On November 11, 2013 I created this painting entitled: “Earl” as part of a series of paintings entitled “Hudson Warren Street” illustrating everyday life in Hudson, of which Earl certainly was a part. Described as Hudson New York’s “Outsider Artist” Earl Swanigan is often seen transporting his latest creations on a furniture dolly. As an artist, I felt my visual portrayal of life in the city would not be complete without him.
The use of one of his paintings in this work, rather than an appropriation of his work merely for the sake of profit, simply served as identification of him as the subject and detailed a stage in the career of the artist who created it. Also, his artwork comprised only a small percentage of my painting. For these reasons, I felt it could be considered fair use. I viewed it as sort of a tribute to the man that has managed to garner popularity and attention in the city of Hudson, his work being sought after by many visitors. About a year later at a joint art exhibit, I told Earl about the painting and showed him a picture of it on my cellphone. Rather than warn me not to display it or offer it for sale, he seemed amused by it, which I took as a positive response.
However, sadly, on October 26, 2015, a copyright infringement lawsuit was filed against me by Earl for the distribution of reproductions of this painting on greeting cards. Upon receiving his civil action summons, I immediately removed the work from the website offering greeting cards. I didn’t make a huge profit from reproductions of the work, only $8.50, which amount I offered to pay to Earl which I considered much more reasonable than the $200,000 he was seeking in damages. But he was unwilling to accept this, viewing it as an admission of guilt on my part. I never dreamed that my gesture of admiration could create such a controversy. From correspondence to the court, it became clear that Earl believed my motives to be an attempt to profit off of his celebrity status.
It is indeed unfortunate that such a situation has developed between two artists that work in and obviously share a love for the city of Hudson and I wish there were some way I could clear the air between us. Perhaps his reflection on these words may someday accomplish that.