Problems with clones

June 6, 2008
Robert genn
These days artists are receiving emails like this: "We like to do business with you. We are skilled painters in Shenzhen, China. There are lots of talent painters working together in our studio. We can paint oil painting at every grade of different style, our price and service are very competitive, you can make more money than before if you buy oil paintings directly from us. The FOB prices can be $7 per copy for 20" x 24" and $12 for 24" x 36", if you are interested in, we can send some photos of our works to you, we also can paint exactly according to your any email pictures, it is very easy to do the international business now, looking forward to your reply."
As well as cheap copies of famous paintings for the world's supermarkets, what these chaps have in mind is that you go golfing while they make your stuff--at less cost than you might normally pay for a couple of golf balls. They'd like you to think it's the new reality of free trade. We've illustrated these guys at work in the current clickback.
I've seen a few fairly good copies of my own work, done without my permission. At first glance they look okay. At second glance the painters haven't figured out the order I do things, and they've not rendered well the deviations and mannerisms that make my work somewhat distinctive. As clever as these guys are, they've not lived my struggles, and they've put in unpleasant struggles of their own. Can others see this? People tell me they can recognize my work from across the room. Many other painters can say the same. How sophisticated does a collector have to be to spot a phony? How greedy does a dealer have to get to sell one? How stupid do artists have to be to let themselves be cloned?
As many know, I've worked long and hard to thwart the Chinese copyists. A couple of years ago we managed to have replicas of more than 1200 Western painters removed from Eastern clone-sites. The various levels of governments were of no help in this fight. Direct email appeals to the decency of the cloners worked, if only temporarily. These are talented, well-trained painters. Our efforts brought to mind some of the great principles: Put the devil to work in your work. Fill it with private magic. Use techniques and processes that are yours alone and tough to master. Do things that others can't.
Best regards,
PS: "We can do good job for you and save you time." (Chinese cloning website)
Esoterica: In China, the word "copyright" currently means the right to copy. We need to help the Chinese understand that world citizenship means more than a fast buck--it means respect, honour and integrity. There are more than 10,000 clone-painters in Shenzhen--all of them poorly paid. Artists need to reply to these Chinese emails and let it be known that they do not want their work cloned under any circumstances. Chinese artists need to be encouraged to be their own artists. Many have seen this light and have achieved international acclaim at prices that do not perpetuate poverty in either art or ethics.
If you would like to see selected, illustrated responses to the last letter, "The Early Morning Club," as well as photos of the Chinese sweatshop painters at work, please go to the current clickback.