NORFOLK, Va. - A Virginia artist has admitted to copying works by other artists from around the world and selling them at art shows.
Norfolk artist Rashidi Barrett posted an apology on his website and on Facebook over the weekend after a Harrisonburg blog, OldSouthHigh.com, broke the news. An artist attending the opening of Barrett's show at a Harrisonburg art gallery recognized one of his paintings as an identical copy of the work of Brazilian artist Matheus Lopes Castro of a child in a swing held aloft by a person's hand and alerted the gallery owner.
Since then, Artful Dodger gallery manager Paul Somers has identified about a dozen of Barrett's paintings that are matches to others' work.
Barrett, 38, has exhibited in shows across Virginia and other states. His work was displayed last summer at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach.
Barrett told The Virginian-Pilot ( http://bit.ly/YAISTk) he copied other pieces after getting a bad review of his work while feeling the pressure to produce pieces to pay his bills.
"I did copy some pieces," Barrett admitted to the newspaper. "I'm not thinking about fraudulent. I'm just thinking about paying my light bill."
Barrett, who also is known as DJ Cornbread in his work in music, said he considered it the same as "sampling" other artists' music in his own.
"That's the same philosophy I've had about painting," Barrett said.
Barrett said he's apologized to the artists he copied and that he plans to pay back galleries that have sold his paintings, which range from $80 to $1,000.
Image theft is more prominent in the pop surrealism, or Lowbrow, style Barrett adopted because that art scene engages extensively on the Internet. Lowbrow is an underground art movement that brings in imagery from graphic novels, punk music, tattoo and other subcultures.
Barrett's display at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art included a painting of Marilyn Monroe with her red lipstick seeming to gush from her mouth like blood. The image of Monroe was copied, too, from a work by Brazilian artist Ruben LP.
Alison Byrne, director of exhibitions and education at MOCA, said she and the museum's curator visited Barrett in his studio a year ago. They never imagined he had copied other artists.
"We were not only impressed with the work but with the way he talked about it."
Byrne has worked for museums for a decade and has never encountered blatant copying. She said it's rare at the museum level.
Jason Levesque, a nationally known Lowbrow artist who lives in Norfolk, said he's discovered his work plastered on club posters and on T-shirts sold in Mexico. In December, he spotted an image copied from a photograph he had posted online while visiting the Art Basel international art fair in Miami. Once informed, the gallery took down the work.
Levesque said Barrett had emailed him for advice on how to handle the scandal.
"I feel like he got in deep very quick and was under a tremendous amount of pressure to turn out work," said Levesque, who encouraged Barrett to come clean with a candid apology.
Some of those whose art Barrett ripped off also have come to his defense.
The Brazilian artist Castro wrote in an email to Barrett, "It's obvious that you made a mistake and it's laudable that you recognize it. I don't wanna be the reason for you to quit your career."
In an email to Somers, Andrew Archer, from New Zealand, wrote that the incident is "very disappointing for me and unfortunately for Rashidi also."
The recent show in which the copy was spotted was Barrett's third at Somers' Artful Dodger since 2011. Of the handful of Barrett's pieces sold at the shows, Somers said he has found four that resemble other artists' work.
Another Harrisonburg gallery, Larkin Arts, exhibited Barrett this month. That show was taken down after fraudulent works were discovered, gallery Director Lynda Bostrom said in an email. "We are still in discussion about how to handle this, as details are not complete," she wrote.
In his online apology, Barrett called his acts "indefensible." He told the newspaper he planned to move out of town and remake his life, but that he was done with art and music.
"It's incredibly embarrassing," Barrett said. "I can't say enough that I'm so sorry."
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com
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