Fake it ’til you make it: Forgery for fun and profit

Posted in Blogs, Visual Art

BY ANNE BELOV, July 12, 2013

"A Street Scene in Venice" after John Singer Sargent, oil on panel by Anne Belov. (Photos courtesy of the artist)

“A Street Scene in Venice” after John Singer Sargent, oil on panel by Anne Belov. (Photos courtesy of the artists)

In just a few weeks, the third Forgeries @ Froggwell comes to Whidbey Island and you shouldn’t miss it.

But how did I, a respected art-school graduate, start copying famous paintings, and just what exactly is the point, you may well ask.

If you look back into the not so distant past of the 19th and early to mid-20th century training of young artists, you will find that much of artists’ education was copying the work of the masters.  Whether it was drawing from plaster casts or setting up in the Louvre in front of the “Mona Lisa,” art students learned by copying the work of the great artists that came before them. In fact, some museums still allow students to set up in the museums and paint directly from original paintings.

There is a lot to learn from this practice.  You learn about color and composition, you learn about just how a brush stroke was made, and you learn as much from doing it wrong as you do when you finally get it right.  You heard that right: you learn more from failing than you do from getting it right the first time.  But that’s the point of learning something new.  If you could already do it easily when you started, there wouldn’t be much point in it, would there?

Belov's "Arrangement in Black, White and Gray," takes it's inspiration from Whistler's mother.

Belov’s “Arrangement in Black, White and Gray” oil on panel spoofs James Abbott McNeil Whistler.

I did my first master copy back in about 1999 or early 2000, after seeing the John Singer Sargent Exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum.  His painting “A Street Scene in Venice” so blew me away that I said, “Damn, I wish I’d painted that!”  So, my companion said, “Well, why don’t you?” So, I did.

Since that fateful day, I’ve done at least 10 copies of master works, including several more Sargents, two Vermeers, and a couple of Whistlers, most of them as close to the original as I could get, but in several of them, changing the originals in subtle or not so subtle ways.

Which brings me to this year’s Forgeries @ Froggwell show.  In years past, we have done an anything-goes-copy-your-favorite-painting theme, and two years ago we celebrated the 98th anniversary of the 1913 New York Armory Show.  All the paintings in that show had to have been in the original show, which turned out to be a lot more diverse than I had previously believed. (See? I learned another new thing!)

"Farm To Market Road" is an oil on panel by  Rebecca Collins, in the style of Y. A, Jackson.

“Farm To Market Road” is an oil on panel by
Rebecca Collins, in the style of Y. A, Jackson.

This year the theme is From the School of… meaning that we are not copying actual existing paintings, but creating variations as if our target artist had maybe painted them. Rebecca Collins is painting Whidbey Island scenes as if Y. A. Jackson, one of the Group of Seven Painters, had made a trip from Canada to paint down here.  Hey, it could have happened.

One of my entries, “Arrangement in Black, White, and Gray” is a spoof on Whistler’s famous portrait of his mother.  I’m also doing a copy of a 16th century Raphael portrait in egg tempera, but using the face and hair of a young girl that I photographed at an event in Italy last year.

Part of the fun is for the artists to create a story and provenance for their painting, thus lending credence to the idea that just maybe, it was a real, unknown great art discovery.

Stranger things have happened.

The Third Forgeries @ Froggwell takes place on Aug. 1 to 4 at Froggwell Garden, 5508 Double Bluff Road in Freeland. Visit the Froggwell Blog here for directions, more information, or to sign up for our every once in a while newsletter, and preview images of works in the show.  Hope to see you there.

Anne Belov paints, writes, makes prints, and is the founder of The Institute for Contemporary Panda Satire. You can find her paintings at the Rob Schouten Gallery, her cartoons on The Panda Chronicles, and her new book here. She also writes regularly for The Whidbey Life Magazine, a free journal of art and culture on Whidbey Island.  Read her recent interview in the July Issue of The Write Life Magazine, an online publication. Her main regret in life is that there is no MacArthur Grant for Panda Satire.

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