Late Night FDL: LAPD Sends Out Cops over “Incendiary” Painting

Painting as crime? Seems freedom of expression in art is subject to police investigation if it makes “someone” uncomfortable.

Well, the LAPD got curious about plein-air painter Alex Schaefer’s work when he set up his easel outside a Chase Bank building in Van Nuys, the Valley portion of Los Angeles. Shaefer told me when I spoke with him this afternoon that over the hours as he painted away, passersby stopped and chatted with him, laughing, at times bemoaning their mortgage re-fi nightmares.

Then a pair of Los Angeles Police Department patrol officers rolled up on Schaefer, who teaches at Pasadena Art Center and has exhibited throughout the city, as he was putting the finishing touches on his work which showed the Chase building with its roof aflame. Seems “someone” had glimpsed the bearded artist at work and felt


according to Schaefer’s account to the Los Angeles Times. Threatened? By a painting!? Wow.

Schaefer explained to the officers that his work was

intended to be a visual metaphor for the havoc that banking practices have caused to the economy.

As we were chatting, Schaefer told me that when he was starting out as a naive young artist he’d researched the New York art market and realized

The same players in the art market are manipulating Wall Street and the economy.

Schaefer, who does his banking at a small community bank, is working on a series of burning corporate bank building paintings which will be part of the Disaster Capitalism show at Inglewood’s Beacon Arts Building in February. Wanna bet there will be some undercover officers, possibly FBI in attendance, simply based on the show’s title? I’m gonna charge up my camera batteries for opening night now that the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it’s legal to video tape law enforcement!

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public place is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

After jotting down Schaefer’s information–minus his social security number which he declined to give–the cops left him to his easel and palette. Case closed. Time to catch some real criminals.

Schaefer had told the officers that a terrorist wouldn’t stand for hours in plain view painting his target, but apparently the LAPD disagreed and two days later a pair of plainclothes detectives paid him a visit at his apartment while he was working on another piece of art, asking

Do you know why we’re here?

Shaefer replied

Is it about the painting?

Schaefer told the Times they also asked:

Do you hate banks? Do you plan to do that to the bank?

What’s next? Investigating some kid who’s playing a cover of “Los Angeles is Burning” on the piano?

Schaefer showed the detectives some of his work and discussed the meaning behind them. And then they left. Which is good news.

Even better news: Schaefer is capitalizing on the police visits and subsequent press by auctioning off the piece on eBay. The irony would be if his piece ended up in a corporate collection. Plus, an attorney who read about the artist’s travails has offered his services pro bono if he has any further trouble–like when he tries to get through airport security.

Chase Burning, Alex Schaefer 2011. Used by artist’s permission

67 Responses to "Late Night FDL: LAPD Sends Out Cops over “Incendiary” Painting"
nycterrierist | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:04 pm 1

Nice painting.

DrDick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:04 pm 2


The powers that be are afraid that the proles might get ideas and start fighting back.

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:06 pm 3

Reminder: refresh your browser to see new comments and questions Thanks

LAPD could stand for Laughable Art Policing Duty. Like don’t we have real crimes? I can understand the cops on patrol checking it out, like when two patrol officers had to come over because the crazy cat lady called in that we had “torture chambers” where we were keeping the cat we’d adopted from her (the cat had run away and she was in denial).

But sending detectives for a follow up? I wonder if someone for Chase put some pressure on the LAPD?

DrDick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:10 pm 4
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 3

There is no crime greater than thought crimes and challenging the corporate-rentier hegemony.

sfmikey | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:10 pm 5

Painting is probably worth a lot more now.

I like it very much.

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:10 pm 6

Hi Dr Dick. Yes, NYC–he is dong a whole series. Very interesting guy, paints on the street corner, interacts with people. Yeaches at Pasadena Art Center.

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:13 pm 7
In response to sfmikey @ 5

The eBay auction is over $4700 now, and rising.

tw3k | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:16 pm 8

Ye gads! This may leads to copy-cat acts of artistic expression!

alex schaefer | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:17 pm 9

I performed an experiment on my friend John “Mr Lets Paint TV” Kilduff who was the featured guest yesterday on my internet show “The Alex Schaefer Hour” I painted his portrait live on the internet and then at a certain point I started to paint the top of his bald head on fire. He said didn’t feel a thing! So we learned that painting an object on fire does not actually increase the temperature of the object being painting! ahahahah! here’s a tiny link to the show:

masaccio | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:18 pm 10

Why paint the bank burning? How about walking banks setting fire to houses?

sfmikey | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:20 pm 11

Proceeds should go to a charity for LAPD orphans & widows.

sfmikey | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:21 pm 12
In response to sfmikey @ 11

& widowers.

