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.

Jason Levesque, Stuntkid.com

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!

Heads on Tables – Learning Classical Drawing Techniques

It’s over. I am done studying at TCC. Almost. I still need to take an algebra test…damn it.

This semester I took supervised study in drawing, hence all the photos of charcoal drawings, and to finish it up I spent the past week with Chicago artist(and former VA Beach resident) Brett Edenton. It was a valuable experience to study with someone, even if just for a week, with a specific goal. In many ways it made things more comfortable. He could tell me when I was doing something wrong and it not be open to interpretation. This wasn’t about creativity. It was about seeing and technical skill and it’s exactly what I wanted and made me eager to continue this path. That said, I didn’t do everything that was suggested. I tried to take advice and pick up tips and skill while not losing my own methods that seem to work for me.

I believe I’ve touched on it before, but I want representational skills. I want those skills to make my work, whether it be figurative or not, more convincing.

It was beneficial to not be able to dodge someone’s attention while drawing. At first I was self conscious, and while that feeling lingered, it was good for me not to disappear in a classroom of other students. Having someone watch you draw can be very scary. It reveals how you think…or how you don’t think.

This isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a step in the right direction. I hope my touch and eye will grow more sensitive as time and practice pass. I enjoyed that the project was to draw more heads on tables, something I already seem to like to do.

I also stopped in at the Chrysler Museum of Art before it shuts down for renovations and met this painting I had never noticed before. I call it The Log Lady of Norfolk, but it’s really a painting by Hugues Merle French (1823-1881) called The Lunatic of Étretat (1871, oil on canvas).

I love it. It’s hard to see, but her eyes almost glow red and her hair is drifting away like smoke. Plus it reminds me of Twin Peaks and that’s always a plus.

Upper Darby, PA Education – Losing More than Future Tina Fey’s

May 2, 2012

There wasn’t much I enjoyed about school as a child. I was a depressed, scaredy kid that spent most of my time in my own head, reading, writing or drawing, but my schools were able to break down my inclination to introversion and provide me with creative outlets.

I was lucky that I went to schools dedicated to providing a thorough education, not just the basics, to all of their students. My favorite memories from Garrettford Elementary and Drexel Hill Middle School school are my art classes, music(though I couldn’t sing a lick) and even gym class.

I played the saxophone and was terrible at it, but I was given the opportunity to find out if I liked it. My elementary school regularly put on concerts. I remember the principal, Mr. McAllister, dressing up as a mad scientist and dancing to the Monster Mash. I played the Hanukkah song on my sax while sporting a beehive…coifed especially for my later debut as a Supreme for our Golden Oldies medley. 

The Beehives! The Memories! Thank you Garrettford!
Gym class, including recess, was a chance to run, scream and be ridiculous. They made sure we weren’t cooped up in little boxes all day. Our schools bussed us to the local High School’s indoor swimming pool and taught us to swim.

They stressed creative writing and held yearly Young Author’s contests. Drexel Hill Middle School even developed a program for budding authors and theater kids called The Playwrights, which was perfect for preparing children to participate in a summer theater camp called Summer Stage. I wrote and directed a play all at the age of 14!

Even in high school, when I really went off the weird kid deep end, I looked forward to my art classes. When I couldn’t participate in my senior years advanced art class, my favorite art teacher, Elizabeth Harendza, sought me out and provided me with assignments she was giving her other students. She allowed me to find refuge in her class during my lunch period. I don’t know if I would have graduated without the solace of art class. I don’t know if I would have known to seek comfort in those classes if I hadn’t been exposed to the arts at a young age. I wouldn’t have known to seek it out in high school if my interest in art had not been recognized in elementary school. 

This may all go away…with the additional loss of foreign language, technology and the school libraries! 

Like many other schools across the country, Upper Darby is facing a budget crisis. There is no one reason this is happening. It is the result of inflation, property values decreasing, students outside of the district attending UD schools, No Child Left Behind and the funding of charter schools.

The result is practically all programs aside from math, science, history and english are being slashed from curriculums beneath the high school level.

The internet is buzzing with articles and movements to stop/fix this. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t even live there anymore, but the possibility hurts my heart, especially because this isn’t something that’s just happening there. Public schools all over the country are being forced to make some hard decisions.

Here are some links to read up more on the issues, probably all more eloquent and informative than my blog post. 

