Mr. Brainwash was always a ham, high school teacher says

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Mr. Brainwash was a ham in high school.

So says Judith Krischer, who says she taught L.A. street artist Thierry Guetta’s English as a second language class at Fairfax High School in the mid-1980s.

Guetta came to California from France as a teen in the early 1980s speaking nearly no English. After dropping out of Fairfax, he went on to throw parties in Hollywood nightclubs, sell vintage fashion and make videos of street artists.

His transformation from filmmaker into the artist known as Mr. Brainwash is the unlikely story chronicled in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” directed by Banksy, the anonymous British vandal.

The considerable hype surrounding the film has focused on its veracity: Did Banksy get Guetta to act in the film and mock the art world’s consumerism? Or is Guetta really the guy depicted in the movie?


Krischer hasn’t seen the film but swears Guetta is the real deal. She recalls him doing Charlie Chaplin-like mime stunts in her ESL class, cracking up his fellow students and delighting Krischer. (Today, Mr. Brainwash uses Chaplin in his art.)

“He’d have me laughing all the time,” Krischer told The Times this week, after recognizing Guetta’s face in a photo in the newspaper.

She recalls him as impulsive and very bright, but also lost. He once cried while confiding to her that his mother had died when he was a child. His father died not long after bringing the family to Los Angeles, leaving Guetta and his siblings to fend for themselves.

“I was worried about him,” she said. “He didn’t have anyone.”

After Guetta dropped out, Krischer recalled running into him on Venice Beach, where he was selling things.

“He’d tell me he was doing these club things ... renting spaces, holding these parties,” she said. “I thought, how can he do this? Who is he? He was unlike anyone I ever met ... lots of street smarts and very charismatic.”

Krischer said she is hoping to reunite with Guetta soon. But she’ll likely have to wait until after Sunday, when Guetta is attending the Oscars.

— Jason Felch