"Good artists copy, great artists steal" -Picasso
"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.
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.