Mr. Brainwash has a little Angelina Jolie thing going on. People either totally love him or just loathe the very sight of him. And this is the first thing I find myself asking him over the phone. He is in his Los Angeles studio and I’m in Beirut, and there is a whole 10-hour delay. He has just rolled out of bed, all fresh, excited, and Mr. Brainwashy, and I’m kind of ready to call it a night.

It’s a good thing that his energy is contagious. It only takes me a couple of minutes to get my second wind. But he is digressing, and I have to tick that question off my list. He is telling me about the fulfilling trip he just had in Mexico City. “Ok, let’s talk about haters, Mr. Brainwash. What do you tell those who think you’re a quack?” I felt like a cold cynic addressing a merry-go-lucky artist on the other side of the Earth.

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In a thick French accent – his cheerful tone unscathed – he says, “They have the freedom to like me or dislike me. I don’t care about those who don’t think what I do is art. I’d rather concentrate on those who like what I do and who approach me after a show saying they got interested in art or will be taking art lessons after seeing this or that they want to do something with their lives now. When I hear that, I think to myself, I am doing something.” Actually Mr. Brainwash has been doing more than just something over the past few years. He has been generating buzz with his provocative yet non-vulgar street art; he has been putting on larger than life shows where his towering sculptures and mammoth canvas paintings sell for anywhere between $10,000 and $300,000; and there is the little issue of doing CD covers for smalltime recording artists, like say, Madonna. Right now, he is working on a Whitney Houston tribute piece for R&B songstress Alicia Keys, he tells me.

Add to that the fact that he is among the handful of people who has ever seen the enigmatic street artist Banksy, having been the subject of the latter’s 2010 documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. This fueled speculation that Mr. Brainwash might be an art hoax invented by Banksy, whose face has yet to be caught on camera. And it is rumored Mr. Brainwash was so irked by this repeated suggestion that he once took a swing at someone who insisted he is the shadowy British artist.

But on any given day, Mr. Brainwash, the moniker for Frenchman Thierry Guetta who has been living in LA since 1982, is generally in a jovial mood and quite the incurable romantic. “Life is beautiful. This is how I see life. And love is the answer. It can fix everything,” he says, such statements and positive affirmations usually landing on much of his work. “I always try to create art with a positive message… I want to say that even if something bad happens to you, there is something positive right behind the negative, even if you don’t understand it at that time.” It is our job to channel the negative energy and unfortunate events into something positive, according to Mr. Brainwash.

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