fitley | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:22 pm 13

First I’d like to say what a beautiful painting that is. I have a Chase account. I wonder if I could get checks with that image.
Now about the cops; If cops, who think they know everything, would like to critique something, how about critiquing pieces of shit. Working side by side with them every day would make them experts. I’m not talking about “perps”, I’m talking about the piece of shit cops. The taser happy, loud mouth pricks we’ve all had to deal with. The idiotic scum, so full of themselves, they can’t see the pricks they are. Those cops.

tw3k | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:26 pm 14
In response to alex schaefer @ 9

Great work Alex! Both in terms of painting, I do enjoy plein-air, and in using the event to help project you message.

orionATL | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:26 pm 15
In response to masaccio @ 10

very imaginative.

why not?

Presumptuous Insect | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:26 pm 16

That painting brought me great joy.

DrDick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:26 pm 17
In response to tw3k @ 8

If three or more people do it, they will call it a movement!

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:28 pm 18
In response to fitley @ 13

I have only had good experiences with the LAPD and witrh police in general. But the BART and Fullerton shootings show there are some issues with cops.

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:29 pm 19
In response to alex schaefer @ 9

Hi Alex, great talking with you tonight and thanks for being here!

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:30 pm 20

Alex, is this your first political series? I have checked out your hotel series at

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:32 pm 21

reminder, hit REFRESH ot see new comments

wagthedog | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:35 pm 22

I’m afraid any judge who finds it illegal to video tape, photograph, or audio record police on duty, would find painting a too-big-to-fail bank on fire illegal too.

joeblue | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:38 pm 23

Great painting, I was on my way over to Ebay to maybe bid but alas out of my range. Well worth every penny it gets of course.

Suzanne | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:38 pm 24

lisa! great post — i had no idea lapd were duly designated legal validators of artistic merit

geez *eye rolling*

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:40 pm 25
In response to wagthedog @ 22

Ah, but the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is legal to video tape law enforcement, and the folks at #OPBART are joyful.

whattheincorporated | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:42 pm 26

He’s obviously a terrorist, right Gretchen?

If I were a painter I’d paint a slaughterhouse with a bank logo behind a door that says “mortgage renegotiations” with a long line of faceless people about to walk into it.

Then I’d paint a bank/spaceship bombing an idyllic small town.

My last piece would be a generic austrian rich guy and a bank double teaming a bald eagle.

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:44 pm 27
In response to Suzanne @ 24

Well, I’ll know more after I go the Disaster Capitalism show in Feb. It’s in Inglewood and the last show I went to drew a very mixed crowd, much more reflective of Los Angeles’ as a whole.It will be interesting to see how people react to this show!

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:46 pm 28
In response to whattheincorporated @ 26

Collage, my friend, collage!

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:47 pm 29
In response to Suzanne @ 24

We do have a very good art theft division in LA, sadly he is overworked.

(Yes you read that right)

whattheincorporated | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:47 pm 30
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 28

I wish I could paint…does the bank burning artist take requests/suggestions? :-)

whattheincorporated | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:49 pm 31
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 29

I wonder what they’d do if the artist ignored him and started painting a mob of lapd officers beating the shit out of a minority.

Not only would they forgive him, but they’d buy it, hang it in the chiefs office and give him a commendation for it.

alex schaefer | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:53 pm 32

i have gotten an unsolicited chase bank mpeg that I’ve started paiunting, but it’s not “on fire” yet…

tw3k | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:54 pm 33
In response to DrDick @ 17

*sings a refrain*

Killer of Sacred Cows | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:55 pm 34

Awesome painting. I’d like to see one that depicts other banks in the same situation. These banks are relentless and they need to be reined in with a sharp curb bit NOW.

DrDick | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:56 pm 35

Time for me to toddle off. Still have young minds to corrupt in the morning. Take care all.

tw3k | Thursday September 1, 2011 08:57 pm 36
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 29

eep! who’s ‘aft’ did he steal? lol ;)

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:00 pm 37
In response to tw3k @ 36

thnaks I have had more trouble than usual typing the past week.

Petrocelli | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:05 pm 38

Free speech defines destroys America

Lisa !

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:08 pm 39
In response to Petrocelli @ 38

Hey Petro!

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:10 pm 40

Alex, you may have developed a new genre–political plein air painting.

sixgill | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:15 pm 41

Notice how official authority acts to protect the bank, from even what would be thought of as passive aggression at most, rather than respect either the rights or the plights of the working public.

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:22 pm 42

I really wonder, based on the Chase spokes[erson’s comments in the LA Times if they weren;t behind the stepped up questioning:

Gary Kishner, a spokesman for Chase Bank, said his institution isn’t sure what to make of Schaefer’s work.