PhillyMag.com article

Save Upper Darby’s Music Facebook page

Save UD Arts main page

Save Upper Darby Arts Facebook page

And yes…Tina Fey of 30 Rock graduated from Upper Darby High School. So did that girl from The Blair Witch Project…and more importantly to me, Lloyd Alexander, the fantasy children’s author who wrote the Vesper Holly book series and The Chronicles of Prydain.

And that’s cool and impressive and nice, but I think it’s sad to see articles and comments calling on their memories in an attempt to make people care, or worse, hoping for Tina Fey to somehow come to the rescue with her celebrity status. We should already care.

There are so many other alumni who are doing what they want/need/should be doing now because of the Upper Darby School District’s past dedication to providing a rich and varied eduction. They may not be famous or rich, but they matter. Below is a list of links to UDHS graduates visual arts portfolios. These are the people I remember from high school. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many. I’d be happy to add more as the information comes to me.

Kevin Wright – Film 

Shaun Kessler – Animation and Illustration

Mike Sheperd – Photography

Ron Cala – Design and Illustration

Mark Amadio – Graphic Design

Pat Woods – Fine Art and Education

James Ulmer – Fine Art and Illustration

Eric Hazlett – Art Director at Boco Digital Media

Matt Biller – Designer and Art DirectorReplyPosted in inspirationlifeschool| Tagged arteducationinspirationsaveudartsschooludhsupper darby school districtLeave a reply

Hibernation & Guilty Pleasures

It may be the shorter days but I feel the need to nest and go into art making hibernation.

This means having an insatiable need to rearrange my home and make another attempt at putting together a livable and workable studio space.

Strangely, it also means making playlists of down-tempo and OTR horror and reading comic books(specifically right now Fables Volume 14 and 15).

I need a constant rotation of Portishead, the Twin Peaks Sound track and so on…Spotify has been useful in finding new music in the same vein. Music has usually been a private thing for me. I was never immersed in it the way my friends were as teenagers. Then I discovered down tempo/trip hop/whatever it’s called. It felt right. It’s more like a sound track rather than individual songs.

On my playlist now…

Willow’s Song – The Wicker Man Soundtrack
Small Town Witch – Sneaker Pimps
Pretty When You Cry – Vast (can’t get into any of their other songs)
Galaxies – Laura Veirs
Flame – Crustation
Down By the Water – PJ Harvey
Overcome – Tricky
Stars – Hum
Capsized – Samiam
Ten Cents a Dance – Ruth Etting
Horse and I – Bat For Lashes
Celestica – Crystal Castles
Half Day Closing – Portishead
Audrey’s Dance – Angelo Badalementi

Still from Vast’s Pretty When You Cry

Then…that Vast video makes me think of a fantastic radio play version of The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter produced by the BBC…which then leads me to another witch themed radio play, The Hairy Hand of Dartmoor produced by the radio horror show Fear on Four. I always thought the girl who played Little Red Riding Hood in the first play sounded like the witch in the second play.

The Hairy Hand is an urban legend out of Dartmoor, England. The story goes that on a stretch of road motorists and bicyclists have had their steering ripped from them by disembodied demonic hairy hands and caused them to have accidents. You can read a bit about it on Wikipedia here.

I’m trying to get my work from this past semester photographed and started on new ones, including a piece for a group show next spring curated by the founder of Creepmachine.com The group show is called Marvelous Humans. You can read about it at the blog the curator created for it. The show will be about ‘human oddities’ of the past and present and how they made the most out of what life dealt them. I’ve chosen Millie La Marr the Mind Reader, a Victorian Era Albino woman that traveled with the circus performing mentalist tricks, pretending to be a psychic. You can see photos of her here.

I wish I could find more out about her as person rather than just a side show oddity. I chose her because of her ‘act’. As any reader here can probably tell from my work I am fascinated by spiritualism and so called psychic phenomena.

I was super stoked to see that the show Jason and I was in, Multiversal Miami, was profiled on Artattacksonline.com here.

Oil Painting Brushes – Too Many

A reader, and I’m sorry I never replied…I can’t seem to figure out the best way too on this blog, pointed me to a great website that compared and reviewed colored pencils. I really appreciated it! It helped a lot!

Since I’ve been working at an art supply store I’ve had more time than most to examine and stress out over brushes. I know you shouldn’t need many(yet they sell a million different types).

