Artist Shepard Fairey has been instrumental in bringing George Orwell’s influential and classic work of dystopian fiction Nineteen Eighty-Four to Imagine Entertainment and production company LBI. If greenlit, the artist could receive producer credit.
Last month, Fairey plead guilty to charges of criminal contempt of court for destroying documents and manufacturing evidence related to AP’s lawsuit against him. That suit dealt with the unlicensed appropriation of Mannie Garcia’s photograph of Barak Obama for the iconic “Hope” poster. Fairey now faces fines and jail time.
As part of the lawsuit settlement, which included an undisclosed sum, Fairey agreed to license any AP photos he may wish to use in future art work. Additionally, both the AP and Fairey will share the rights to create merchandise based on the image–and that means the profits from those items. Fairey recently voiced a parody of himself on an episode of The Simpson’s, “Exit Through the Kwik_E-Mart” playing a street artist who is actually a police informant.
First published in 1949, Orwell’s book has twice been given cinematic treatment, first in 1956 and then, appropriately enough, in 1984. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell coined terms like Big Brother, thought crime, New Speak, thought police and doublethink, now in common usage. And “Orwellian” has come to mean a totalitarian, secretive, manipulative, overbearing and controlling regime.
In America, Nineteen Eighty-Four is often invoked as a cautionary tale in order to cast the politicians of either or both parties in unfavorable light. The book however, makes the point that there is only one party.
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?
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