Above: Jim Kelly, “Walker Art Center,” Mixed Media, 30×45
With the advent of the point and shoot digital camera and especially the smart phone, virtually all major museums have eliminated photographic restrictions. Hence the endless availability of personal art reproductions. What to do with the multitude of photographs of museum artworks?
I periodically reproduce them as large prints and proceed to rearrange, alter, transform and generally mutate them into my own version of “visiting art.” Usually whimsical and slightly perverse, the prints reinvent the pieces and their environments into new monochromatic entities that comment on the originals and suggest different ways of looking at art. The new works subvert the concept of anointed and sacred art spaces while raising questions of ownership and what constitutes public domain.
When I hear the word appropriation now, I think of Richard Prince. Remember when he was ripping off photos from Instagram and then blowing them up to be huge and selling them through a New York City gallery?
“The photos, mostly of young women in seductive or vulnerable poses, come from several accounts: the pin-up community Suicide Girls, sex writer Karley Sciortino, musician Sky Ferreira. The installation, New Portraits, was up in New York’s formidable Gagosian Gallery in 2014, but resurfaced in the public consciousness once the photos started selling for as much as $100,000 at this month’s Frieze Art Fair New York.” Source: The Verge (https://www.theverge.com/2015/5/30/8691257/richard-prince-instagram-photos-copyright-law-fair-use).
It has been his MO for most of his career and he’s done very well for himself, although these lawsuits must be putting a crimp in his purse by now. So, I decided that I would use the same tactic as he did but with a twist, in that I was re-purposing or re-framing the issue to comment back on his actions. That’s how my homage to Richard Price began its life.
This was not the first time I had used appropriation as a means to comment upon the world we live in, especially when it comes to the way most cultures treat women. Of course being a photographer and digital artist as well as a painter makes appropriation easy for me.
In my “Homage to Vermeer,” I have combined two different paintings of his into one that expands the narrative of them both. In this way, I’m using “digital alchemy” to create new meaning from the combination of images. In “Girl with a Pearl Earring” the focus is ALL on her. In “Woman with a Water Jug,” she seems to be looking down and away from us. But once the image is flipped and placed with “Girl,” a narrative develops between these women. Of course, it’s up to you to decide upon the meaning based on your own life and your stories, but to me, there is a warning there.
In working with appropriations and living artists I would always ask permission (except for Prince), like I did when I saw a photo taken by my sheep farmer buddy, Chad Thorne. It seemed like there was a spooky story to explore there too. That is the genesis of “Silence of the Sheep.”
The only kind of work I never ask permission for is the work of commercial photographers that is published in major magazines. I have used those images mostly in ways that critique class and socioeconomic issues.
HATE KILLS – A WORD KILLS
WALK, one of four word performance pieces.
I knew the word nigger in a word-performance piece would be controversial in my present Maine white-dominated society when I submitted it to the arts organization; however I counted on insight from other artists. The piece was rejected. I had created five word-performance pieces during the Black Lives Matter situation in our country with the idea, the concept, of the word nigger being destroyed, erased. The introduction made the concept very clear. The performance pieces presented me as a human being, an artist, (and, yes, a white person), who understood the horrifying reality of racial discrimination with its intimidation, rape, murder, lynching, in white-dominated America. I think I was right to create the word-performance pieces, but, when it was rejected, I asked myself, and still ask myself: “Do you have the right as a white artist to create such word-performance pieces about the continuing African-American discrimination?”