I keep reading in ads that synthetic brushes should be fine for oil painting but my experience shows me that it simply isn’t the truth. That said, it’s a good thing that I’m not vegan because it appears impossible to be one and also be an oil painter. Ivory Black is produced with charred animal bones, some reds have been or are made from crushed bugs. The best standard oil brushes are made from boar bristles(yes the wild pig) and then there are sables and squirrel.

I’ve tried sables. I realize some oil painters do beautiful work with them to blend but personally I don’t like how soft they are. That said, I want something softer than bristle(chungking is the standard…I guess? Why is it called chungking?)

I found some mongoose hair brushes at work and they seem to what I’m looking for when finishing a piece. Stiffer than sable and softer than bristle. I’ve been using the Vermeer brand(I honestly side eye brands that use the name of a long dead artist). The only thing I don’t like about it is, once again, it’s made from animals(I’m sorry mongoose!), but the handle is a bit potentially crappy. I’ve found that painted handles are messes waiting to happen. As soon as it get a big wet the paint will chip off and end up on your canvas, and then the ferrules will loosen.

If anyone reading can recommend a good site or brand, I would really appreciate it. Too many site are brand specific ad campaigns.

Also, I think the only weird brush I can’t live without is a winkle. It’s a short sable brush. The ferrule/end is hooked to help paint small weird angles.

The Pursuit of the Original

It’s a weird feeling to see that the work you like to produce fits into a movement or oeuvre or genre or whatever. It’s a weird feeling to have to question yourself why that it is.

It’s not that I want to create things that are not a response to the long history of art and human experience but I still wince at the idea that I could be seen as aping other artists or too easily influenced.

In fact I am embarrassed to admit that for a fleeting moment I felt very special and original with my ouija board based paintings. Truly, anytime you feel original it just means you are less informed than you think you are. Not being original though doesn’t mean that you are mimicking someone else, it just means your brain isn’t a magical portal to unmined imagery and ideas. You haven’t thought of the unthinkable.

After reading a post on Wurzeltod by the unfailingly honest Suzanne(and why I cherish her presence on the internets) about a current trend in contemporary art I realized my work could easily fit into the fault she finds in it.

I guess that’s okay but it left me confused. Why is this imagery so popular right now? I have some theories, and the only ones I can come up with are why I’m attracted to them. Perhaps we all got into our parents dusty attic boxes and found their seventies magazines and hippy mystical books balanced with others spreading fear of satanism and the new orders attempts at creating new witchy peons through saturday morning kids programing.

Maybe.

Though my parents never seemed afraid of me being corrupted or led away from a god they had chosen. In fact they raised me with no religion, more out of not having time for the effort than any lack of belief. Our house used to be owned by a Jewish family. There was a hebrew letter built into the backyard stone grill and a jewish good luck symbol screwed into the door frame of the front door. I remember feeling upset when I wasn’t allowed to remove it and take it with me when I moved out.

Outside of my home was a big scary Catholic world. Those were the kids who told me spooky stories about the smurfs and taught me to play bloody mary games in the bathroom. Those were the kids who grew alarmed when I pulled out a ouija board. I adopted their superstitions for play. I found books in my elementary school library about poltergeists. In middle school every girl had a ghost that haunted them. I think some of them believed in it. I didn’t want their faith but I loved their superstitions. Being fun scared made me feel full of adventure. I was truly scared of many real things. It was better to be pretend scared of things I was sure didn’t exist.

My family didn’t really have neo-pagan books in the attic, but they did have Dianetics and guides on how to hypnotize all on a shelf in the basement. My father also collected books about local ghost lore and treasure hunting in abandoned towns. He sat up with me and watched Histories Mysteries narrated by Leonard Nimoy. I snuck back even later and watched Unsolved Mysteries by myself in the dark.

I’m not sure why other artists paint the things they do, but I do know mine are more about my lack of belief in the supernatural and my wish that I could find control and comfort in ritual and superstition.

Mourning on the Internet

The past weeks have been difficult. My former art history professor, Yates Evans, at the TCC Visual Arts Center, ended his life earlier this month. I don’t claim to have been especially close to the man, but he was my friend and I feel his loss. I can’t imagine the devastation his family and life long friends must be feeling. I haven’t had much time to process this. Someone’s death, especially someone not related to you, doesn’t make the world stop around you. There is school and work. You can’t take a break. I actually am home because I only had school today and I needed a day to just pause and recover from regular stress and delayed grief.

