Art prize judges see no problem with photo copy

Last updated 05:00 08/08/2014
Parkin winner Douglas Stichbury
SEARCHING FOR A MEANING: Parkin Drawing Prize winner Douglas Stichbury with Observer, which won him $20,000.
Margaret Bourke-White photo
DOUBLE HUBBLE: Margaret Bourke-White's photograph of astronomer Edwin Hubble.

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It's either the sincerest form of flattery or, as Pablo Picasso once said: "Art is theft."

The Wellington artist who won a $20,000 drawing prize copied the image from a renowned 1930s photograph by Margaret Bourke-White of astronomer Edwin Hubble, whose name was given to the Hubble space telescope.

Douglas Stichbury, who this week won the 2014 Parkin Drawing Prize, said Observer was based on a composite of images from a newspaper archive. "I did copy parts, but I changed it as well . . . to make it how I wanted it to be, to make it more evocative."

Many famous artists had used historical images, which did not mean their work was not art. "It's a non-issue. This is a normal thing in the art world."

Judge Gregory O'Brien, who chose the winning drawing, said Stichbury's work was "profoundly" different from the Hubble photo, and his decision was not compromised.

Stichbury won because his drawing was a virtuoso piece, a masterclass in monochromatic rendering, he said. "I could go on at great length about other qualities in this drawing which are completely absent from the classic photo of Edwin Hubble."

Adam Art Gallery director and art historian Christina Barton said the drawing was definitely based on the Hubble photo, but it was common for artists to base work on images from history.

"The notion of originality in art during the past 20 or 30 years has been discarded," she said.

Photospace gallery owner James Gilberd said such translations were not necessarily a no-no.

However, as a photographer, he found it troubling that photographs were often considered by artists and designers as raw material for their own purposes, with little or no regard for the integrity or ownership of the original.

"In this case, considering Stichbury's art education, there are probably valid reasons for the method behind his winning artwork, but we don't get to hear them in the context of the award exhibition, as there are no artists' statements available in it."

Suite Gallery director David Alsop had no issues with the copy, saying the award was for Stichbury's "absolutely, astonishingly good drawing".

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- The Dominion Post


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