Copyright infringement, not-so-fine art, and the politics of lettuce

More than a decade ago, my dad commissioned a local artist to paint some twenty-foot tall cut-out statues to install on the edge of a ranch. The paintings were of several longtime employees of our farm. These were guys my dad had known well for years. His aim was to honor them with the paintings, as they were good employees, cheerful and diligent at their work.

Recently, a New York artist who grew up in this area, a fellow named Warren Chang, decided to recreate several of the statues in a painting of his own. As far as I can tell, he’s potentially profiting off the painting, as it seems to be in a hardbound coffee table book he has for sale. In addition, I think the painting is available in a gallery in Carmel. I’m not a lawyer, but I think that’s bad enough. To make matters worse, he used the statues in a very unflattering light, lazily politicizing them into a painting depicting “the plight of the migrant workers.” The dark, menacing sky, the faceless workers below the statues, the alteration of our lettuce brand Bunny to Funny…this is all Symbols 101 from Intro to Communication Theory.

Not too impressive. I grew up working in the fields. I know plenty of so-called migrant workers (really, that’s a term of the past; there’s a certain amount of seasonal labor that shifts north and south with the harvest, but most of the workers live in one place nowadays). For the most part, like anyone else, they enjoy their jobs, take pride in their skill, and earn an honest wage. That’s more than can be said about a lot of people.

3 thoughts on “Copyright infringement, not-so-fine art, and the politics of lettuce”

  1. If he is so concerned with the plight of migrant workers maybe he should have asked their permission before using their images…

    1. Yes. I was thinking more about it today. Another thing that really bothers me is that the guys depicted by the statues are real people. They have names, families, lives, stories, etc. They were in full approval (and pretty pleased) to have the original painting sculptures done of them. This other painter, however, essentially objectified them and de-personalized them when he made them a tool of the message of his painting. Eh…I think I’m wandering off into semiotic theory here.

  2. What bothers me more after reading that article is that he claims more than he is. His other work might be good, brilliant even, but this particular painting makes a mockery of what he said in the article. He absolutely copied the two figures, down to the lettuce is it? in the man’s hand, the way the original artist painted and shaded it. That’s stealing, like I would be stealing if I downloaded your books off the internet without paying for them. He’s stolen someone else’s idea and has passed it off as his own.

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