“It’s a situation we don’t take lightly. Hopefully, this is not what his actions are. It’s kind of scary — you don’t know what other people are thinking. We have to look out for the safety of our customers and employees.”

What is a Firedo Glake? | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:26 pm 43

Always answer a question by the police with another question. If it’s a statement, ignore it. If it’s a command, comply immediately.

Those rules has served me well.

wagthedog | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:29 pm 44

So what would happen if Dick Cheney, George Bush, or Donald Rumsfeld painted a picture of someone being tortured?

What would happen is Obama painted a picture of someone obstructing justice by refusing to investigate possible crimes?

CTuttle | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:35 pm 45
In response to Presumptuous Insect @ 16

So may I presume you’ll expand upon it, PI…? ;-)

Aloha, Lisa and pups…!

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:46 pm 46

ooooh, words to live by. Also, if going to a protest, bring your legal photo ID (gym membership cards dont count!) and have your lawyer’s phone number (or that of local branch National Lawyers Guild) scrawled on your arm with indelible ink. And if you take rx medicine bring 3 days supply in the prescription bottle.

Also, consider having your attorney’s phone number as your screen saver on your LOCKED phone so you don’t have to unlock it in front of the cops.

“Officer, are you detaining me?” and “Am I free to go now, officer?” are god phrases to remember. We did Movie Night with Very helpful.

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:46 pm 47
In response to CTuttle @ 45

Night CTuttle!

CTuttle | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:50 pm 48
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 47

Mahalo, Lisa, for exposing this ludicrous action…! *g*

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:55 pm 49
In response to CTuttle @ 48

I owe it all to my friend Oedipa Maas on FB who sent me a link to the original story, and to Alex Schaefer who responded to my email and took my call. And who joined us tonight

strangely enough | Thursday September 1, 2011 09:58 pm 50
In response to wagthedog @ 44

So what would happen if Dick Cheney, George Bush, or Donald Rumsfeld painted a picture of someone being tortured?

Book tour!

Lisa Derrick | Thursday September 1, 2011 10:05 pm 51
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 49

And most importantly is using art to expres his feelings about banks and thr art market, and by doing so has shown us all a very interesting , and chilling side of the police…Thank Alex and firepups for a great evening!

Presumptuous Insect | Thursday September 1, 2011 10:07 pm 52
In response to CTuttle @ 45

It’s perfection! I would hate to mess with it. :)

GeorgeJohnston | Thursday September 1, 2011 10:10 pm 53
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 7

Out of my price range but I want it!

chrispadem | Thursday September 1, 2011 10:55 pm 54

Apparently, the LAPD are working for Chase Bank. In reaction to this ridiculous investigation of the artist, let me quote that well-known ‘terrorist’, Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States and Author of the Declaration of Independence:

I observe an idea of establishing a branch bank of the United States in New Orleans. This institution is one of the most deadly hostility existing against the principles and form of our Constitution. The nation is at this time so strong and united in its sentiments that it cannot be shaken at this moment. But suppose a series of untoward events should occur sufficient to bring into doubt the competency of a republican government to meet a crisis of great danger, or to unhinge the confidence of the people in the public functionaries; an institution like this, penetrating by its branches every part of the union, acting by command and in phalanx may, in a critical moment, upset the government. I deem no government safe which is under the vassalage of any self-constituted authorities, or any other authority than that of the nation or its regular functionaries. What an obstruction could not this Bank of the United States, with al its branch banks, be in time of war! It might dictate to us the peace we should accept, or withdraw its aids. Ought we then to give further growth to an institution so powerful, so hostile?

–Letter to Albert Gallatin (13 December 1803) ME 10:437 : The Writings of Thomas Jefferson “Memorial Edition” (20 Vols., 1903-04) edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, Vol. 10, p. 437

Maddy | Thursday September 1, 2011 11:13 pm 55

Do you know what wetiko means
No sadly I don’t
Do they eat much?
Every motherfucking thing
Where are they
What do you do about it
Evidently nothing
That’s sad sadly
Not to worry
Why sadly
Sophia/Gaia is wakening
Is that good
Yes gladly

The point..we are approaching is the night of Kali and she will rip them to shreds because they think they can approach her but you never approach Kali on that dark night.

Think of it as sympathetic vibrations like a group of disparate women coming together and synching their menstrual cycles. We are way out of phase, unstable..monsters think they have a lock on our souls. What do they know about anything to do with creation, something they themselves cannot possess. They are fools who have already been defeated they just haven’t gotten the message yet.

