When does art cross the line from homage into theft and deception?
That question has recently elicited an explosion of condemnation from the world of Asian Ball-Jointed Doll aficionados world-wide thanks the the actions of vector “artist”, Mijn Schatje (real name Marie Blanco Hendrickx). Schatje has made a name for herself over the past few years as a successful artist who makes a living based off the images she creates. Prints of her work retail for $1700 each, she’s made deals with Sony Playstation and Fornarina Clothing, and large-scale statues have been created based on her pictures.
However, what she has not disclosed to these clients and the buyers of her work is that every image in her work is stolen. The beautiful, delicate, elfin wide-eyed “child-like women” in her pictures for which she has drawn so much admiration from the art world are, in fact, traced directly from photographs of dolls; to be precise, BJDs. She has taken images from both owners and companies alike and used them as the basis for her artwork, which is sold in galleries and as iPod skins. This is unfair to the creators of the dolls, for one. These people are responsible for the sculpting, delicate painting, and painstaking photography of these labour-intensive creations. Unlike characters such as Barbie, these dolls are usually made by small teams of artists who work long hours to ensure they make a living. By taking advantage of their photography without permission or credit, Schatje profits from the artwork of others without offering anything in return.
Owner photographs are also significant. These dolls are expensive and designed to be customised; owners can (and do) spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on one doll, not to mention countless hours to alter and eventually photograph these moveable resin sculptures. Mijn Schatje has taken these photos largely without communication to the photographers. When she has done so, she has often asked to “draw” the dolls in question – not incorporate the photos themselves, as the comparison shots indicate. In one case, she requested permission to use a photo as a reference no less than 14 months after she had already used the photo in question for an image that had already been sold to Sony for a Playstation advert; it later transpired that she had stolen no fewer than 7 images from this ne photographer alone.
It is important to differentiate “reference” images and “stolen” images. The overlays show that Schatje did not create images based on specific photos (which in and of itself might be problematic), but actually used these photos directly in her work. Under the vector-based overpainting of her finished pieces, there is someone else’s property. This owner – with few exceptions – remains unnamed, and certainly unpaid. Several doll companies have already revealed their dismay that their works are being treated in such a manner, as well as private purchasers of these items.
It is not merely the dolls that have been traced, however; careful investigation by various people on the doll forum Den of Angels revealed that the majority of even the minor images in her work are traced; she has re-used several images repeatedly – sketchwork swallows and a pair of deer are taken from Dover clip art, a lotus blossom stolen from a New Age site, a tiger and a magnolia blossom taken from stock photography, several images stolen from Lisa Frank including hot-air balloons and a pink shoe, and a jellyfish used in her banner image which has been stolen from Scott Thom or Gilbert Williams. She has also made use of a Totoro image from Studio Gibli; it is in the background but instantly recognisable as Totoro. She has not requested permission from Studio Gibli or Disney (who own Totoro rights in the US) for the use of this image.
Lowbrow Art Gallery Kochxbos in Amsterdam is exhibiting/selling all of Mijn Schatje’s works at the moment, but having received a large number of emails from concerned BJD fans have stated that they are looking into the allegations.
For further details together with images of the original photos stolen and overlays showing how she has used others’ work and claimed it as her own, please see http://www.radiotrash.org/mijn/.