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Wild Olive Art

Is your " original art" authentic ??

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Wild Olive Art

I have copied excerpts from a very interesting article by well know South African Artist John Smith . John is a well respected artist and a regular contributor to the South African Artist magazine.


With Chinese sweat shops and reproduced art being a recent topic of debate on the Community watch forum , I thought it pertinent to share these thoughts. As the art industry becomes flooded with cheap Chinese reproductions, and unscrupulous sellers passing off such works as their own original art , art buyers need to educate themselves as to what is and what is not " original " art !



It seems that this apparently well known and highly regarded artist, who had won prizes previously, had entered a painting in their gold medal competition and swept the awards. By some curious twist of fate, a restorer was called in and found that the prize-winning entry was not quite what it appeared to be and was in fact a print that had been over-painted.

This story made me think back to an incident in one of our local galleries. A supposedly competent artist entered a number of stunning works that were greatly admired and desired. It was later discovered that this artist had had some photos printed onto watercolour paper and then had manipulated them a bit and passed them off as originals and was asking some quite substantial prices for them. The work was withdrawn and I heard that some that were sold were recalled and the money returned to the rather shocked and disappointed customers.

Something a little different also occurred sometime back when I was invited to serve as a judge at a local group exhibition. There were three judges and things went along pretty smoothly till we came across a painting that was really very well painted but posed a big question. It was the subject matter that intrigued us all. It was a portrait of a woman who belonged to a tribe from a very remote part of Angola. It was so different that we were inclined to ask if this artist happened to be something of an explorer. We were told she certainly was not. When we saw this particular painting a red flag (or two) went up and we wondered about the origin and authenticity of the work.

Sometime later it emerged that the original photo had belonged to a professional photographer who had made a presentation of his work in that remote area. This ‘artist’ had been at the workshop/presentation and had ‘borrowed’ the photograph of the tribeswoman. She then claimed that she had had permission to use the photo but the photographer denied this and said he had in fact been searching for the picture which was highly prized by him. The photographer and his picture were reunited and the artist went off disqualified and in a huff, and believing that the judges were unfair and no doubt villains.

I find it so interesting that people who do not ‘play the game’ ultimately are in so many cases found out.

As I researched the current article the more examples of dishonesty in the visual arts came to light and I seemed to be only touching the tip of this iceberg.

Recently some of our more socially minded artists organised a wonderful charity exhibition where artists were asked to donate a painting/s which was to be sold online and the proceeds donated to a very good and needy cause. It attracted and still is attracting a great deal of interest and the paintings were and are being enthusiastically received.

After I’d sent out my e-mail enquiring about skulduggery in the visual arts, almost immediately information started coming back including an e-mail containing two pictures. One photo was of a painting in the very charity show I have just referred to, and one of a painting in a book by a well-known artist who visits our shores regularly. It was an exact copy from the book but she claimed it to be her own. In fact already sold as her own work. Ouch!


The painting was withdrawn and the artist’s name deleted from the list of entries and a proclamation included in the conditions of entry that no copies or infringement of copyright would be accepted. In future any cheating or dishonesty would lead to instant disqualification.

Very hard but necessary.

So far the evidence of bending the rules or cheating seems to implicate the ladies, but very far from it, and in fact by far the most serious cases seem to be perpetrated by men.

The most consistent and serious reports are of Giclee fraud. (Giclee for those who do not know is a hi-tech means of printing. The process can be used to print one single print or many. The process is so sophisticated that it can be used to print on a range of surfaces including watercolour paper or canvas).

The fraud seems to occur at two levels. One is where the artists print either their own photograph or one lifted from the internet (as in the case of the first artist mentioned in this article). These are then printed on watercolour paper or canvas and then overpainted with gouache, acrylic or oil and varnished to create additional texture and brush marks and sold as an original, sometimes at high prices.

I felt that it may prove interesting to go to the Internet and see what that produced, and so I Googled ‘gicle fraud’. I was overwhelmed with reports listed. Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself!

Now the question and certainly the point of view of some I have spoken to is that because of the internet, and the fact that so many images are in the public domain, they feel everything is, or should be, a free for all. There is even a lobby group wanting to dispense with copyright altogether. Crazy idea!

I’m afraid that perhaps my thinking is old fashioned, but because ‘things’ are out on the internet does not mean they are there for lazy artists or dishonest dealers to claim as their own. In many or even most cases those images or art-works belong to creative people who have ownership of them and are not there for fraudsters to use freely as their own. We are not talking about being inspired by ideas but literally stealing the images.

I find it abhorrent that many people who call themselves artists are no better than common crooks.


There is nothing creative about copying someone else’s self-expression or experiences and then by some facile trickery pretend that sufficient changes have been made to call it one’s own. How naïve. How insulting to anyone with a modicum of intelligence.


No we do not. We do however need to get rid of those who abuse the industry and bring it into disrepute, and right here is a prime case for naming and shaming. I believe that when people are found to cheat the spotlights needs to be turned way up and trained on them, and if people are crooks and steal artist’s intellectual property they must be pointed out. If artists cheat by having photos printed onto canvas and then doctoring them and passing them off as original paintings with inflated prices this also must be revealed immediately.

If prints are made and doctored this must be made very clear.

I feel if we can clean up our own front (and back) yards, the arts industry and our art will prosper. Like anything if we close our eyes to it things will only get worse.

Frankly fraud and cheating are not the answer. Education and exposing those who exploit and abuse art and the artists is the way forward.


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Info on this particular machine in Grahamstown is rather sketchy and vague, but I thought it worth posting here since it shows that 3D reproduction machines are available in South Africa!


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Rep Rap machines are available everywhere and are mostly home built. Once you have one you can also reproduce about 70 percent of the parts to make new ones.

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