Artful Dodgy: Norfolk Artist Caught Forging Numerous Works

On Friday, Jan. 11, Rashidi Barrett – a Norfolk artist who’s developed an enthusiastic following in the city – opened his third solo show at the Artful Dodger. I went. A bunch of other people went. We checked out Barrett’s latest paintings and did the usual remarking on the coolness of his work. This was one of the ones that I thought was particularly rad:

The piece also jumped out at another visitor at the opening that Friday, in the sense that it looked strangely familiar. And so this person went home, got online and found this image, by a Brazilian artist named Matheus Lopes Castro:

“Swing Me Higher,” an illustration by Matheus Lopes Castro, who uses the pseudonym Mathiole.

Identical. Word soon reached Paul Somers, who curates art shows at the Dodger and has heavily promoted Barrett’s work in the area over the last two years (Somers also manages the “Still From Life” photo section of Old South High). Somers and others, who were stunned to learn that one of Barrett’s paintings appeared to have been copied from another artist, began to look at other paintings Barrett has shown in Harrisonburg. They soon found other apparent forgeries. Like this:

On the left, an illustration by Andrew Archer, an artist from New Zealand. On the right, a flyer for a previous show of Barrett’s at the Dodger; the image on the flyer was one of the paintings in that show

And this:

Top, a painting from a previous Barrett show at the Dodger; Bottom, illustrations by a Polish artist named Adrian Knopik (the bottom panel shows three separate Knopik illustrations placed side by side, as they appear in Barrett’s painting).

Somers has identified numerous paintings Barrett has shown in town as copies (some partial, some complete) of the work of at least six different artists – the three mentioned above, plus another Brazilian artist named Rubens LP, a Bulgarian artist named Kaloian Toshev, and an American who uses the pseudonym Joey-Zero. Of the many paintings Barrett has sold in Harrisonburg, Somers said at least three have been identified as copies of other artists’ work.

“He’s had our respect, our endorsement and our money, and that should have gone to someone who was making art legitimately,” said Somers.

Barrett, who also has performed in town multiple times as DJ Cornbread, did not respond to Old South High‘s request for comment. Since being confronted about the copied artwork, he has posted several statements on his website, including, as of Friday afternoon, one that reads in part [sic]:

I regretfully write and apologize to those that I have impacted through showing, displaying and selling of specific artwork that was partially or in whole not from my conception or excogitation. I have taken immediate actions to rectify this situation to the best of my abilities, inclusive of drafting letters of apology to art galleries affected, direct communication with originating artist and apprising them of specific information and events derived from this experience. Sincere apologies have also been extended to the “Art Community” for which has supported me and provided me with an opportunity to succeed.

Some of the forged paintings were also a part of a show Barrett exhibited in the summer of 2012 at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach. As of Friday, pictures of that show on the museum’s website included a portrait of Marilyn Monroe copied from a work by Rubens LP. (Update, Friday evening: the pictures of copied artwork on the museum’s website have been taken down.)

Lynda Bostrom, a local freelance artist and the gallery director at Larkin Arts, where Barrett also had a recent exhibit, offered the following perspective on the matter:

If someone were creating copies of my work to use for financial and reputation gain, I would be incredibly grateful for someone to come forward and contact me. Any business owner would want to know if someone were stealing from their business. Being a full time artist takes gallons of mental energy, thick skin, and logging insane hours on the clock. The group of artists who were copied have very obviously WORKED to create a body of work with a consistent visual language, not to mention the time spent promoting it – they should absolutely be aware of this plagiarism. Beyond that, knowledge of this situation will spread, the details will become convoluted and everyone will have opinions – but the copied artists will ultimately decide how to handle this.

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  1. Aaron Wallis says:

    Should have paid attention to that Smiths song Cemetery Gates about plagiarizing. I don’t live in VA anymore but I remember all the hipster kids going ga ga over Rashidi’s work. I always thought it was too Illustrative but assumed it was at least original. Well apparently not. Though I’m not a lawyer I don’t know if copying other artists work actually violates any laws, it’s just not creative.

  2. Nikki Leone says:

    I called it. As soon as I saw his work at Virginia MOCA. I didn’t understand why everyone liked his work. it was disconnected and far from coherent. It looked exactly like he flipped through a juxtapos magazine and said…”ooo! that looks cool, i’ll make that…and that and that.” and went art shopping. I know great artists and he is far from it. I understand inspired, or influenced, but this is neither of those.

  3. JFNafziger says:

    Nice of the AP and Norfolk papers to credit your blog with breaking this story. The News-Record, however, chose otherwise. Which while very lame, is also pretty funny, given the topic.

  4. Whitney Tolley says:

    It definitely IS in violation of the law, it’s infringing on another’s intellectual property. Just as trespassing on someone’s property is against the law, without an artist’s permission this is creative trespassing. I was surprised that Barrett’s apology didn’t try to allude to any Fair Use terms like “transformative”, in the way that Gregg Gillis from Girl Talk does when explaining his music sampling. In Barrett’s case, however, there is nothing transformative about this, and there are some judges (Gilbert O’Sullivan v. Biz Markie) that would view this as downright theft. That’s pretty heavy precedence, because it indicates that you might possibly be looking at both civil (trespassing) and criminal (theft) charges…. it just depends on the luck/bad luck of the judge you get. I’m not a lawyer either, but when it comes to Copyright Law, ignorance of the law won’t work as a defense and can cost A LOT of money.

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