ADC14 | Friday September 2, 2011 12:06 am 56

I do have a problem with his auctioning it on eBay, one of the greediest corporations on the face of the planet. I looked at the write up on the auction and was wee bit disgusted. How about donating it to a library or other PUBLIC place where it will be seen countless times and serve as a daily reminder of the banks’ evil doings? Oh, well, isn’t capitalism grand?

tongorad | Friday September 2, 2011 12:18 am 57

Thanks for sharing this fascinating story. I wonder what would have happened if the artist didn’t share his artistic intentions with the cops. “Put down your paint brushes and come out, we’ve got you surrounded.”

Citizen creates a painting of a bank on fire and a police investigation follows.
Banks commit systemic fraud that wrecks the world economy and they get bailed out at our expense.

northwestbynorth | Friday September 2, 2011 12:59 am 58

Oh, that’s right. Banks threaten. The People cower.

(Must remember. Must remember).

joelmael | Friday September 2, 2011 01:56 am 59
In response to ADC14 @ 56

” How about donating it…..”

Perhaps he likes to eat, pay the mortgage etc. like many of us who are not rich. He apparently works for a living. I hope he makes a million from it and I’ll bet he has already inspired many others. I can envision easels set up in front of every banksters place of ‘business’ all over the country. Painters of the world unite!

empiricalguy | Friday September 2, 2011 03:49 am 60

The responses to this street indicate a failure to understand the actual relationship that presently exists between the LAPD and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect. I’ve lived long enough to see where this is going.

Do any of you brother and sister FDLers remember COINTELPRO? Does anyone remember the history of the past fifty years? If not, too bad, we are doomed to repeat it.

Maybe we should get down to it BEFORE they start cutting us down this time.

TomThumb | Friday September 2, 2011 04:43 am 61

Painting is a crime.

A thought crime. For antiwar thoughtcrimes go here:

Dear Alex,

They would have ‘copped’ you even if the building had been on fire.

Tom Thumb

TomThumb | Friday September 2, 2011 04:54 am 62

In 2007-8, the Sanger, D. of the NYTimes was beating the war drums against Iran. I had a nightmare that we nuked Iran and that the world nuked us back, taking out NYC. I painted a picture of a large burning land mass with flames and smoke and took the painting and a petition against going to war with Iran, down to the local square. Within five minutes, Mr. Police was there and asked me if I (my painting, a small rubber band held together copy of John Hersey’s Hiroshima, a small coffee table with a petition and a guitar) planned to cause a disturbance of the peace. When I gave him my solemn and incredulous “No.” he left me alone. I did get some nice feedback from workers who were curious about my antiwar stance and a few brave ones did sign my petition against a war with Iran,… which went to then congressperson, Kirsten Gillibrand of NY-20th.

Thanks for reminding me that ART has Power.

Janet Rhodes | Friday September 2, 2011 07:04 am 63

I love this painting! It made someone at Chase uncomfortable–gee, that’s too bad.

JamesJoyce | Friday September 2, 2011 07:59 am 64

“Financial institutions, a greater threat to liberty than standing armies.” Seems the truth hurts especially when forewarned by the author of the “Declaration if Independence” and one author of the “Bill of Rights.” Seems the aristocracy is alive and well utilizing that corporate shell and monies extracted from the Republic to protect economic monopolies while lusting for endless profit. Not all that different from those slave owning interests which took a nation to Civil war to protect the exploitation of uncompensated labor. The slave. Protect the slave owners?

tremoluxman | Friday September 2, 2011 08:15 am 65

Anyone else get the feeling that Germany in the 30s is being re-run now in this country?

The Scarlet Pimpernel | Friday September 2, 2011 12:40 pm 66

The next time the police show up at your house and want to ask you ANYTHING, Alex, the next words out of your mouth should be, “Do you have a warrant for my arrest or to search my house? If not get your asses out of my house. If you do, stand right there while I call my lawyer and when he gets here, we can all proceed wherever you want to go.” It is a VERY bad idea to talk to ANY law enforcement types in these days unless you have a Rockefeller sized trust to appeal the Patriot Act’s unconstitutional provisions. EVERY law enforcement office, regardless of size, is just waiting to hit the PowerBall by arresting and convicting a “terrorist.” DHS pays them a FORTUNE in grant money for such things. And the DA’s office will have some eager-beaver lawyer wanting to make his bones on your and get his department a HUGE USDOJ grant for a terrorist conviction. And I am here to tell you that even what you think is the simplest, most innocent statement will be twisted and turned and used to convict you. It has happened and it will happen again!
BTW, the painting is really cool and I just LOVE the whole idea of the burning down the banks theme. Seems to me that there was a song about that. But that was in a time when we had civil liberties and the Supreme Court had the reins on cops.

DonWilliams | Saturday September 3, 2011 02:16 pm 67

If someone was creating a painting like this in front of an AIDS Hospice in West Hollywood, the comments here would be completely different.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post