art of the scam

The topic of art theft has come up A LOT lately. This past Art Basel in Miami Jason Levesque walked into a gallery space in the SCOPE tent and came face to face with artwork straight up traced from old photographs of his and North Carolina photographer Marie Killen, by ‘painter’ Josafat Miranda.

In Jason’s own words…

Walking around Art Basel, this weekend I came across a few pieces in the Scope show that looked pretty familiar. There was a sampling of 3 pieces presented by the Robert Fontaine Gallery all by the same artist. I recognized my photography in two of them and the third was a copy of my good friend Marie Killen’s photo. When i got home a quick google search reveled that nearly his entire body of work was comprised of other peoples photography. No credits were given, though that wouldn’t have put the artist in the clear. Josafat Miranda hadn’t bothered to change the composition or content in any appreciable way, even though that too would not have put him in the clear.
For me, photography was a hobby, something I did for fun. But it was art. These weren’t candids, they were carefully composed, edited photos. The model traveled, did her makeup and helped style the shoot. Put simply, it was a collaborative artistic endeavor by me and the model Tracy P.
Marie Killen is a wildly talented photographer living in North Carolina. Photography is her passion and craft and she does it extremely well. In my opinion she’s one of the best photographers in her genre. Her shoots require far more work and planning than mine ever did. She’s developed, through hard work and practice, a recognizable style.
What Josafat Miranda has done here reveals a total disrespect for photography as an art form. He’s quickly and with very little creative alteration, harvested the yield of someone else’s hard work. What makes a painting strong, isn’t just the brush strokes and the rendering method, more, much more, than that is the composition, the subject matter and the hundreds of creative decisions that go into making an original piece of art.

While the whole situation has been anxiety inducing, I’ve somewhat enjoyed the internet conversation this issue has generated Enjoyed AND been baffled by it. It hasn’t been a good experience for Jason, mainly because he didn’t wish to start a witch hunt, but at the same time it’s important to point out wrong actions. Especially if it can be turned into a teaching moment. 

Some may see it as free advertising for Jason, and I suppose to some degree that’s true, but it certainly wasn’t the best kind of exposure. Josafat Miranda traced Jason’s photographs…and that’s what the articles are about. Jason is mainly an illustrator, so he was receiving attention to work that he no longer makes.

He also is one of the most empathetic people I know, and he was concerned about the amount of angry attention Josafat Miranda was receiving. What Miranda did was wrong, but Jason had no desire for the man to suffer unreasonably…yet when you read Miranda’s response in the Daily Mail article you see the strain, but you also see the disconnect with reality. He doesn’t appear to be sorry for what he’s done.

You can read more about the incident at the below links. The below links also show the original works next to the copied versions.

Miami New Times

Daily Mail

HyperAllergic

You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice

The above incident happened in muggy Miami, but it was talked about a lot locally. I doubt that many in our local ‘art scene’ were completely unaware of it. So you’d think…you’d think that local ‘artist’ Rashidi Barrett would have watched that scenario unfold quietly, stealthily hide his own traced works and taken it as a lesson that he was luckily able to learn privately.
(edited to add that in the AltDaily article Barrett claims not to have known about the Miami incident, IMO that is possible but not probable considering the massive and local internet reaction)

Of course things didn’t work out that way. You can read more about the situation in the links below. They sum it up better than I can. The entire thing is incredibly awkward. It’s like an excruciatingly embarrassing episode of Parks & Recreation, and I need to run away from the television.

Old South High

Pilot Online

Alt Daily

Read the comments on all articles linked above. They range from rabid outrage to apologetic. It is amazing and often demoralizing to get a look at how others view this kind of grifting.

I feel that both incidents are a result of several things: the acclaim by those not visually literate, some success too soon, a need for attention and approval greater than the need for the basis being rooted in honesty and earned skill.

I also think art classes should talk about these issues more often, at the very least encouraging discussion about the differences between appropriation and theft or whether there is one at all. I certainly believe there is. An homage is not one if no one knows about it. The copying artist chooses not to reveal their sources or inspiration. I don’t believe school being better about talking about these subjects would prevent it. I don’t believe either Miranda or Barrett took art classes, but I think it would foster art scenes more capable of having an intelligent discussion about it or even more likely to spot possible fraud.

What I find interesting is that both Miranda and Barrett were able to find fans and patrons. I realize this part of my rant could be put down to taste, but I feel strongly about it. Neither, in my opinion, seem to display much skill. (There is a lot of work out in the world that I wouldn’t hang on my wall, but I can recognize the skill and creativity behind it and appreciate it.) There is a disconnect between their mark making, subjects and materials. I can’t explain it very well, but it confuses me when others claim that both are talented…projecting an image you never sketched on a canvas and tracing them awkwardly is not a display of technical skill or creativity. What others see as talent in working artists is the result of hundreds of hours of practice, anguish and struggle.

I realize it’s important to nurture and support fledgling artists, but that doesn’t mean treating them(I’m not excluding myself from this) as genius’ right out of the gate. 

The art world is huge, but the internet is making it smaller. Copying anothers work to learn is an accepted and admirable way to learn. Almost every artist has done it at some point. Representing it only as your own creation is not part of that path.

Whether the above issues are legal or not is not part of my point, and I’m not interested in arguing about that aspect. 

Just because something may be legal, or even normal, does not make those actions ethical or honorable.

Ugh, general overall ickiness!

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