Wednesday, April 13, 2011

D*Face defaces the legacies of legitimate artists

Well that's a headline that could make a few peoples' blood boil.

On Saturday evening, D*Face had a show of his latest works at a gallery in Culver City, CA. From the school of Banksy and Shepard Fairey, D*Face is a British graffiti artist capitalizing on the hottest trends in art: street and skulls.

I've been going to gallery openings for the past six-seven months and have seen that THE fad is skulls. And boy do they sell. If you started in graffiti then you're hot as well. Paired together and you've got dynamite (sales wise).

As I looked at the work, I immediately thought: derivative. Why? I could identify in less than 5 seconds every artist that D*Face referenced: Lichtenstein, Haring, Hirst and Warhol. The swag (a balloon) looked like any Koons sculpture. In fact, he didn't reference. He damn near copied except for replacing faces with skulls.

The question of "What is art?" has been asked for centuries. Warhol's works were seen more as advertising than art. Now, he is considered a genius. I'd argue that regardless of your view on Warhol, he had a unique perspective. His take was different from anything seen before...he took everyday products and people and made you look at them differently. Did you ever look at a Campbell's soup can artfully? No, but you did after Warhol silk screened it. It took the ordinary (specifically the label design) and made it extraordinary.

In looking at D*Face's work, I didn't get the same feeling. Even Banksy's work is original, whether you like it or not. Fairey's work is less so and I'd say that D*Face and Mr. Brainwash are out right "tweakers"--they take someone else's idea and change it slightly so that they can claim it as their own. Would Lichtenstein have ever painted a woman kissing a skull? Nope. Is D*Face saying anything? Not as far as I can see other than: street! skulls! pay me a lot of money for it!

The people at the show couldn't name any of the artists being referenced, including an art magazine reporter. They knew they'd seen something like it before but had no idea. I had to tell the reporter which artists were being referenced (I'm sure he impressed his editors with my knowledge). I learned my art, artists, movements and periods diligently studying art history. On Saturday evening, I realized just how lucky I was to have the education that I've had (thanks Mom!) I was exposed to so much art that I just assume that everyone else is just as aware. To me, art is beauty. I often forget that to most people, it's a commodity.

I briefly met the artist but failed to ask him about his motivations or his references. He was too busy signing items for the people mobbing him. In their eyes, his signature is art too. Funny how many of those signatures are now being sold on eBay. Commodity indeed.

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