)

In 2008, Lucian Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,  a portrait of Jobcentre worker Sue Tilley, sold for £17.2 million, making the 87-year-old the most highly priced living artist in the world.

He was born in Berlin to Ernst, architect son of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and his wife Lucie Brasch, but the family fled Nazism in 1933 and took British citizenship in 1939. During the 1930s, Freud went to Dartington Hall School in Devon and later Bryanston School in Dorset before studying at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and Goldsmiths in London. After a few years as a merchant seaman in the early 1940s, Freud settled down to painting and his closely observed portraits of the characters who populate his life have become internationally famous.

Are you still ambitious?
Yes, very. I work every day and night. I don't do anything else. There is no point otherwise. I used to get caught up in manic activities like gambling: staying eight hours in a casino. But gambling is only exciting if you don't have any money. I used to get given very good credit because I went about with very rich people.

Did that get you into trouble?
Very much. I tried to pay back the sums I owed but they were so big that there was no chance. I laid very low after I got involved with the Krays, who gave me credit. They forced money on me.

More than £10,000?
More like half a million.

So you were in deep trouble?
Yes, I was. Nothing to be proud of. When I occasionally won money I repaid them, but there was a dodgy moment when I had to put off a show. If they had read about an exhibition of mine they would then have said, Do you see how much it made and he only f***ing owes us this much...'

I was nervous.

Did they threaten you?
No. You see I can't be threatened. Even if it is something that I want to do – if someone threatens me I will never ever do it. I can't function like that.

Did the Krays get heavy?
They were clear and polite. It was all honour-bound. No swearing. Their reputation was such that if people said, I will call the Krays,' people were afraid. If anyone said or was even rumoured to have said one was queer, which he was, their life was in danger. The funny thing was I wanted to paint one of the twins and the other said no. I quite enjoyed people treating me in a very delicate and careful way because of my association. But it got out of hand rather and the police warned me.

Did you get into trouble with the law?
Only occasionally being locked up overnight. To do with fighting. Shaftesbury Avenue was a bad place for me. I had a house in Dean Street but I couldn't paint there. Too many people on the run from the police knew I was there and would ask if they could stay a couple of nights.

But never jail?
I visited people in prison. The man who lived underneath me was a car dealer and the police said he killed somebody. I got involved because the night he was supposed to have done it, he was with me. I went to see the chief of the West London police and they were cajoling and blackmailing, You are well-known around here and if you want to go on living in this district…' It was really squalid. I did not realise how crooked the police were. And then something happened like in a really bad novel: I went out with Princess Margaret and the Queen and this was reported in the press and all the trouble stopped.

Today you get the highest prices for any living English painter...
So I am told.

Does that excite you?
No. It is the work that does. It is the doing and not what I have done that interests me. It is like getting a top mark in the class, Oh, that's interesting,' but it doesn't change what I think about myself.

Does the ageing process interest you?
Yes, very much because I am a sort of biologist. My interest in humans as a subject is as an observer, examiner and watcher of people. I worked a lot, too, from horses in this way.

And animals are often in your pictures.
Yes. I used to have quite an intimate life with them. When I came to England, aged nine or ten, I slept in the stables at school with my favourite horses. Dartington had only one school rule: no pushing people into the swimming pool.

Is there a link from animals to people?
Animals link to my interest in painting naked people, working from nudes. With their clothes off, you can actually see their forms. Think how men used to go on about lovely legs. That is all that is: lovely for what, you may want to ask, though!

Is your first sight of a subject important?
No more than when you are at dance and catch sight of someone. That is always pretty strong for me.

Do you think about old age?
I think about avoiding death, keeping it at bay.

But what happens when you die?
As in life after death? Nothing. I think there's death after death.

Is it something to fear?
You can't look forward to it.

Are you still hungry for life?
I'm too lively not to be. I feel very active. I have been very lucky and my eyesight has always been good.

Will you ever retire?
What does that mean? Not doing what you have always done so that you have to find something to do. That is what so-called hobbies are for. If I am asked about them I say wanking. Just to stop talk of such a boring topic.

Why do you guard your privacy so fiercely?
I have always been secretive. If I had a chauffeur who dropped me off at a cinema, I would probably then take a taxi to another cinema just so that no one would know where I was. In hotels I would usually give a false name.

Why are the words urgent', subtle' and concise' written on your studio wall?
It is like a memo. I was trying to put into words the qualities that I was trying to achieve. I think art is not called art for nothing; it is a deliberately wrought thing. What is on your paper or canvas is what you actually leave.

