I am a thief. The big con.

 "Good artists copy, great artists steal" -Picasso

On a floor in my studio, Millions of dollars of masterpieces (insert humor).

On a floor in my studio, Millions of dollars of masterpieces (insert humor).

"Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."  - Karl Paulnack


What does a restless mind, a skillful hand, a genius eye and a loose moral compass do in its free time ? He forges art masterpieces of the greatest painters of all time, naturally. Correction, he not only forges the art of the masters, he creates new pieces that he thinks these masters "might" have created had they still been alive. Now that is just sheer genius, like it or not.

I understand his mindset, somehow, minus the drive to forge signatures. Clearly my art is a bungling display of amateurism at best, and even that is pushing it, a lot. My art education has come through the studies of some of the living greats, on the internet of course, where else ?  Those that are alive, and teaching on the web, have taught me the embarrassing small amount that I know, and my obvious flounderings on paper and canvass are a clear representation of this adolescence. But, once in awhile, I can steal a true gem, a glimmer of genius, from a thief.  I am reminded of the well known saying in the art world, that "all great artists are thieves".  Beltracchi is no different, well, maybe he is, by many he is considered the greatest art forger of all time. He is alive and well, and allegedly there are still hundreds of his paintings silently, stealthily, fraudulently, circulating the art world in some of the greatest halls and homes of the most devoted art aficionado's of our age.  Beltracchi is that good, the fact that even the greatest art lovers are oblivious that they likely have one of his pieces in their private collection is a testament to his genius.

According to wikipedia Wolfgang Beltracchi is a German art forger and artist who has admitted to forging hundreds of paintings in an international art scam netting millions. Beltracchi, together with his wife Helene, sold forgeries of original works by famous artists, including Max Ernst, Heinrich Campendonk, Fernand Léger and Kees van Dongen. Though he was found guilty for forging 14 works of art that sold for a combined $45m (£28.6m), he claims to have faked hundreds of paintings of "about 50" artists.[2]

My studio, where i "steal" ideas from the greats, regularly.

My studio, where i "steal" ideas from the greats, regularly.

In 2011, after a 40-day trial, Beltracchi was found guilty and sentenced to six years in a German prison but he and his wife were granted a peculiar amount of latitude (I personally suspect it may be due to the fact that, if he did indeed forge hundreds of pieces, that exposing them would implode the entire art world). They were allowed to leave the prison during the day, only to return at night. He continued to paint, and still does to this day, but of course he now has to sign his own name to the commissioned reproductions he still does.  It is an amazing story, and an absolutely fascinating documentary, whether you are an artist, art fan, or not, you will enjoy his incredible story into his capacity to channel the great artists from the past.  Perhaps it is how he pulled it off that makes him an even greater artist in my opinion, he did not copy the old masterpieces, he created new ones that he thought these masters "might" have created had they still been alive. Now that is sheer genius if you ask me. Never underestimate where your inspiration may come from, sometimes they are thieves and scoundrels, but none the less great artists in their own right. Just be careful how far you take your inspirations, there is always that fine line.   "Good artists copy, great artists steal" -Picasso

"Beltracchi: The art of forgery" is one of my favorite documentaries of the last few years, whether you are an art fan, or not. You won't believe the lengths he reached to not only create new visionary pieces but how he fooled the art world for 40 years that will astound you, and, how they caught him in the end. This documentary proves to me yet again, that to improve my art skills from the gutters of the backstreets, but not only in art, but in every aspect of my life,  I am going to have to keep copying, stealing, borrowing, and reinventing. After all, is that not already what we all do everyday ? We have mentors we model ourselves after, their speech patterns, their ways of crafting their art and practice, their dress, their mannerisms and the like.  We take the good pieces, the pieces valuable to us, and we craft them into our own making them useful to us, so we can better express ourselves to the world. Free Beltracchi I say, free the thiefs ! 

You will find "Beltracchi: The art of forgery" in its full length on Netflix and many other places. You will not be disappointed. There are many secrets, gems, and twists in the documentary that are not portrayed here in the video below.  Below, is a brief 60 minutes tickler, as if you needed it by now.

- Shawn


Commissioned Piece : John Leslie "Wes" Montgomery

Stage 2 down, one final stage to go !

