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MHS Library | Studio Arts Year 11 (Units 1&2)

Art Appropriation

Appropriation is the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects. It is a strategy that has been used by artists for millennia, but took on new significance in mid-20th-century America and Britain with the rise of consumerism and the proliferation of popular images through mass media outlets from magazines to television.

Pop artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselman, and Roy Lichtenstein reproduced, juxtaposed, or repeated mundane, everyday images from popular culture—both absorbing and acting as a mirror for the ideas, interactions, needs, desires, and cultural elements of the times. As Warhol stated, “Pop artists did images that anyone walking down the street would recognize in a split second—comics, picnic tables, men’s pants, celebrities, refrigerators, Coke bottles.” Today, appropriating, remixing, and sampling images and media is common practice for visual, media, andperformance artists, yet such strategies continue to challenge traditional notions of originality and test the boundaries of what it means to be an artist.


Drowning Girl

Roy Lichtenstein
(American, 1923–1997)

1963. Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 67 5/8 x 66 3/4" (171.6 x 169.5 cm)

Roy Lichtenstein appropriated comic book imagery in many of his early paintings. The source for this work is “Run for Love!,” the melodramatic lead story in DC Comics’ Secret Love #83, from 1962. In the original illustration (shown below), the drowning girl’s boyfriend appears in the background, clinging to a capsized boat. Lichtenstein cropped the image dramatically, showing the girl alone, encircled by a threatening wave. He shortened the caption from “I don’t care if I have a cramp!” to the ambiguous “I don’t care!” and changed the boyfriend’s name she calls out from Mal to Brad.

A Tony Abruzzo panel from "Run For Love" in Secret Hearts, no. 83 (November 1962)

To create Drowning Girl, Roy Lichtenstein appropriated imagery from this Tony Abruzzo panel from “Run For Love” in Secret Hearts, no. 83 (November 1962).

Working by hand, Lichtenstein painstakingly imitated the mechanized process of commercial printing. First he transferred a sketch onto a canvas with the help of a projector. He then drew in black outlines and filled them with primary colors or with circles, simulating the Ben-day dots used in the mechanical reproduction of images. Explaining the appeal of comic books, Lichtenstein said, “I was very excited about, and interested in, the highly emotional content yet detached, impersonal handling of love, hate, war, etc. in these cartoon images.”

Source: MoMA

Seeking permission Michael Nelson Jagamara & Imants Tillers

In the 1980s, Imants Tillers appropriated Michael Nelson Jagamara's painting Five Dreamings 'without permission' in his work The Nine Shots. This act provoked intense discussion about Tillers' motivation as post-modernism and Australian indigenous art seemed to represent diametrically opposed cultural ideologies.

In 1999 Jagamara responded to Tillers by appropriating back his own motifs from Nine Shots in a series of paintings exhibited in the Third Asia Pacific Triennial and in 2001 Jagamara and Tillers agreed to make collaborative works in which each artist contributes layers to the painting, with Jagamara getting both the first and last say. 

Imants Tillers & Michael Nelson Jagamara, Fatherland, 2008, acrylic and gouache on 90 canvas boards, 228 x 356 cm overall.

Photo source

Copyright and Appropriation

Copyright and Appropriation Art: Recent Legal Controversies - William Landes and Anthony Hirschel.