Is sensuality something you try to achieve in a painting?
Yes: feeling and touch. With the painting of a horse it can be rather like writing a love letter. It is to do with the forms themselves having a feeling that affects you. Doing it is private and individual.

How does a picture evolve?
If painting's going well you work on it all over. You don't say, Oh, I won't touch that bit again.' You suddenly find something you do changes another bit. That is the art element. That is what you feel or you wouldn't do it. The picture sort of paints itself out in the end. It doesn't want you to do any more; you have done enough. But then you sometimes go wrong and think, I have done this bit and so I will do some more over there,' and then you think, What a mistake!'

Can you remedy it?
Yes, you can do anything. Sometimes through urgency, strong decisive decisions get things down on the canvas in a way that if you did it again it would not go down in the same way. Scale affects everything. Doing something on different scales is something that keeps you alive; it makes you aware. My Self-Portrait With A Black Eye  (1978) that sold recently is tiny. I know this sounds presumptuous, but it doesn't look tiny.

What makes you paint?
It is what I like doing best and I am completely selfish.

What do you like about it?
Everything. I have three or four pictures on the go now and that is usually the case. I am painting David [Dawson, his assistant]; Jeremy King [co-owner of The Wolseley restaurant]; Sally Clarke [owner of Clarke's restaurant] and a young girl model called Pirouan. My subject matter is entirely auto-biographical: using the people I like and who interest me to make my pictures.

Is the human figure the most enduring challenge?
For me, yes, it is about actually it: legs, arms and everything. I would like to paint you' is sort of dirty talk. I like someone for the way they are made. I have done a lot of heads and portraits that interest me very much. But it has not always worked: there was a girl I liked in every way but I realised something very depressing and psychological. I could do everything with her and I really liked her company but I could not work with her in the room. I thought, I'll try again,' but it did not work. Those things are not to do with reason. I sent her to Australia. She had some family there.

How did Kate Moss enter your life?
She gave an interview to a newspaper and said the person she would most like to get to know was me. As I had met Kate and had a dance with her, I asked my daughter Bella [Freud, the fashion designer] if it was true. The answer came back: Absolutely, every word.' So I said, Can you send her round right away?'

And what happened?
She was interesting company and full of surprising behaviour. Her hatred of journalists was intense, literally, she would give them a left hook and they would land on the pavement. The sitting part did, though, give rise to some misunderstanding. It is partly that naturally I get rather tense when working. The worst thing for me is if anyone is late, and she was, but only in that way that girls are: she would be 18 minutes late.

Were you cross?
I was but tried to ignore it. It is not the reason why the painting of her turned out not to be good. I liked her company but I minded when someone was waiting outside the house while she was with me. I have always hated being watched, I like people not to know where I am. It frees me up. I have always been secretive.

Did photography interest you?
Yes, from quite early on. In fact, I once photographed Hitler. I was nine, in 1931, and was walking round Berlin with my governess and had my camera with me. I was fascinated by him because he had huge bodyguards and he was really very small. I backed along and snapped him.

Did you sense he was evil and feel vulnerable as a Jew?
Politics loomed over everything, even when I was nine. I was at an ordinary school in Berlin and boys would say, Oh, we are going to the Nazi rally,' and I would say, Could I come?' And they would say, No, you can't but you are not really missing anything. We sing songs.' They made it sound innocent. I was allowed to invite those Nazi boys home.

Did you see your parents a lot after you escaped Germany to come to London?
Not after I left school. I used to see my father to get some money. And I did see something of my grandfather, Sigmund, who died in 1939 leaving the royalties of his work to his grandchildren. So I had a private income, which was wonderful. It went on for 33 years from when I was 17. So when I took a flat it was my money that paid for it.

When you arrived in England aged 11 you could not speak a word of English…
No, I used to hit people and get in fights lots.

Who would you fight?
Hard to say but snobs' comes up in my head. I was not very conscious of being Jewish but I was conscious of anti-Semitism. In Paddington, where I lived later, they would go on about F***ing Jews. Bloody saucepans [lids/yids].' I would say, Now, none of that. I am a saucepan.' And they would say, No, you are not; you are a gentleman.'

Despite not speaking English you immersed yourself in literature.
I have always remembered poetry. My mother used to read me poetry in German. I love German poetry but I loathe the German language. When I used to go abroad with my friend Bindy Lambton [wife of Lord Lambton, who posed for Freud], I loathed the German language when spoken by Germans but liked it when English people spoke it.

