Sometimes You Just Have to Say Something

Cera 10, 1995, encaustic on panel, 18 x 18 inches. Private collection

This post comes under the category of "Sometimes You Just Have to Say Something." First let me show you some examples of work I made in 1995. They're from Cera, a series of 40 small to midsize paintings that I showed in New York, Atlanta and Boston over the subsequent couple of years, images of which I posted on early versions of my website (1998-2000 or so).

Cera 6, 1995, encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches. Private collection

Cera 20, 1995, encaustic on panel, 18 x 18 inches. Collection of the Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ

This one is newer: Occhio Blu, 2001, encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches. Private collection. The paintings was on the cover of Spirit Maps (Red Wheel/Weiser Books), published in 2001

Now, check out these paintings. I'm not making a big deal about it or suggesting that this was anything but a coincidence--inspiration comes in all kinds of ways, after all--but after the sixth person noticed it and commented on the similarity between my paintings and this artist's (the e-mail I got today included a link and the message, "Do these paintings look familiar?") I thought I'd at least give my earlier paintings some visibility. I'm not mentioning the artist's name or the gallery's website, because the point of this exercise is not to point fingers or piss off dealers; it's just to say: I did my series in 1995 and revisited it in 2001. I'm aware that someone is doing something very similar in 2007.

If this artist wasn't aware of my work before, perhaps she will be now. I wonder if people will send her images of my work, just as they have been sending me images of hers.


Jessie said...


Joanie San Chirico said...

That has happened often to me too. Sometimes I even know the person and just have to scratch my head and wonder why. Once, someone I didn't know got into an exhibit that I also had entered. She got in, I did not. She used the exact same arch shapes, colors and feel that I use in my Catacombs series. I entered with a different series. Did the jurors think her piece was mine? I'll never know.

Then, on the other hand, the other day I was searching public art images and found a Japanese artist's work in the Tokyo Airport that bore more than a casual resemblance to a public art commission I did for a library! I was flabbergasted. His work was done 4 years BEFORE mine.

Does it mean that it's all been done? is there nothing new in the world? is it an example of the subconscious archetype theory of Karl Jung?

Joanne Mattera said...

Well, we've both shown in the same gallery, so the plot thickens.

ben said...

Interesting. I'm sure it happens more than we expect, and many times is just coincidence. However, as someone whose work is published in one of (the only?) the primary works on encaustic painting, I think you're right to wonder if it's derived from your work.

The painting by the other artist on the left (the lighter one) is really very close to your work, and at a casual glance I would have presumed it to be yours. However, I think the blue one, while exhibiting some similarities, is not treading on your work. It seems to be doing things with light (e.g. it suggests backlighting from a center light source in the distance) that are not present in the blue painting of yours. Certainly it uses dots and semi-transparency, but at least to me, it's different. It could be inspired by your work, but that's not a problem.

s.l.butler said...

Once I made paintings that looked like someone else's--Sylvia Plimack Mangold. I had never seen her work until she was a juror for a grant I applied for. I looked her up to see if she might look sympathetically upon my work, and I was shocked and embarrassed by the similarity. But I was a lowly grad student-- her paintings were so
much better. Needless to say, I didn't get the funding.

Anonymous said...

I agree with ben. Quite different, although there is a slight resemblance. Not really worth mentioning though.

Vincent Romaniello said...

Another very interesting topic. I see what you are saying. I think one way to tell if an artist is knocking off work is to look at their work leading up to the new work. Recently I updated my statement artist and I talk about and show a few examples of work I made over the years that have similar tendencies. If one were to look over my earlier works closley, there can be no doubt that the progession is logical. I realize an artist may have a Eureka moment, but I still think anyone that has been around for a while will have work that makes sense with the new work.

Steven LaRose said...

Hah! I just finished my sleuthing. Lucky for me, you kept the original tags to the images and I ended up at Roy Boyd Gallery looking at Hi-dee's paintings. I just sent you an email with an attached image of the paintings I was showing in Chicago in 1994 (with Paul Klein). I used to love going to the Roy Boyd gallery then. . . how old is this stealer-of-chops?

Isn't imitation the greatest complement?

Joanne Mattera said...

Well, that's a positive spin, Stephen.

And I like Vince's comment, too: that it would be interesting to see how an artist's work develops over time. I couldn't find a personal website for this artist, so it's difficult to follow a trail. (Her NY gallery shows only current work.) And, to be honest, I've been too busy (painting, writing, traveling) to take the time to find a trail, let alone follow it. I was so stopped short by the current work that I went into a kind of catatonia.

Years ago, I did some drawings that had a cursive kind of script. Very assertive, kind of scribbling over a grid matrix that I'd penciled in. I was totally unaware of Cy Twombley's work then. But when I saw it, much as I loved my own drawings, I stopped doing that particular series and turned to something else.

Kate Beck said...

Coming up short upon visual impact certainly pushes the issue out of that gray-area, Joanne: it is your gut reaction, which to me is more than intellectualizing or evidential. But giving up the 'Twombley' marks?! I was reading Talk of the Town in The NY'er a few years ago and literally almost choked when I came across a story about Joseph Marioni
making huge blood red, poured
paintings. For one thing, he's one of those artists I have always admired but I also had just reached a major breakthrough in my own studio that involved a much-too similar process and much-too similar result. I checked it out and found his ghostly paintings at Peter Blum to again be very similar to 3 large canvases still wet in my studio! I was so personally embarrassed to think that probably every dealer I had exposed my 'new' work to considered me a fraud. But of course I am not -- my process evolved naturally from a path begun years ago -- as Vince suggests. I can't be looking behind my back and changing my aesthetic every time I confront something that has been done before -- I would never be able to paint. So it can be a fine line between forgery and theft-- which absolutely suck, especially if someone is making money and collecting credit out of YOUR work and ideas -- and influence, which to me has a purer ring to it. At least I hope so.(For the record, I use oil and Marioni does not -- phew!).