Appropriation and Pop Art

Appropriation slideshow - MoMA Learning

Appropriation in Art - Craig Roland

Lin Onus

Lin Onus creates artworks using appropriation and a mixture of Aboriginal painting techniques as well as Western imagery to bring forth his position on Identity. Lin Onus was born in Melbourne in 1948. He was exposed from a young age to the art world as he worked in his father's arts and crafts shop. It wasn't until later in his life did he embrace his Aboriginal heritage by travelling to an Aborignal community where he met a man named Jack Wunuwun in Maningrida. Jack was concerned that there wasn't enough awareness or exposure to Indigenous art in the South and therefore adopted Lin as a son and began to teach him their culture and traditions. In his art Lin combines Western and Aboriginal imagery to play with stereotypes and art history. This technique is displayed in his piece 'Michael and I are just slipping down the pub for a minute' 1993
Lin Onus has appropriated from a few different sources in this image. Firstly the dog is created realistically - influenced by Western art, but the wave was originally from the Japanese artwork 'The Great Wave' by Hokusai in 1800. He has inlcuded tradiontal Aboriginal motifs over the dog and the stingray in which is surfs upon, also making reference to the popular Australian sport. He is combining different contexts surrounding art in order to express his own views on stereotyping and his Aborignal heritage but in a very light-hearted manner. 
Aboriginal art has developed through the years. Artists still appear to be using the techinques of the ancient Aboriginal art but the context is moving from culture and spritiuality to their fight to find their Identity in a Western dominant society.
Source: Indigenous investigation journal
Hokusai was a student of the ukiyo-e tradition, a style combining both wood-block prints and painting. At first, he learned just to use this method for the purpose of portraiture, but eventually adapted it to create scenes like The Great Wave. Like the typical Asian art tradition, many of his works focused on nature, the power of it, or its ability to dwarf human beings within its massive expanse. (Source)

Art appropriation in the 1980s

Everything is a Remix [Part 1] by Kirby Ferguson; Part 1: the song remains the same; 7.18mins; a sometimes humorous but also very interesting look at appropriation across multiple media forms;

Everything is a remix: part 2. Exploration of films.

Everything is a remix: part 4. System failure

Exploration of how copyright law is failing to keep up with the reality of creativity; 15.26mins; a sometimes humorous but also very interesting look at appropriation across multiple media forms.

Gordon Bennett

Gordon Bennett does not describe himself as an ‘appropriation artist’. But this approach is central to the way many people describe and analyse his work.‘Appropriation art’ is an established postmodernist strategy defined as:

The direct duplication, copying or incorporation of an image (painting, photography, etc) by another artist who represents it in a different context, thus completely altering its meaning and questioning notions of originality and authenticity.1

Often describing his own practice of borrowing images as ‘quoting’, Bennett re-contextualises existing images to challenge the viewer to question and see alternative perspectives. He draws on and samples from many artists and traditions to create a new language and a new way of reading these images. Perhaps a re-writing of history?

Bennett is interested in the way language and images construct identity and history, and the way this language controls and creates meaning. Appropriation for Bennett is a tool that enables him to open up and re-define stereotypes and bias. Fundamentally, he deconstructs history to question the ‘truth’ of the past.

Source: NGV

Possession Island

Gordon Bennett, Possession Island 1991

Gordon Bennett
born Australia 1955
Possession Island 1991
oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
(a–b) 162.0 x 260.0 cm (overall)
Museum of Sydney on the site of first Government House, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. 
Purchased with funds from the Foundation for the Historic Houses Trust, Museum of Sydney Appeal, 2007
© Courtesy of the artist
Photography: Xavier Lavictoire

Samuel Calvert and John Gilfillan, 1865

Samuel Calvert, engraver
English 1828–1913 
John Gilfillan (after)
English 1793–1864
Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British Crown AD 1770
wood engraving from the Illustrated Melbourne Post, December 25, 1865
State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Jackson Pollock, Blue poles 1952

Jackson Pollock
American 1912–1956
Blue poles 1952
also known as Number 11, 1952
oil, enamel, aluminium paint, glass on canvas
212.1 x 488.9 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 
Purchased 1973
© Jackson Pollock, 1952/ARS. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

I began to use illustrations out of old social studies and history textbooks by way of critical intervention in the seamless flow of images that I plainly saw was designed to reinforce the popular myths and ‘common sense’ perspective of an Australian colonial identity and ‘pop’ history. I had in mind to create fields of disturbance which would necessitate re-reading the image, and the mythology. Gordon Bennett 2