Stage 2, "Breaking in some new cover-alls. Getting that first light layer of paint on the right leg is pleasing."  . . . .  as  you will see below.  I included the Stage 1 photo at the bottom. Stage 2 is my favorite, this is where stuff really happens and the piece takes on some life. By stage 2, i feel i am about 80-90% done usually. But, for me, that last % is a killer.

This leads to Stage 3, cleaning it up so it looks exactly like Wes is the last, and hardest part.  Then it is getting the hands right, jacket etc.  There is plenty of work to do yet, you might not see it, but I do. Gosh, do I ever.  This 3rd stage is the one that wrecks me, it is the longest stage for me. The fussy stuff.  Stay tuned !

Hotel California, and a girl.

"There she stood in the doorway;

I heard the mission bell

And I was thinking to myself,

"This could be Heaven or this could be Hell"

Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way

There were voices down the corridor,

I thought I heard them say... "

Musical playlist for this piece:  The Eagles, "Greatest Hits 1971-75",  The Eagles, "Long Road out of Eden", The Eagles "Hotel California", Don Henley "Building the Perfect Beast" and of course, perfect for the story below, his masterpiece "End of the Innocence". 

The Story of "Hotel California, and a girl".  

Never underestimate the power of song.  If you are old enough, you intimately know the immediate emotional and time transcending effect of a song. Most of us can pick at least one song that staples a moment in time to a particular moment in our lives.  Maybe it is one's wedding day, a first date, the birth of a son or daughter or a traumatic ending of one's first true love. It has happened to us all.  For many, music puts an eternal stamp on a moment.

As best I recall, it was the hottest day in the history of mankind. It was the summer of 1977 and I was 10 years old.  My best friend lived across the street and it so happened that the prettiest girl in the whole world was his neighbor.  As luck would have it,  his sister was this lovely creature's best friend.  But, as fate would have it, just like in the movies, this angel would not give me the time of the day.  After all, I was just another boy who ran around the neighborhood doing impressive boy things like burning ants with a magnifying glass, jumping over the neighbor's garbage cans with my bike and making cool manly noises with a moist hand in my armpit.  As it turned out, I had the same horrible disease that every young boy had when it came to being noticed by the prettiest girl in the neighborhood.  

However, that day in the summer of 1977 was different, sort of.  

It had to be the hottest day in history, it sure felt that way. It was too hot to do anything but sit in the shade.  There was no air conditioning back then, only fans blowing air from room to room. And this particular day, it was even too hot to be inside. The only place that was comfortable that day was on my buddy's front porch.  It was concrete and it was in the shade so it was the coolest place to park your ass.  The four of us were sitting on the porch, my buddy, his sister and this lovely creature. It was too hot to talk, too hot to move. All we could muster was the rhythmic clicking of the backs of our heels against the concrete porch as we hung our legs off it, dangling above the parched garden below.  The only good thing about this day was being 10 years old with nothing better to do than hang out with your best buddy while the sound of 70's rock and roll streamed through the open windows behind us.  

Something happened that afternoon, that special something you cannot put a finger on. That something which left the day, the moment, perhaps even that entire summer of 77' burned into my existence.  For some reason which I cannot recall, my buddy and his sister went into the house, perhaps for water, who knows.  But I clearly remembered being alone on that porch with this lovely being, heels clicking away into the side of the porch.  And then as if like magic this song began to play from the radio inside the house, wafting gently through the open windows over the drone of the fans. 

"On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair

Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air

Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light

My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim

I had to stop for the night . . . "

