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:
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:
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.