The art scene in Oklahoma City has been slowly taking off over the last several years. The immersive Factory Obscura exhibit just closed, after drawing in huge crowds. Plaza Walls has helped to legitimize the need for public art. Oklahoma Contemporary is working with locals and international artists to bring great things to the fairgrounds. And the annual Momentum art show will kick off this weekend at the Gold Dome, celebrating its 18th year of highlighting young artists.
Probably one of the most famous local painters is Desmond Mason. He played college hoops for OSU before joining the NBA, then came back home when the Hornets moved here, and then again when Clay Bennett stole acquired the Seattle Supersonics. After he retired, he began to pursue his other true passion, – art.
As we've previously discussed, much of his art seems to be very derivative of his influences. There's nothing wrong with being upfront about your inspirations. As Pablo Picasso apocryphally said, "Good artists copy while great artists steal." That's very appropriate in this circumstance, because Desmond has pilfered much from Picasso.
After doing paintings that were practically forgeries of Basquiat and the aforementioned Picasso, Desmond has apparently updated his influences for a recent art show in the Plaza District, which included a custom painted Mercedes G-Wagon:
Here's a tweet with a few more pics:
I actually dig the color composition on this $100,000 car that no one will ever actually drive now. But something looks really familiar here. It's not Basquiat this time, however.
No, the above is not a piece from Desmond Mason's new art show. It's actually from a bafflingly popular contemporary artist who goes by the name Mr. Brainwash. If you've ever seen the excellent 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, you're familiar with the eccentric artist Thierry Guetta who, while documenting the famous street artist Banksy, decided to create his own work. Mr. Brainwash is already incredibly derivative, borrowing his philosophy entirely from Andy Warhol's workshop style, where he pays other real artists to do the work for him, which is mostly focused on pop culture figures. Most of his work utilizes stencil techniques popularized by Banksy that have eventually been diluted and overused by every art school dropout graffiti artist who never learned how to do wild style lettering.
Essentially, Mr. Brainwash is already a copycat, so that's pretty weak to be imitating someone already doing unoriginal work. I couldn't find many pictures from the rest of Desmond's show, but here's a few:
He's still picking the pockets of Basquiat, of course (note the crowns, and the "HA HA HA" in the background of the first piece), but he's expanding his thievery to artists who are currently living and working. For comparison, here are a few more pieces from Mr. Brainwash:
These aren't as much of carbon copies as we've seen from Desmond, but it's obvious that there is a lot that has been conceptually been lifted from Mr. Brainwash, whose work is at least more honest and forthright about being an imitator.
I'm not an art critic, and so much of the work we see from local artists tends to be either paintings of horses and landscapes or photographs of rural gas stations, so I tend to side with anything that is contemporary. And it doesn't matter how much I may dislike someone's body of work, but if you can make money as a painter, musician, writer, or doing any kind of creative work in this year of our lord 2018, hats off to you. Respect the hustle.
But I gotta hold Desmond to a higher standard. He's arguably the most household name of a visual artist in Oklahoma, but that has more to do with his athletic accomplishments than actual art. Time and time again we've seen him crank out what are practically remakes of work by famous dead artists. Now we're seeing what amounts to 3rd-generation Xerox's of familiar and popular art, which is quite ironic since his current hashtag branding is the phrase #BeDifferent.
Obviously, there's nothing new and totally original. The entire history of art and literature and all of human culture is reinvention, homage, and outright theft. But if Desmond was a 2nd-year fine arts major instead of a successful athlete, these paintings would maybe make it on the walls at the Paseo's First Friday once or twice, and probably not to major events like Art Basel in Miami.