Chris Ashley said...

Joanne, while acknowledging some immediate (and perhaps superficial) similarities- for example, the two blue paintings, one your's and one the Mystery Artist's (I am ignoring Steve's sleuthing for the moment), are both dark blue with rings composed of dots- I'm going to take a contrary view (because I can't help myself): I actually don't see a lot in common at the deepest core of work and Mystery Artist. Admittedly, this is based on JPEGs, not the most reliable source, but I've looked at Mystery Artist's work at gallery sites, and I really think that there is a significant, fundamentally different approach to composition and space in each painting, and thus the possible meanings and intention of each work.

You have a relatively solid blue background. On it are arranged dots of different sizes in layers, The dots are for the most part fairly circular. There is a concentration of dots towards the center, and thinning out at the edges. Although at first glance the dots appear to be distributed allover, they are actually arranged in rings in a way that suggests the hint of a spiral- the dark blue dots in the lower right quadrant make this happen. This spiral forms and collapses as you look at it, which presents an interesting thing to think about- time. The composition is just random enough to not feel entirely composed, and just composed enough not to feel random. The relationship between the dots is how they fall into and out of this spiral ordering. The depicted space is relatively shallow, the dots of the same sizes and colors always feel more or less on the same plane. One dot on top of another does not make them connected as a more complex form beyond a single dot- where dots overlap feels like a temporary alignment in a shallow space based on point of view. When I look at your painting I feel that it is closer to my face. Because the space is quite shallow I don't feel I can enter your painting- instead, my relationship to this painting is that of a relationship to an iconic or mirroring object- it is a completely different psychological relationship to feel as if one's body interacts with a painting as a space to enter or an object to confront.

The space of Mystery Artist's blue painting is quite different. The first reason is quite obvious- as the background lightens toward the center there is that feeling of a tunnel towards light. The space is deep and centered. You dots spiral out to the edges, opening the image out from a more solid center; this other painting centers vision on the middle, very deeply. Some people find find that kind of tunneling oppressive, like excessive one point perspective, while others feel it focusing. This first difference, though, is really the difference between handling paint as material and letting its natural properties determine space through touch and arrangement (your approach), as opposed to pushing paint around in a way that puts it at the service of representation (Mystery Artists approach). This is a big difference- your work isn't representational, MA's is.

A second observation connected to this idea of representation is MA's use of dots. The sizes between the larger dots and the smaller dots feels more ordered with the intention of making a deeper space. Because the smaller dots are of different colors the do that whole advance and retreat thing, so the dots of same sizes to not feel like they're on the same plane. Where your painting is is about four planes (moving forward: dark blue dots, small pale blue dots, large cobalt dots, large ultramarine dots) I can't even count the number of layers or planes in MA's painting- the dots are at so many points in space that not are there too many planes to even count it just doesn't even matter- the kind of space here is about moving way back in deep.

The other huge difference is that of course you're using encaustic, and your treatment tends towards thicker layers of paint that have many colors embedded in it. I can't tell how even your surface is, but I suspect if you didn't heat it to even it out then it's actually quite low relief. Plus, the wax, being kind of matte and luminous, unites the elements of the painting.

MA's painting is made with Elmer's glue and ink. The dots are shiny and look almost like half circles- the surfaces are bubbly and bumpy. There is the support, painted as a background, and there are these shiny circular things sitting on top of the surface. There isn't the same integrated feeling your surfaces have- MA's surface feel more sculptural in this way.

I don't blame you for wondering about a connection here, but I think these differences are significant. The dot, the stripe, the monochrome, the splash, the drip- that's all in Rembrandt, Rubens, and Goya, too. Who did any of these first? A lot of painting shares the same vocabulary, but what's being said by each might be quite different. As I describe above, the feel of your painting and MA's is quite different, and I think the intention and meaning of each of you is perhaps best found in the very different kinds of spaces you're after.

As for MA's other paintings, they make me think of Steve Baris a bit, but I'm sure the work is about very different things.

I have no problem drawing with a scrawly line like Twombly- what I'm not going to do is take his imagery of genitals and words and make paintings about Rome and Leda and the Swan.

Anonymous said...

I've been in this boat too. That said, I get a totally different feeling from your work and the other work- esp the blue ones. I wouldn't worry too much about it. One of the things I've thought about as regards copy cats is that they copy because they have no ideas of their own and their work will stagnate. At times being copied has made me (who has more ideas than I'll use in this lifetime) move forward and away- it's always worked to my advantage.

Anonymous said...

Have you contacted the artist? If she is innocent, this is a fairly public outing and could be unnecessarily embarrassing.

Joanne Mattera said...

I have not contacted the artist. As I mentioned in one of my other responses, I googled and couldn't find a website--although I did mention it to her dealer, who brushed it off with a nonchalant response. Note that I did not mention this artist's name. But if you show publicly, your work is up for discussion.

Why are you anonymous?, by the way?

name said...

Good job!