Sunday, February 15, 2009

Birds of a Feather Flock Together: Damien Hirst & Shepard Fairey / Cartrain & Baxter Orr

A collage by Cartrain involving Damien Hirst's 'For the Love of God'

The story involving Damien Hirst and his copyright infringement allegations against a 16 year old street artist-- known as Cartrain-- has taken a twist. Several influential UK artists have joined forces in order to defend Cartrain. In doing so they have targeted the contradictory nature of Hirst’s decision to seek legal action against Cartrain. After all, Damien Hirst has allegedly infringed on copyright himself-- in one case he settled out of court due to copyright infringement allegations.

The battle charge against Damien Hirst has been spearheaded by Jamie Reid -- widely known for creating the Sex Pistol‘s ‘God Save the Queen‘ cover art, Jimmy Cauty -- a former member of KLF, and Billy Childish -- co-founder and former member of the Stuckists. Reid, Cauty, and Childish have produced a series of skull images which mock copyright regulations in the UK while exploring the contradictions of Damien Hirst concerning copyright in general. A website, Red Rag to a Bull, has been created so that the trio and other artists can sell parodies involving artwork by Hirst and other YBAs.
The works sold on Red Rag to a Bull include a version of Jamie Reid's famous Sex Pistols poster. In the poster the head of the Queen has been replaced with a diamond skull. According to reports, the artists have stated that the money raised from selling the parodies will be used to handle the legal expenses of Cartrain or other artists who are “bullied” by Damien Hirst or other YBAs. The trio have also stated that if enough money is raised they will create a replica of Hirst’s ’For the Love of God’ to serve as the ultimate parody of Hirst‘s work and status. Parodies of Damien Hirst and other YBAs can be purchased at,

For those who don’t know about the Damien Hirst / Cartrain situation-- The Design and Artists Copyright Society, of which Damien Hirst is a member, contacted Cartrain after receiving direct instructions from Hirst. The society informed the young artist that he had broken the law by infringing upon Hirst’s copyright. Hirst’s demands were clear-- he demanded the original works and the halt of sales with the threat of legal action. Hirst also demanded the profit that Cartrain had made from selling his collages and prints. Four works were confiscated by DACS from Cartrain’s gallery on November 12th. Reports state that Cartrain only earned about £200 from sales of the work. Cartrain has stated that DACS informed him that Damien Hirst had personally ordered the action.

The situation between Damien Hirst and Cartrain in the UK is very similar to the situation between Shepard Fairey and Baxter Orr in the United States. The saying, "Birds of a feather..." comes to mind. Cartrain, like Orr, decided to make a parody of a widely known work of art by a world renowned artist-- in this case Damien Hirst -- in order to make a social comment about Hirst’s art as well as his status in the art world. Damien Hirst, like Shepard Fairey in the case of Baxter Orr, had his legal team send a cease-and-desist letter to Cartain. Again, 'birds of a feather flock together'.
That said, unlike the situation with Baxter Orr and Shepard Fairey-- Cartrain’s parodies and profit were seized by Damien Hirst's legal team. Some reports state that Cartrain’s prints were destroyed in the process. Needless to say, if this had occurred in the United States I would think that Cartrain’s Hirst parody would have been considered “fair use” due to the widely known work he parodied and the social comment he established concerning the global status of Damien Hirst within the art market.
A comparison of a poster by Shepard Fairey (left) next to a poster by Baxter Orr (right). Orr put a SARs protective mask over the famous Obey Giant image and titled it ‘Protect’. Fair Use? You be the judge.

The irony of recent events is that we have two widely known and successful artists-- Damien Hirst and Shepard Fairey --who have defended their use of images created by others-- but are quick to stamp out any work that parodies their world renowned images. One should note the contradictions and hypocrisy that is involved with these issues. Damien Hirst and Shepard Fairey have three things in common-- they have both settled out of court due to infringing on the copyright of others, they both have careers that are shadowed by copyright infringement allegations against them, and they have both threatened legal action against artists who have done something they would otherwise support had they been in their shoes, so to speak. Thus, it seems that the two are only interested in aspects of “fair use” and freedom of expression if they are the ones applying it. Fly, fly, fly.

