Do Unto Others…
The lecture is from 7 – 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5. For more information, call 703-228-1850.
Copyright basics – I must say this really is a serious weak point in artist’s knowledge base. This lecture/talk would no doubt be good for all artists. At the moment Shepard Fairey, the designer of the now famous Obama poster, is being thrown under the bus by the Internet community. His problem here, or more accurately his critics’ problem, is Fairey’s way of appropriating images to ape, and otherwise regurgitate, in his own image-making style.
Fairey is hardly the first artist to run this flogging gauntlet. Roy Lichtenstein make a career out of stealing not photos, but rather comic panels, and painting them large scale, Benday dots and all. Mind you, this is only one example. The truth of the matter is that almost every representational artist has at some time used photos to help them along in the image-making process.
Early on in the learning curve almost everybody has tried to recreate a photo into a drawing or painting. None of whom bother getting permission for such usage.
Personally, I have a background in both photography as well as drawing and painting, so I’ve lived on both sides of this equation. I’ve seen artists grab photographic source material and use it as the basis for a piece they were working on. Pointing out that such usage was a no-no, the typical response is “I’ll change it… no one will notice.”
The old adage about honesty, being defined as doing the right thing when nobody is looking, comes to mind. As used in the fine art world, it’s more a question of “Will I get caught?” not is it the right thing to do. Better artists learn along the way that photos are less than ideal places to start anyway, so they shy away from it as much as possible. Still, if you’re going to illustrate a nuclear explosion, or the view of earth from space, for example, you’re going to be using source photos. It’s a simple fact of life. Photos are used, and photos will continue to be used as source materials, just as writers use research materials for their writings.
Traditional artists tend to be rather dismissive about the whole thing, as such usage helps and rarely hurts them. Yet if someone were to illegally reproduce their art work, there would be no end to the howling of “No fair!”
Photographers, on the other hand, tend to be much more attuned to the notion of illegal usage. Mainly because the pirating of their work can happen so easily, and is usually done so for commercial usage in editorial publications or advertising – places where damages are easy to calculate. In such cases, trebling damages have been the norm… when the offenders get caught.
The current flack over Shepard Fairey’s Obama image and the source photo reminds me of a Freshman English Professor’s first day lecture. Telling us of a plagiarism case she had in a previous class. This being the old days when research of this sort had to be done hands on, the entire English department descended on the library in search of the student’s source material. Coming up dry after extensive looking, one of the professors recalled that the suspected plagiarizer had a French speaking girlfriend. Renewed rifling through French language texts revealed the source… busted.
Shepard Fairey has a reputation for lifting images, and his meteoric rise has given some people a similar will to ferret out his source photos. Three source photos, and their resulting Shepard Fairey Obama posters, have now been nailed down. We now know that D.C.-based Mannie Garcia was the photographer of the source image for the original Obama poster, with David Turney and Brooks Kraft as subsequent victims.
We have to point out that Shepard Fairey has likely dodged the mother of all Intellectual Property law suits. Mannie Garcia has been quoted as having no interest in litigation. Imagine what could have happened here had Garcia been a McCain supporter intent on getting his pound of flesh.
Many people will see all this as a condemnation of Shepard Fairey’s art work, but Fairey is hardly the first guy to walk this path. I can recall a bit about Warhol lifting the source photo for his flower prints from a photography magazine. Where Fairey went wrong, and one imagines Warhol and host of others, is not that he created photo-based art work, but rather that he didn’t get permission for its use. Such permission typically asks for credit as well as some monetary exchange – both of which artists are less than eager to give up.
Fairey could have easily handed the source photo to his secretary, or one of his assistants having them chase down usage rights. Instead he apparently forged ahead ignoring the huge risk of damages down the road. Given the scope of eventual usage the Obama poster image reached, one can easily assume losing any resulting lawsuit would have wiped Fairey out financially.
There really is no excuse for artists not knowing this stuff. You have to lay a fair hunk of that blame at the feet of art professors who fail to have the same attitudes toward plagiarism as English professors do. Teach them better, they’ll do better.
Tom Gralish, a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer has published a blow-by-blow account of how the above source photos were discovered in the past two weeks, complete with supporting images. You can read it at blogs.phillynews.com/inquirer/sceneonroad/2009/01/a_last_word_hopefully_and_upda_1.html.
Read Btw. the Blots
Etsuko Ichikawa, at the Randall Scott Gallery (1326 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C.). This exhibit runs through Feb. 14. The gallery hours are Wednesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Call 202-332-0806, or visit www.randallscottgallery.com/etsuko_ichikawa.html.
No question about it, Japanese artist Etsuko Ichikawa has some of the hottest art in town. She makes what are essentially heat drawings on paper. Utilizing molten glass and a glass blower’s long blow pipe, she quickly lays down glass drippings on raw paper. The resulting singe and burn marks left on the paper are a wonderful, near instantaneous record of fluid dynamics.
Ichikawa clearly references several of the New York School Abstract Expressionists, especially Pollock in her working methods. As with all process-rich art, the question of artistic merit comes up sooner or later. Fortunately, we’re past a lot of the highly abusive attitudes that Pollock and his brethren had to endure, but the questions still must be asked and answered. The bottom line is artistic talent, and the question: is it or isn’t it there? The answer here is unequivocal: Ichikawa has loads of talent, and she knows how to use it.
The resulting images are subject to viewer interpretation to such an extent that they’re difficult to describe. They’re artistic Rorschachs, to be sure. Generally speaking, they seem to be shadows left by cigarette smoke wafting through the air. They also have the aesthetic quality of photograms. She references a host of blue chip artists while remaining unique and herself – which isn’t an easy thing to pull off. Like clouds floating by, you can see all manner of things going on in these images. Fascinating, highly entertaining and using a wonderfully innovative technique, the eleven pieces on view here make up one batch of work the likes of which you won’t bump into any time soon. This one is a real treat to see.
Watercolors by Falls Church artist Deborah Conn, at the Virginia Tech/ UVA Northern VA Center, First Floor Lobby & Library (7054 Haycock Road, Falls Church). This exhibit runs from Feb. 6 – May 15. Call 703-538-8310 for further information. Opening reception from 6 – 8 p.m. this Friday, Feb. 6. You can view more details at www.deborahconn.com.