Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Michael Crawford: The Ethical Appropriator

The appropriation of images by artists remains widespread and is still somewhat controversial. When I attended a gallery opening featuring paintings by New Yorker cartoonist Michael Crawford in Rhinebeck on July 18, appropriation and the doctrine of fair use were the last things on my mind. Yet one piece in the show got me thinking about appropriation in a new way. It was a novelty--at least in my experience--to see the appropriating artist seek and receive permission to use a specific image. It hardly sounds revolutionary, but as far ast I know this is not the sort of thing Roy Lichtenstein or Jeff Koons ever did. Yet when Michael Crawford does it, it feels right.

Rauschenberg Minus Nebraska is a watercolor and photo cutout by Crawford which modifies a published reproduction of a portrait of Robert Rauschenberg by Chuck Close. The artwork is signed Crawford and is annotated "(with permission from + apologies to Chuck Close)." Personally, I admire Chuck Close all the more for granting permission to appropriate his piece. It can't be easy to allow someone else, even an accomplished artist, to alter your work in a way in which you have little control and ultimately may not approve. In this case I think there are no losers. Mr. Crawford presents an interesting work while the integrity  and importance of Chuck Close's original conception is in no way compromised.

In some ways Mr. Crawford has it easy. The artist whose work he is appropriating is alive and open to new, creative ideas. Many foundations, on the other hand, concerned primarily with preserving an artist's legacy might not be so forthcoming. Also, there tends to be greater controversy when it is the more prominent artist appropriating from the more obscure one, often for enormous financial reward. Put another way, Chuck Close, as the high-end artist, can afford to be magnanimous.

Ultimately, Mr. Crawford's appropriation is clever without subverting Mr. Close's original intention. It comes across to me as something of an homage to Mr. Close and for that matter to Mr. Rauschenberg. Meanwhile, it clearly has personal meaning for Mr. Crawford and demonstrates his longtime penchant for turning maps into interesting imagery.

Michael Crawford (after Chuck Close), Rauschenberg Minus Nebraska

Michael Crawford's signature and annotation

This opening was the first opportunity I had to meet the artist and I didn't think to ask him about the appropriation. Instead I commented on some of his paintings of female nudes in rowboats. "You seem to have more fun boating than I do," was my wry observation. He chuckled politely, but I think that was the cartoonist in him. The painter in him was thinking I can't believe they let this guy in here. 

It might have been a more profitable use of my brief time with the artist to ask him how he thought his figurative work compared to that of, say, Pierre Bonnard, or whether Richard Diebenkorn's painting had influenced his ubiquitous map images. But that was not the way it went, people. One day if I somehow advance from writing an attempted blog to a real one I might start asking the proper questions. We'll see.

Michael Crawford, Citing Illinois "Dark History" of Place Name Plagiarism, GOP Candidates Will Boycott States March 24th Primary," Sketch for Early Sunday Morning, and Sketch for Lady of the Lake #4
Image added July 16, 2016

Michael Crawford, Citing Illinois "Dark History" of Place Name Plagiarism, GOP Candidates Will Boycott States March 24th Primary," ink and acrylic on coated paper, 40 x 30", NFS
Image added July 16, 2016

Michael Crawford, Sketch for Early Sunday Morning, pencil and acrylic on paper
Michael Crawford, Sketch for Lady of the Lake #4, acrylic and watercolor, 12 x 16", NFS
Do you see Excalibur?

Michael Crawford, Sketch for Timmermans, acrylic on wood, 28 x 28"
Image added July 16, 2016

Michael Crawford, Sketch for Early Sunday Morning, Sketch for Lady of the Lake #4, Sketch for Timmermans, High Summer, and Sketch for L #6

Michael Crawford, Sketch for Mom, watercolor and pencil, 11 x 14"
Image added July 16, 2016

Michael Crawford, Hudson Line #2, watercolor and pencil on timetable, limited edition archival prints available
Image added July 16, 2016

Michael Crawford, USA #26, oil on paper, and Self Portrait with a Hole in the Head, oil on palette

Michael Crawford, Self Portrait with a Hole in the Head, oil on palette, NFS

Michael Crawford, USA Dropcloth #4, NFS
Image added July 16, 2016

Note:  "Jennifer Baker and Michael Crawford Paintings and Prints" is now showing at the Atwater Gallery in Rhinebeck, NY. The show runs through August 13. Go catch it and tell them I sent you.

Michael Crawford's cartoons have shown up on this blog from time to time. In addition, the artist was photographed by Alen MacWeeney with his Self Portrait with a Hole in the Head for The New Yorker Cartoons of the Year 2014. Remember?

Michael Crawford the cartoonist and painter is not to be confused with Michael Crawford the "Phantom of the Opera" star, who also appears—just once, mind you—on this blog. I'm glad we cleared that up.

It is beyond my power—or desire—to survey the vast landscape of appropriation art, but while we're on the topic I thought you might like to see what Illustration Art blogger David Apatoff has to say about art appropriator Richard Prince. I hope I'm not giving away anything by telling you the post is called "Recent Developments in Parasitology."


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