At art college Bennett discovered how Australian identity was built on a subjective ‘writing’ of history. He found this liberating. As one of the dispossessed within this biased history, he claims that his only tool to combat this bias is the art of mimicry. He uses familiar and recognisable images that are part of an Australian consciousness to explore and question the meaning of these images. Ian McLean makes parallels between the ‘mimicry’ in Bennett’s work and the well-known myth of Echo.3

Hera, wife of Zeus, condemned Echo with the punishment of no voice. She could only echo or mimic the voices of others. This loss of identity caused her disappearance. Unable to express herself, she was defeated by the voices of others. This story can help explain Bennett's use of existing images, including other artworks. Due to his Eurocentric education and upbringing, Bennett feels he has no ‘voice’, he therefore ‘quotes’ and ‘samples’. But unlike Echo Bennett is empowered by echoing the voice of the past. This enables a new discourse about history to emerge.

One of the most heroic and well-known images of Australia’s past is Captain Cook landing in Botany Bay in 1770. This event was re-enacted in many pageants and dramatisations during Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988, as a way of celebrating 200 years of Australian history. It is interesting to note that this same year was declared a period of mourning by Aboriginal people. The impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people and culture from this point was devastating.

It is no accident that Bennett uses this event to question the way history is written and interpreted. Samuel Calvert’s engraving, Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British Crown AD 1770, became the starting point for Bennett’s exploration. He quotes directly from this image, which is in fact a copy of a copy, as Samuel Calvert copied this image of Captain Cook landing in Botany Bay from a previous image by Gilfillan, which is now lost. It is appropriation of an image that has already been copied with an image that has become central in the pysche of an Australian history. It demonstrates Bennett’s understanding of the power of this image.

In Possession Island, 1991, Bennett meticulously photocopies and enlarges Calvert’s image so that it can be projected, cropped and copied onto the canvas. Calvert’s image becomes one of the layers of the painting. It is reproduced in flat, bold and black line work. Bennett lodges this image in layers of dots and slashes of red and yellow paint that refer to other artists and images. These act as ‘disturbances’. They physically prevent the viewer from seeing the image clearly, but psychologically encourage the viewer to delve into the image more deeply and question:

Where did these images come from that they’re relating back to in their minds in order to stage this re- enactment? It’s like images become part of the Australian unconscious. They’re buried, and this is a way of bringing them back into memory, but remembered in a different way from the way that I was taught, looking at them from a different angle and looking at how they work, where they came from initially, and how these images still support contemporary stereotypes, etc. Gordon Bennett 4

The only clearly defined part of Possession Island is the black skinned male figure in the centre. Bennett establishes him as the focal point. He is not disturbed by slashes of paint, but painted carefully and outlined by the precise grid behind him. Once again the letters A B C D feature as a potent symbol and complete the grid. The figure is dressed in tattered western clothing. Amidst the chaos and confusion of dots and slashes of colour he remains imprisoned by the grid, reduced to servitude. Reflecting the colours of the Aboriginal flag, splashes and drips of red, yellow and black paint across the surface of the painting quote the distinctive style of Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), which Bennett began to sample in 1990. Jackson Pollock is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His status as an artist has been elevated to hero with his contribution to Action Painting. Pollock was influenced by Navaho sand paintings, which were created on the ground. Inspired, Pollock removed the canvas from the easel and worked with it flat on the floor, using movement and gesture to flick and drip paint onto the canvas.

Quite apart from Pollock’s probable genuine interest in Navaho ground painting, we have the myth of the sophisticated and civilised ‘white’ artist who discovers something of value in the art of ‘primitive’ indigenes and brings it back to enrich the lives and cultivated sensibilities of ‘real’ artists and ‘ART’. Gordon Bennett 5

Bennett intentionally fuses this iconic style of ‘Western’ painting with the famous Aboriginal white dot painting of the Western Desert, reproducing the mix in Possession Island. Thousands of dots fill the canvas. The effect is that they dissolve into a mass of colour, dots and slashes of paint . The viewer is made to step back and allow the eyes to form the images. This is similar to the way aPointillist painting can only be seen effectively from a distance to bring the image into focus. Looking at the image from different viewpoints helps us to discover different perspectives.