Concerns over copyright and interpretations of “fair use” is a global issue. I find the views that people take on issues like this to be very interesting-- they are often loaded with contradictions. For example, people are quick to say “It is art!“ when a world renowned artist-- such as Damien Hirst or Shepard Fairey-- allegedly infringes on copyright. However, those same people are apt to say “it is a rip-off!” if a less known artist-- such as Cartrain or Baxter Orr-- utilizes the same avenue of creation. It begs the question-- Does this attitude concerning copyright, and who is right or wrong concerning parody or social comment, convey a new form of elitism as far as art appreciation is concerned?

Furthermore, does it seem that when it comes down to the line only works by successful artists are truly protected-- at least as far as public opinion is concerned? Is there a double standard in the art world concerning appropriation and freedom of expression? Are some birds allowed to fly while others are shot down before having the chance to spread their wings? What say you?

Links of Interest:
For the Love of God: Damien Hirst Threatens Young Artist with Legal Action -- Myartspace Blog

How Damien Hirst Disappointed us --- Guardian

God save the Damien Hirst rip-off industry! -- Independent UK

Artists flout copyright law to attack Damien Hirst -- Telegraph UK

Fair Use: Shepard Fairey and Baxter Orr

Shepard Fairey sues the Associated Press over photograph of Obama

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange
London Calling


Anonymous said...

When artists go big time they forget that they were once nobodies. Cheeky Hirst would be nothing without Charles Saatchi and that street artist would still be a dot on the art world radar if it was not for the whole Obama thing. Give it a year or two and his fanbase will return to angsty teens.

MiltonB said...

People are tired of all the Faireys and Hirsts. The media tries to tell us which movies are best, which songs are best, and which artwork is best and people are starting to not buy into it. If the media proclaims an artist the best ever LOOK OUT. Their are artists who are famous who never had mass media exposure. The ones who do have be financial support and someone is making their career for them by creating hype. Artist should not have to rely on media outlets to establish themselves. They should be able to do it without all the glam and staged entrances. These are rockstar artists for people who don't know any better.

Julia said...

i'm reading this post while listening to news of continuing economic meltdown and domestic violence. should i feel bad for damien hirst? personally, i liked the obama portrait and fairey thinking it was good politics; maybe it was just good marketing. and in the meantime, i shuttle between my cold garage studio and my warm office day job and i am grateful that i have an income. in fact my work as a psychoanalyst is to provide solace and support and a path for people traumatized by the insults inflicted by the prior administration. okay, no more ranting, off to the office.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that everytime someone is critical of Shepard Fairey someone like Julia will mention President Obama and rant about the Bush administration. If you want to go to that level I think you should think about what change is happening. Politicians are passing the most money ever spent in the world from one political action and none of the people had time to vote on it because Pelosi had to make a flight for her vacation. That is not change that is the norm. Obama has brought Chicago politics to the White House. His administration has had the most legal and ethic issues starting out than any other administration in the history of the US. You can't blame Bush for your mental problems.

Julia said...

most money ever spent in the world? lol. stand in line behind bush's war, the oil co's profits, jeff koons and damien hirst (ok, i'm making these up, but you get my point) since when is a FOX news watcher reading myartspace? c'mon anonymous, quit yer whining and give hope and change a chance! to paraphrase obama, i'll try to be an optimist, not a sap.

Balhatain said...

Keep on topic guys. The economic blame falls on so many shoulders that you could end up pointing fingers all day-- and never find a solution.

First Anon, Shepard Fairey can hold his own without being associated with Obama-- though I will say that the mainstream attention due to the Obama posters did help him into the spotlight. It has also put his work ethic into the spotlight.

