Late Night FDL: LAPD Sends Out Cops over “Incendiary” Painting

Painting as crime? Seems freedom of expression in art is subject to police investigation if it makes “someone” uncomfortable.

Well, the LAPD got curious about plein-air painter Alex Schaefer’s work when he set up his easel outside a Chase Bank building in Van Nuys, the Valley portion of Los Angeles. Shaefer told me when I spoke with him this afternoon that over the hours as he painted away, passersby stopped and chatted with him, laughing, at times bemoaning their mortgage re-fi nightmares.

Then a pair of Los Angeles Police Department patrol officers rolled up on Schaefer, who teaches at Pasadena Art Center and has exhibited throughout the city, as he was putting the finishing touches on his work which showed the Chase building with its roof aflame. Seems “someone” had glimpsed the bearded artist at work and felt “threatened” according to Schaefer’s account to the Los Angeles Times. Threatened? By a painting!? Wow. [cont’d.]

Schaefer explained to the officers that his work was

intended to be a visual metaphor for the havoc that banking practices have caused to the economy.

As we were chatting, Schaefer told me that when he was starting out as a naive young artist he’d researched the New York art market and realized

The same players in the art market are manipulating Wall Street and the economy.

Schaefer, who does his banking at a small community bank, is working on a series of burning corporate bank building paintings which will be part of the Disaster Capitalism show at Inglewood’s Beacon Arts Building in February. Wanna bet there will be some undercover officers, possibly FBI in attendance, simply based on the show’s title? I’m gonna charge up my camera batteries for opening night now that the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it’s legal to video tape law enforcement!

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public place is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

After jotting down Schaefer’s information–minus his social security number which he declined to give–the cops left him to his easel and palette. Case closed. Time to catch some real criminals.

Schaefer had told the officers that a terrorist wouldn’t stand for hours in plain view painting his target, but apparently the LAPD disagreed and two days later a pair of plainclothes detectives paid him a visit at his apartment while he was working on another piece of art, asking

Do you know why we’re here?

Shaefer replied

Is it about the painting?

Schaefer told the Times they also asked:

Do you hate banks? Do you plan to do that to the bank?

What’s next? Investigating some kid who’s playing a cover of “Los Angeles is Burning” on the piano?

Schaefer showed the detectives some of his work and discussed the meaning behind them. And then they left. Which is good news.

Even better news: Schaefer is capitalizing on the police visits and subsequent press by auctioning off the piece on eBay. The irony would be if his piece ended up in a corporate collection. Plus, an attorney who read about the artist’s travails has offered his services pro bono if he has any further trouble–like when he tries to get through airport security.

Chase Burning, Alex Schaefer 2011. Used by artist’s permission