There’s a sense of layering and historical layering as being a text; parts of it can be re- interpreted and the citation is working in a similar way to writing where you cite another author’s point of view. So if I use Pollock drips or a pastiche of Pollock, I’m referring to him and the work then takes on board some of the meaning of how his work was interpreted and his historical position. Gordon Bennett 6

Layering and re-defining – Creating new language

Gordon Bennett, Home d�cor (Algebra) Ocean 1998

Gordon Bennett
born Australia 1955
Home décor (Algebra) Ocean 1998
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
182.5 x 365.0 cm
Private collection, Melbourne
© Courtesy of the artist
Photography: Kenneth Pleban

Gordon Bennett, Notes to Basquiat (Jackson Pollock and his other), 2001

Gordon Bennett
born Australia 1955
Notes to Basquiat (Jackson Pollock and his other)2001
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
152.0 x 304.0 cm
Private Collection, Adelaide
© Courtesy of the artist
Photography: John O’Brien

Margaret Preston, Noah's Ark 1950

Margaret Preston
Australia 1875–1963, lived in Europe 1904–07, 1912–19
Noah’s Ark 1950
colour stencil, gouache on thin black card with gouache hand colouring
46.0 x 54.0 cm (image); 51.0 x 62.8 cm (sheet)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Mr W.G. Preston the artist's widower, 1963
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

Margaret Preston, Australian legend, number 5: End of the love story, Curing and flight of love c. 1957

Margaret Preston
Australia 1875–1963, lived in Europe 1904–07, 1912–19
Australian legend, number 5: End of the love story, Curing and flight of love c. 1957
colour woodcut on tan laid Japanese paper
29.6 x 29.1 cm (blockmark); 36.8 x 32.2 cm (sheet)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Mr W.G. Preston the artist's widower, 1963
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

Within the Home décor series Gordon Bennett escalates the sampling and quoting of other artists and works to develop apasticheHome Décor (Algebra) Ocean, 1998 synthesises the work of Piet Mondrian(1872–1944), Margaret Preston(1875–1963) and later in the series, Jean–Michel Basquiat(1960–1988) among others. Bennett also includes copies and samples of his own work, such as Possession Island and Big Romantic painting (The Apotheosis of Captain Cook) 1993, with other found images. These images are fused and overlapped in a dynamic composition underpinned by Mondrian-style grids. Every object is carefully and clearly painted, yet the images conceptually blur together as they intersect and interlace through the grid, across the canvas.

He is taking the micky  out of the linear notion of history – he has frayed, teased and textured that linear notion.Margo Neale 7

Bennett compels the viewer to engage with and question the values and ideas of the artists he has appropriated. Mondrian, a Dutch De Stijl artist and a Theosophist, used art to search ‘empirical’ truths and their source. Theosophy means ‘god wisdom’, the belief that everything living or dead is put together from basic blocks that lead towards consciousness.

I construct lines and colour combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness. Nature … inspires me, puts me, as with any painter, in an emotional state so that an urge comes about to make something, but I want to come as close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from that, until I reach the foundation (still just an external foundation!) of things… Piet Mondrian 8

For Mondrian the grid became the essence of all forms. Bennett’s grid formations seem to imprison the figures within the canvas. However, he offers more than one interpretation of the grid’s use, which is indicated by the sampling of works by Australian artist Margaret Preston . Preston envisioned the creation of an ‘Australian’ aesthetic. She was one of the first Australian artists to recognise the spiritual significance of Aboriginal art and the land. She attempted to create works that reflected a sense of national identity by incorporating Aboriginal motifs and colours in her work. Some of Preston’s appropriations however, demeaned and trivialised the way Aborigines were depicted and understood. Many Indigenous Australians saw this appropriation as further evidence of a justification of colonisation and a Eurocentric interpretation of Aboriginal culture.