Your show in Paris is about the painter's studio. What is important about a studio?
The individuality of it. My first was in Delamere Terrace in Paddington, right on the canal. Rather amazingly, my father found it. It was very modest, just 15 shillings a week immediately after the war. I stayed there as it became more broken down. Finally they started knocking it down so I moved from No 20 to No 4 and when they started pulling my house down I got a crate of whisky and would throw bottles at the builders to get them drunk so that I got another day to work there.

How did your portrait of the Queen come about?
Robert Fellowes, the Queen's Private Secretary, arranged it, but there was another reason why I felt I owed her family a debt and that was partly why I gave her the picture. It was very odd, like a very snobbish fairy tale. My grandfather had a great friend called Marie Bonaparte who married Prince George of Greece and Denmark, who was the Duke of Kent's best friend. My family came to England before the war, but as the situation became more and more dangerous we applied for naturalisation. The applications were all blocked and then things got really dodgy. But the Duke of Kent got on the telephone and that same afternoon some people came round to see my parents and our papers were sorted. The Second World War broke out a week later. If we had not had our papers, we would have been interned on the Isle of Wight.

Who did you think were good artists as a young man?
Francis Bacon from very early on. People said my work was like Stanley Spencer's and, of course, I really minded them saying that: I thought his paintings were suburban as, of course, they are. Ingres is someone who I always think is very, very good.

How did you meet Bacon?
Through Kenneth Clark [the art historian]. Being very young and very tactless, I asked Graham Sutherland who he thought was the best painter, because he thought he was. He said, Somebody you have never heard of. He paints very secretly all day. And spends all night whoring.' That was Francis. He was kept by an upper-class businessman who had a wife and children and he would say, I often think of killing her.' He was called Eric Hall and was absolutely horrible to me because he thought I was having an affair with Francis. It reminded me of what the villains with whom I lived among in Paddington said: When you are in the right, Lou, that is when you need a witness.' Strangely witty and true.

Was Francis taken by you?
I don't think so, but he was very kind and generous to me. I used to get into fights the whole time which he rather stopped. Why don't you try and charm them?' he would say.

Who did you first fall in love with?
My first real love when I was very young was much older than me. Do you know my picture Woman with a Tulip [1945]? It was of Lorna Wishart. She was the first woman I fell in love with.

But there was also glamour in your life with Greta Garbo?
I met her through Cecil Beaton, who wanted to marry her. She was the most famous person in the world at that stage. I used to take her out. She was very nice, apart from paying, which was then a help. I remember her saying, I wish you were normal. I think you are very attractive,' meaning something erotic, which I suppose she had not had with a young boy as I then was. I did not know what to say: I am on Thursdays,' was the kind of thing. I was very young, she was in her late thirties. She was really attractive. The people in the clubs could not believe it. Cecil Beaton used to say, Come along Garbo, old bean, you will enjoy it when you get there.' I never forgot it. The queer tarts in Soho clubs all used to dress as Garbo or Dietrich and here I was actually taking Garbo to the clubs where these young tarts dressed as Garbo were.

...and Ian Fleming?
Yes, through Cyril Connolly [the literary critic] I had met Anne Rothermere whose lover was Ian Fleming. She spent winters in Jamaica with him where I went to stay. I did not get on with Ian at all. He was an absolute c**t and horrible to the locals. He was jealous: it was to do with Anne with whom I was not having an affair whatever he may have thought. I think she was deeply in love with Ian.

Did you aim to have lots of children?
No, I never thought about it.

Did you want children?
No. I don't mean Oh God, children' but it seemed quite exciting when women were pregnant. I don't like babies. I think partly because they're so vulnerable. But I'm very good with older children.

Was it impossible for you to have a family life' and be a painter?
For me, yes; I've always liked being on my own part of the time or feeling on my own. When I was sort of married, I always said: Delamere is a place of my own where I work and occasionally have people staying there.' Communal life's never had much appeal.

Was it a big shock when your father died?
I was never close to my father, but when he died, my mother tried to kill herself in an indirect sort of way. I found a woman to look after her and she used to bring her round to see me where I painted her for her last ten years. I was in an awkward position which you would know if you were persecuted: this was being her favourite of her three sons. By sitting for me, my mother said she had something to get up for. It was a way to save her but also just me being selfish. I don't think I have much family sense.

What scares you?
I've forgotten.

Lucian Freud, L'atelier, 10 March to 19 July at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (
"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)

Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne)
and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"