Mr. Brainwash takes Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Mr. Brainwash takes Aspen

Life is beautiful for Mr. Brainwash.

The French pop artist, who has been shrouded in mystery and controversy (and fame) since the 2010 Banksy documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" shared his story with the world, has filled the Cha Cha Gallery on the Hyman Avenue Mall with collage, painting, sculpture and many new Aspen-themed pieces.

Arriving in Aspen for the first time last week, Brainwash immediately started producing Aspen-themed works to complement his pieces from the last decade now hanging in the gallery.

"When I came here, the first day I said, 'I have to do something for Aspen only!'" he said as the gallery filled with admirers Tuesday evening.

He's printed photos of the Maroon Bells — which figure in several new Brainwash works — and tagged them with pink spray-painted hearts messages like "Life is Beautiful" and "Love is the Answer" and "Follow Your Dreams."

"I feel like you don't need anything — just a photo of Aspen is magical," he said.

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He's collaged family scenes and kids — plucked from Norman Rockwell paintings — and placed them at the Bells, as well. Brainwash transformed Burton snowboard decks into works of art, covering them in collage and paint and tagging them with his affirming messages. And he crafted a few dozen "Aspen" spray-paint canisters out of Warhol-esque Campbell's soup cans for the Cha Cha show.

"Everything I do in my life is to spread love and give a good message for kids, for older people, for everyone," he said. "Positivity is good and I feel Aspen is a town that really accepts that. There's no hate."

The artist also bought several of Frederic Remington's sculptures of cowboys and Indians on horseback and splattered pink paint on them, which was still drying — and pooling on the gallery floor — at the Cha Cha opening. For good measure, he tied a dripping paintbrush to one sculpted cowboy's arm.

"To me, it's what America is — cowboys, the West," he said. "Except here, it's the heaven West."

The Banksy documentary chronicled how this eccentric, animated Frenchman improbably jumped from working as a security guard with a hobby as a videographer obsessively recording street art projects to being an international superstar of the art world — staging massive shows, making the cover of a Madonna album. The film sparked speculation that Mr. Brainwash is actually Banksy — who remains anonymous — or that Mr. Brainwash's career might be an elaborate prank staged by Banksy.

Whatever the case, the gregarious Mr. Brainwash was there in the flesh Tuesday night at the Cha Cha opening, wearing paint-speckled jeans and a fedora, chatting up an enthusiastic crowd and snapping selfies. When a young girl began climbing on a rainbow-colored horse sculpture he'd placed on the pedestrian mall, the artist didn't reprimand her — he encouraged her and took a photo.

Aspen hasn't seen the last of Mr. Brainwash, he promised.

"This is the beginning of a long relationship," he said. "It's just the first step."

The older works in the show include Mr. Brainwash's massive, busy collages featuring a cast of characters like Mickey Mouse, Captain America and other bits of Americana and pop culture (along with riffs on images lifted directly from Banksy, like the street artist's iconic "Flower Thrower"). We see Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein in a street scene, Einstein holding a placard reading "Love is the Answer," and Jean-Michel Basquiat plopped into a Rockwell.

The Cha Cha has been selling his work since last summer. But this inaugural visit has sparked some grand ideas for the artist.

"I feel like next year I will do something big in Aspen," he said. "I would like to do sculptures up on the mountain — I want to get involved and do something wonderful. … The people who live here all year, they're living in a dream. I've gone many places in the world, many countries, and Aspen is really special."

atravers@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO …

What: Mr. Brainwash art exhibition

Where: Cha Cha Gallery

When: Through winter

More info: chachagallery.com