Bennett confronts and questions the appropriateness of this borrowing. Physically, the kitschAboriginal motifs copied from Preston are trapped. The representation of Aborigines has been reduced to caricature. Bennett has layered these two distinctly different artists with his own work – work previously appropriated from yet another context. Mondrian cages the figures, Preston objectifies the figures; Bennett accommodates both to grasp the intangible and dissect these limited interpretations and stereotypes. He is in fact attempting to construct a new language.

Re-mixing and exchanging – A global perspective

The Notes to Basquiat series takes appropriation to yet another level within Bennett’s art practice. Bennett not only uses Basquiat images, but begins to paint in his style. Jean–Michel Basquiat, crowned a ‘black urban’ artist, was well known for his spontaneous and gestural paintings, which reflect the artist’s involvement in the graffiti culture of the United States. In a letter written to Basquiat after his death, Bennett writes:

To some, writing a letter to a person post humously may seem tacky and an attempt to gain some kind of attention, even ‘steal’ your ‘crown’. That is not my intention, I have my own experiences of being crowned in Australia, as an ‘Urban Aboriginal’ artist – underscored as that title is by racism and ‘primitivism’ – and I do not wear it well. My intention is in keeping with the integrity of my work in which appropriation and citation, sampling and remixing are an integral part, as are attempts to communicate a basic underlying humanity to the perception of ‘blackness’ in its philosophical and historical production within western cultural contexts. The works I have produced are ‘notes’, nothing more, to you and your work … Gordon Bennett 9

Comparisons between Basquiat and Bennett often focus on the artists’ similar backgrounds and experiences. Both artists have an affinity with Jazz, Rap and Hip Hop music. This influence is seen in the rhythmic movement of Bennett’s Notes to Basquiat series. Underlying Bennett’s admiration for Basquiat is the need to re- contextualise the issues that he has explored throughout his career as an artist. In Notes to Basquiat (Jackson Pollock and his other) 2001, Bennett confronts these issues within a global context. 

This canvas is loosely divided into three parts. The left explodes with images of 9/11, the devastatingly unforgettable attacks in the United States, including New York. These images, forever forged in our minds, are boldly depicted in Basquiat’s graffiti- like style. Basquiat’s signature ‘crown’ hovers beneath a tag-like image of fire. This image also translates to mean: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.  It is uttered by all good Muslims before a good deed. Buildings and planes collide. The central image is a reworking of an earlier painting completed at art college, The persistence of language, 1987, painted in the style of Basquiat. The persistence of language references the way language controls and defines how we understand ourselves and our world. To the right of the canvas, Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 is clearly referenced. 
This pastiche of style and image is like a D J (Disc Jockey) sampling and remixing different styles of music to create new expressions. Issues previously explored in an Australian context are now examined in an international context. Bennett uses 9/11 and its global impact three months after the event as the stage for his discourse on cultural identity. He depicts how pain transcends place and event to encompass a global consciousness. How ideas might be encountered from different places and events interest him. The inclusion of Pollock helps build these cross- connections.

It is no accident that Bennett uses Pollock’s Blue Poles: Number 11. The incorporation of Blue Poles calls to mind an era of great reform in Australian politics. The purchase of this artwork by the Whitlam Labor Government (1973–1975) was fraught with controversy. At the time the A$ 1.3 million purchase price was the highest ever paid for a piece of modern art within Australia and the U.S.  Most Australians were shocked and scandalised that public money was spent on something they neither appreciated nor understood. This purchase was indicative of a massive legislative reform program that had not been seen in Australian society for decades. The Whitlam Government abolished the last remnants of the White Australia policy, established diplomatic relations with China and advocated Aboriginal land rights, to name just a few of these changes. Bennett uses Blue Poles to recall this period of change. Pollock becomes a catalyst for transformation.

Source: National Gallery of Victoria