There are those moments in one's life that one plays over and over again in the mind and memory, so many times that the story morphs into something different, something better. We have all done it. That story you have told over and over seems to get better and better each time you share it.  Perhaps it is a desire to relive the emotion of the memory, so into the story we interject champagne instead of beer or The Bellagio Hotel instead of the Holiday Inn. We tell the same story over and over and with each embellishment and upgrade the story seems to hold its excitement and once again a morsel of the exciting memory of long ago is triggered. We are once again young, happy, in love, at peace.  After a few decades they become those stories like those your grandfather used to tell about walking to school 5 miles in a blinding snowstorm, uphill both ways.  The story and memory of that day in the summer of '77 may be the same for me.  Whatever exactly happened that summer day, The Eagles song "Hotel California" and the attached memory will always remain a special part of me whether it has legs of truth or has merely morphed into that wonderful memory I can share here. For each of us there are whole summers of our lives that have been lost somewhere in the backs of our minds.  It is part of growing older.  I now know most of the fascinating myths and mysteries about the song Hotel California and I know every word. These things deepen the story and make me want to tell it again and again.  But more importantly, I have a great memory about the summer of '77 because of that song, because of that girl, and because I was a smitten 10 year old boy in the summer of '77 on a hot summer day with nothing better to do.   Even though no words were spoken during those 6 minutes and 33 seconds, they were the best 6:33 of the summer of '77 and they are the most clearly remembered.  As for that memory, I am grateful.  And as for the prettiest girl in the world who tolerated that 10 year old annoying sweaty silly boy, if even for one 6 minute song on that hot summer day, for her too I am grateful because a great memory and a great song have carried long into my life every once in awhile blessing me with 6 minutes of youth.  That is one of the great gifts of music, it makes us young again. 

There are these moments in one's life that are poignant and outlast all other memories. Quite often they are framed by a song framing a moment. 

This painting is for every girl or guy who at 10 years old had a prince or princess living on the other side of the street.  For me, this painting is for the girl that lived on my street,  the most beautiful girl in the world on that hot August day in the summer of 77'. The girl who gave me that wonderful moment, story and memory for the rest of my life.

"Last thing I remember, I was

Running for the door

I had to find the passage back

To the place I was before

"Relax, " said the night man,

"We are programmed to receive.

You can check-out any time you like,

But you can never leave "




3/11/17   Something strange happened today. I suppose it is a comment on many things in our lives . . . . how can one look at something so many times and yet, in a moment of differing perspective, it can take on such a different light.
Very early today, I had been moving some paintings around looking for a fresh blank canvass behind some older pieces I had completed long ago. I moved this one to the side, came back into the room a hour later, and it was alive, changed. The early morning sun had done some kind of magical streaking across it. It stopped me in my tracks. For a moment, I was thoughtless. What had happened to my work ? It was somehow . . . better, alive. Then it came to me, oh the tricks of light and shadow.

I have learned on this journey into the pigments that light and shadow are just about everything, offering depth, life, meaning, and of course, a story.
Below is a photo of the piece.  You can see what I saw, what magic light and shadows did to a finished piece, streaking across, changing it. 
Perhaps I never feel like a piece is done for these kinds of reasons, and Gardner said it best, "A painting is never finished - it simply stops in interesting places."

* you can SINGLE click on any of the paintings to resize and Light Box them.

Walk softly and carry a loaded brush: My first strokes -- with a Legend.

I believe it was the Fall of 2005 when I made the trip to the Mayan Riviera of Mexico. On a random afternoon I found myself walking through the marketplace in the downtown of Playa del Carmen when I stumbled across the studio of Jamie Fierro Duran, a complete stranger in every way, or so I thought. Something special was going to happen that day.  Little did I know at the time, I had come across one of the world's most revered artists. 
Born in the region of Temuco, Chile, in 1945 Jaime arrived in Mexico in 2002. Inés Garcia-Ramirez has best described him and his work,

"Undoubtedly Jaime Fierro´s practice of Plastic Arts inspires an energized painting geared towards a dynamic spectator.  Expressionism is an obligated streak of the artist, an ideological stance that also manifests for sake of the parameters of knowledge and experience. Thirst of the idealism that is projected in his painting of action, that arises from the desire to express his world through infinite and visceral emotions, which call the ravages of the human soul of the unprotected into question. 
It is from there, that all fundamental structure of forms are marked with a masterful tonality and defined with lines that give strength and character to his work.  His characters are illuminated by a faint onslaught of earth-tone layers. His brushstrokes offer space to a succession of forms in constant motion, expressed through a mixture of sensibility, passion and originality, constituting in this way an unmistakable seal of this unmatched artist who offers us his peculiar point of view, expressed in each canvas. With each streak, Jaime Fierro suggests, indicates, marks and punctuates a valid reality that remains pure and unforgettable. "

I doubt anyone could have molded truth regarding Jamie's work into better words.

