Welcome To The Art Police
An artist's incendiary painting is his bank statement
"Standing before an easel on a Van Nuys sidewalk, Alex Schaefer dabbed paint onto a canvas.
"There you have it," he said. "Inflammatory art."
The 22-by-28-inch en plein air oil painting is certainly hot enough to inflame Los Angeles police.
Twice they've come to investigate why the 41-year-old Eagle Rock artist is painting an image of a bank building going up in flames.
Schaefer had barely added the orange-and-yellow depiction of fire shooting from the roof of a Chase Bank branch when police rolled up to the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sylvan Street on July 30.
"They told me that somebody had called and said they felt threatened by my painting," Schaefer said.
"They said they had to find out my intention. They asked if I was a terrorist and was I going to follow through and do what I was painting."
No, Schaefer said. He explained that the artwork was intended to be a visual metaphor for the havoc that banking practices have caused to the economy.
A terrorist certainly would not spend hours on a public sidewalk creating an oil painting of his intended target, he told the officers.
The police took down his name, address and telephone number on a form — Schaefer declined to provide his Social Security number — and departed.
"They were friendly. They weren't intimidating," he said. "I figured that when they left, they probably decided the episode was stupid and they'd just wad up the form and throw it away."
Wrong. On Tuesday, two more officers showed up at Schaefer's home. This time they were plainclothes detectives.
"One of them asked me, 'Do you hate banks? Do you plan to do that to the bank?' " Schaefer again explained what his painting symbolizes.
He is actually doing a series of paintings depicting banks ablaze, he said. His first one two months ago featured a Burbank Chase branch, and he has a Bank of America painting in progress, he said. He will feature other large banks' branches as well; he does his own banking at a small community bank, Schaefer said.
"The flames symbolize bringing the system down," he said. "Some might say that the banks are the terrorists."
Although police elsewhere have occasionally challenged photographers taking pictures of things like refineries and governmental buildings in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, questioning an artist slowly creating an oil painting "is a horribly Orwellian act," said Andrew McGregor, a photographer who sometimes displays his work alongside Schaefer's."
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