That is a good question to focus on: Do you think that constant media exposure about an artist helps to change our taste in art, so to speak? For example, would people view the two lesser known artists-- Baxter Orr and Cartrain -- differently if they received as much press as Shepard Fairey and Damien Hirst. Does the media-- to a point -- dictate the artistic taste of the masses?

Julia said...

that's an interesting question, brian. i'm not sure how to answer it, except maybe there's a confluence of factors at work. At best, an artist with some spark of something new, some brilliance finds a willing home in a society ready for him/her. picasso? yes. van gogh? no, but later, yes. warhol? yes.
maybe some artists have great publicists, or are big society stories themselves and in that way we are being sold a bill of goods about what is great art.

maybe I should just go back to my studio and keep painting what I paint, since I can't paint any other way. I doubt that i'll ever have a publicist and i don't run in fancy society circles, so guess i'll be one of those dots on the art world. or as somebody said once 'we are all dust.'

Balhatain said...


I’m not so sure if one needs a publicist to gain recognition. It can help-- there is no doubt about that. But there are examples of artists who are widely successful today based on taking action into their own hands.

Take Banksy for example-- before he was acknowledged by the press he made sure to take advantage of the Internet by posting images of his work online. In fact, several of the artists represented by Lazarides got their start by utilizing the internet.

I think the ease of spreading information online is going to play a huge role in bringing new faces into the light, so to speak. So in that sense an artist can position himself or herself into the cultural spotlight with little effort.

That said, the mainstream media does seem to have a power grasp on art-- and everything else for that matter. Maybe the internet will change that as it has been doing in recent years? Yesterday one needed Saatchi or another major player to obtain validity in the market-- tomorrow it may be possible that all an artist needs is creative art, ideas, a website, and access to the internet in order to make the same impact.

Ilyn said...

For me copyright is a big issue. Remember that copyright is the ownership of an intellectual property within the limits prescribed by a particular nation's or international law. Copyright law provides that the owner of a property has the exclusive right to print, distribute, and copy the work, and permission must be obtained by anyone else to reuse the work in these ways.

NObey said...

I read the SuperTouch article and it shows how stupid Shepard Fairey's supporters are. No one is going to pay for that book just to make the connections that Fairey should have been able to make without it! If he is gong to support fair use he should accept that others are going to use his work and pay him homage in the same way he claims to pay homage to Rene Mederos and other minority artists he has stolen from without giving credit where credit is due! You get what you give and Fairey has taken a lot!

m said...

"Artist should not have to rely on media outlets to establish themselves."

Not sure what's meant exactly by "rely on" here but if the suggestion is that artists getting and seeking press is somehow a bad thing, I totally disagree.

Like any other *business*, selling art, whether someone else's or one's own, benefits from media exposure. People who may not hear of you otherwise may hear of you through wider press coverage, and, like it not, getting some press can give you more credibility in the eyes of some who may be able to help in an art career, such as gallery owners, etc.

Either way, why should artists shun or not seek press or be viewed in a negative light for being favored by media? I really don't get it. Should they deliberately sabatoge their careers so as to not meet some people's image of a sellout, or "rockstar artist", etc?

I don't think those standards would typically be applied to businesses in other non-art-reated industries. It's always the artists, the musicians, etc. that are thought of this way. Otherwise, it's kind of a given that getting press, especially positive press, is generally a good thing and advantagous for one's business or career.

Those who find the media's coverage empty and lacking in validity can choose to ignore that coverage or debate it, but denigrating artists simply because they are noticed by, or even darlings of, the press is in my opinion compltely unwarranted and unfair. Artists should be judged by their work not by their press.

Avery said...

Hirst is the pr stunt king of the art world.

This is obviously just another Hirst rouse to see his name in the headlines. It's been been a couple seasons since his big auction headlines.

You dolt's are just feeding his game.