  On a beautiful tropical afternoon, unknowing of what was about to occur, I was escorted by a lovely woman, who I assumed was his wife, to a solitary metal folding chair in a room with a large blank canvas perched upon an easel in the center of a rustic studio. Shortly thereafter, a diminutive gentle man entered the room from a side door, nodded a polite hello and stepped toward the canvas. It was quite obvious, something special was about to go down.

From Jamie's website:  link here to see and buy his art

From Jamie's website: link here to see and buy his art

   Jamie's craft first develops its delicious nondescript golden rusty base on the canvas and then it grows into an entity reaching out and grabbing you by the throat. There is something wrenching and primitive about his work that is undeniable. His work is striking, moving, impacting and most certainly dimensional. Having never seen a piece of true art develop from a blank canvas and evolve into a final piece that speaks, better yet -- reaches and screams through the pigments toward your soul, was an experience to say the least. Suddenly things started to make sense to me, on several levels. This process seemed remotely possible, I had dreams, perhaps better put -- urges from deep within -- this just seemed remotely possible.

From Jaime's website   Link to see and buy his art.

It is my best guess that there is a moment in everyone's life, if one is lucky or perhaps better said, receptive, when something smacks you upside the cranium and makes a proverbial dent in our waking consciousness -- rattling something free that has been stuck like the last aspirin in a pill bottle.  For me that very day, spending a few hours in a hard steel chair, sweat trickling down my back, watching a diminutive man lose himself in earth-toned pigments, something awakened. Recalling the frittered experiences I had as a school boy, much of the time secretly doodling in my work-study books, I suddenly felt a deep curiosity and excitement about what happened that warm afternoon. Perhaps, I thought, had I a morsel of this magic in me ? Do we all ? Was this what I was always searching for, that yearning from deep within that had no voice, no face, just a soft persistent prodding at the spirit ? Is this what we all feel at times when we are trying to find our way in life, our deep inner passion, the missing link?  Was this a piece of me struggling to be born, scratching through the programming we all undergo while inmates of "the system"? You know what I mean - go to school, follow the rules, goto college, study a solitary career, get a job, get married, have a family, follow more rules, pay your taxes, retire, and then wait for the end to come.  Is this perhaps something that is, in fact, in all of us , these things that are never borne for lack of opportunity or suppression ? From that day forward, even until the moment of these typed words, I have seen things in life differently -- people, writing, faces, photos, light, shadows, movement. How can that come from a 2 hour visual experience just observing a process ? 

There was not a lick of common verbal language between Jaime and myself that day and I certainly doubt he knew that he had triggered something in me.  I did not have the $ 5000 for the piece that his wife propositioned me for, later learning it was probably the deal of the decade had I only known who's presence I was sharing. I had witnessed something special --looking back, it marked a moment, a beginning.  I still remember that day like it was yesterday, and when someone will listen, I share that day and that moment. Although I do not have that painting, it has never left me in many ways -- I think about it all the time. That afternoon Jamie, his wife and I shared something, and parted with a smile and handshake. It was a firm handshake that I purposefully let linger, one that I made sure was partnered with a grateful locked gaze, one that for me said thank you deeper than he was ever likely to know.  Some moments in life truly mean something more, they leave a mark, a deep beautiful keloidal scar on our brief life.  This is the good stuff in life, a deep etching on the soul.

  It is because of Jaime that the art I have come to love, the paintings, the sculptures and the photographs, are the ones that I do not quite understand. What I mean is that I do not understand their draw to me, or maybe it is my draw to them. There is a lingering in the eyes, in the mind, these things of beauty that upon our departure make us turn around one final time to capture one more final glance, in the hopes of a more permanent engraving. There is that thing about them that makes them different from the others, that thing that makes one stop, and look harder, longer, stretching out time in the hopes of soaking their goodness deep within us forever more.  Personally, I do not know what makes them so, what moves me about a certain piece, but this is part of my journey I suppose, and those are stories for another day.

Thank you Jaime . . .  where ever you are my friend, I raise my brush to you in gratitude, one loaded with the finest of royal pigments, unearthed many ages ago and worthy of only the most revered Mayan Gods.

- Shawn


Below are 2 more photos and a link to Jamie Fierro Duran's amazing work. Things far more moving than my amateur photos here.  * Start by clicking here.

Albeit unfinished, here is the painting I saw evolve from nothing, on that special day. Me and Jamie. With deep gratitude Sir.