This month I want to talk about a couple of contemporary artists and fair use of photo reference.
I first became aware of Elizabeth Peyton’s work in early 2007 as I was preparing my Everything is Appropriated in a Post Modern World session for NAEA (National Art Education Association http://www.arteducators.org/olc/pub/NAEA/home/) and for a panel discussion by the same name at FATE (http://18.104.22.168/index.html)
I rather like many of her images, and I think they are important in the conversation I have with art students about how they use photo reference that they did not shoot. The controversy (if there is one) is that she often uses compositions directly from photo reference of pop icons as her painting inspiration. She has an amazing career as a contemporary American painter with a recent retrospective at the New Museum in New York City http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/400 and the cover of the February 09 Art in America. In the AiA article about her by Nadia Tscherny no controversy is alluded to in any way. While Ms Tscherny admits that Peyton collected photographs from magazines for pictorial inspiration, she goes on to say “The transformative power of her vision becomes especially apparent when a photographic source is compared to the painting it inspired.” W magazine commissioned Peyton to paint Michelle and Sasha Obama. Here are the links to W http://www.wmagazine.com/artdesign/2008/11/elizabeth_peyton and a site that compares the image to its photo reference and a famous photo of Coretta Scott King with Bernice King
While Elizabeth Peyton gets accolades for her adaptations, Shepard Fairey is definitely in the hot seat about his now famous graphic portraits of Obama used to benefit his Presidential campaign
This online article offers a well researched critique of Fairey before the current accusations http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm I love Fairey’s aesthetic, but it looks like I could end up with my art on his T-shirt if he decides he likes mine! This shows that there is no formula for using the photo reference of others. I think it is a question for each artist to address.
This is a YouTube link to hear a little from the artist directly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVY8PXr3z90 This is specifically about the Obama work - but not about the controversy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxhgIoXzMrQ&NR=1
If you are on Facebook and you care to comment on the Shepard Fairey controversy, visit this link to Portfolio Creative Staffing’s discussion board http://www.facebook.com/pages/manage/updates.php?id=38216235776&sent=1&e=0#/pages/Portfolio-Creative-Staffing/38216235776
go to their discussion board topic
I think it is so important for artists to carefully consider how they are using, borrowing and manipulating the images of others. After all, the artist being referenced could be us.
Independent Art and Education Consultant, TT Board member