I miss him. We had future plans to be in a group show together. He was a huge influence on me and always supportive. He was one of those teachers who was always wound up and really enjoyed what he was teaching. He didn’t teach directly from the textbook and invited his students to challenge it and him.

His death was a shock but not a complete surprise. He wasn’t quick to share his problems but he was a passionate man clearly in emotional pain. I wish he hadn’t made the choice that he had, and I’d be lying if I pretended not be feeling anger over his choice. He was always supportive and complementary to his students to the point that he didn’t seem to have enough left over good feelings just for himself.

A Facebook page, In Memory of Yates Evans, popped up not long after his death. I found myself scrolling through my friends list and stopped on a picture of a man cuddling with a fluffy kitten. He looked familiar but my recognition was slow. When I realized it was was Yates I felt like I had been socked in the jaw and literally yelled out loud. Facebook was the one place I never expected to see a picture of him. At school he was notoriously camera shy and regularly railed against the evils of internet social networking. For those reasons I at first felt almost anxious that now here he was, on the internet, in pictures, after his death, but then I thought about it more and tried to find some humor in it.

I commented on the wall and it actually felt kinda good. I realized it wasn’t up to him anymore how his family, friends and students remembered him. I thought it was very generous of others who knew him better to share their memories.

Yet, mourning on the internet is a bit loaded. I kept going back to the page to reread what I wrote, wondering if it was okay, too gushy or indulgent. Because, there it is, on the internet. Of course I could delete it, but couldn’t that be conspicuous? It’s all a bit different than wondering how you were perceived in a short conversation a week ago that can’t be rehashed perfectly and naturally fades with time.

Then add to that the action of ‘liking’ the page that memorializes the death of someone you miss dearly. It’s a small thing and doesn’t matter much but it did feel a bit gross and inappropriate.

I had a chance to sit in his current class while they were given the news by his mentor and boss, the Visual Arts Center director and a grief counselor. I didn’t anticipate it being a very useful experience, but when compared to writing on a memorial internet wall space…it really was a powerful and sad experience. There I was talking to people rather than just myself. It was okay to cry. I’m not someone who is comfortable expressing extreme emotion in front of others but crying in public, with others who also felt sad, was very freeing.

This feeling isn’t over yet and perhaps I’m dissecting it to push it away a bit further. I’m simply glad I had the chance to have such a wonderful teacher, to know such an interesting and kind guy.

He will always be a part of my future accomplishment and paintings. I can’t escape it. I’m glad for it. I wish he had been able to stay with us longer.

I hope in the future that more of his artwork makes it onto the internet so I can share it with you.

Artist As Predator

The actress Marian Marsh as Trilby

If I was good at writing I’d spend a lot of space here talking about how movies and drama have treated the artist as a madman(rather than woman) similarly to the mad scientist of many a horror film and book. The below examples don’t necessarily match that concept, but they are creepy stories featuring artists and art.

Trilby, pictured above and played by Marian Marsh, is a story by George Du Maurier and published in the early 20th century. Trilby, the protagonist, is a young English girl living in Paris and earning a living as a figure model. She is hypnotized by the evil Svengali, a brilliant but villainess musician…

I believe you can watch the movie version of Trilby on Netflix under the title Svengali. Better yet, read it for free through Google books. You can download a pdf of it. I’m honestly only halfway through it and have been reading it on my nook.

Trilby by George Du Maurier (broken link, will re-link)

Bluebeard, a story about a man who … ya know, kills his wives, was made into a movie. The villain’s role was changed into that of an artist. He paints portraits of women then murders them. Freaky puppets are also involved. Watch the 1944 version of Bluebeard on Hulu.

I also collect radio horror plays. The two linked below are on topic! The First is a story about two French art students who roam the countryside in search of inspiration. The second play is about a ceramicist searching for a perfect ingredient in order to achieve an unusual glaze to his work. You can download the plays or listen to them online.

Fear on Four’s By the River Fountainebleau (broken link, will re-upload)

Nightfall’s Glaze of Perfect Beauty (broken link, will re-upload)

There are many other examples of creepy stories where either the art or artist is menacing, like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray or just about any movie that involves ventriloquists and dummies.