Saturday, November 28, 2015

Kicked out of Sam Flax. The story of an Otter and the Gun.

When I got back from NYC several weeks ago, I checked on Facebook to see what sketch opportunities I should pursue in Orlando. One of the first images I saw was a photo of a person posing in front of a Sam Flax event poster that had a low resolution harshly cropped version of a sketch I did at the art store's grand opening celebration. The original article promoted the store and the artists. The image had been lifted off the internet without my consent or knowledge. Later I learned that the sketch ran as an animated banner on the art store commercial website, as fliers, ads in newspapers, call to artist forms and the list goes on. This has happened many times before, with the The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, The Galley at Avalon Island, the Downtown Arts District, others like Ivanhoe Village District and the Orlando Weekly  ultimately went on to do the right thing, by paying for the reproduction rights. I aired my frustration and annoyance on Facebook at this copyright infringement from a store I had shopped at for years.

What followed was a long thread of comments about similar cases and advice on the best course of action to take. It also however,  opened a dog eat dog divisiveness in Orlando's tiny arts community. Because of that, I regret making this issue public until it was resolved. Then a troll entered the fray. He was furious that I had expressed my frustration and annoyance publicly before I spoke with Sam Flax.  He used the thread to promote a recent mural he did and then cursed, and berated everyone who tried to reason with him. I thought he was joking so I toyed with him a bit, but he didn't have a sense of humor. His stance was basically shut up and draw, although he seemed to feel I was too old to draw. Such an angry, bitter person is fascinating for a moment, but then I got bored with his tirades and stopped reading. My apologies to anyone who tried to reason with him.

The troll is a member of the B-side Artists. Asaan 'Swamburger' Brooks who helped found the group asked me to call him since he didn't understand my frustration. We both discussed our viewpoints and although we didn't agree on all points, we both shared a mutual respect. I gained insights that will help me redirect my energies with future infringements. We all make mistakes, but what a person does when they realize their mistake tends to define them. Sam Flax and I ultimately talked on the phone. We negotiated some form of compensation for the reproduction rights and he told me the check was in the mail. A sketchbook manufacturer also wants me to do a demonstration at the store, so I respected Sam for putting the incident behind him, and moving forward. I was invited to a workshop on using stencils at the art store, so I couldn't resist the urge to go in and sketch now that the air was clearing. Danny Rock had given a similar workshop at Blast Studios and I learned quite a bit.

That morning I put on a black T shirt with a sea otter on it. Sea otters are constantly active, very curious, and rather playful. They were hunted to near extinction, and they were decimated by huge oil spills, but their population is making a slow recovery. Sea Otters have been known to playfully climb on tourists kayaks just to see the reactions. At Living Room Theater, actors start off each show by saying to each other, "Can l call you Otter?" with the response, "Sure, can I call you Bear?" I was Otter for the day.

The workshop was at 5pm which meant I had to drive through hellish rush hour traffic on Colonial Drive to get to the store. I arrived about 15 minutes late. I wasn't concerned though, since I mostly wanted to sketch the students at work. When I entered, an employee shouted, "aren't you Thorspecken?!" That was an odd welcome. "Yes." I replied. "Where is the workshop?" I asked. "Have you met?" he asked, gesturing to a man at the far end of the check out counter. I approached the man warily until I realized it must be Sam Flax, who I had never met. We shook hands, but I was distracted since I was late to start the sketch. He asked if I got his email that the check was in the mail. "Yes, thank you." The only person who understands my distraction as I hunt down a sketch is my wife who has had to live with it for years.

The workshop was upstairs. There were four students and a store employee with plenty of empty chairs to choose from. The instructor was wearing a T shirt with a handgun pointed towards the students. The total number of gun related deaths in the US in 2014 was 12,569 the death toll in 2015 is already 11,811. The US leads the world  in guns per capita with 270 million guns in the hands of citizens according to a 2007 survey. The gun explained that he prefers to paint on walls rather than show his work in galleries. He offered me supplies, but I didn't want to be a bother, I was already concerned since I had arrived late. "I have my own supplies." I told him. Then he froze and his eyes darkened.  "I'm alright." he said. I sat down. "No, I'm allllright." He said again. "Me too." I said pulling the smallest sketchbook out of my bag. "No, I have to ask you to leave." Great, here we go again, I thought. I needed to buy a little time to block in the sketch. "I thought that this was a free artist workshop. I don't have to sketch you if that is an issue." In New Mexico in an outdoor public market, an Indian woman got upset when she saw me sketching. She was concerned I would steal her soul if I sketched her. I put a large basket in her place, and sketched everyone else. I don't think that was the issue here."Is this my workshop?" he asked the employee.


The staff woman went downstairs to get "the manager." I threw quick pencil lines on the page. I had only minutes to work. The gun's face was etched with deep lines of anger. His hands were fists in his lap. "He is here for a reason." he said. Then he sat mute. Sam Flax came upstairs and escorted me to the store exit. "You have to be kidding me." I said to Sam. I get it however, Sam was stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was the guns workshop and if he wanted fewer students, he was entitled. Sam explained the the gun doesn't want me promoting his events. Best to leave him in his cage of anger, although I've admired and discussed his work in three separate articles in the past on AADW.  As I left, the female employee said to me," Thanks for bringing 'that' in here to a safe place." All I had brought in was my curiosity and I sketchbook. "You're welcome?" I asked. I posted the incomplete sketch just to let you see what I put on the page in the panic of the moment.

The next day, I returned to the art store to complete the sketch. All the empty seats remained. I figured that with the instructor gone, I could relax and study the room. My rough sketch had already established  where I should place the figures. Even before I had my sketchbook out of the bag, an employee came up the stairs and asked me what I was doing. "Oh, I'm just finishing up a sketch." I replied. "You can't be up here unsupervised." he replied. Ugh, he's just following orders, I thought. "All right, I'll just shoot a few photos and I'll get out of your hair." This is a rare case where the sketch had to be finished back in the studio. 

Did I have to walk into the lions den? Perhaps not, but at this point in my life I would prefer to try and understand someone who has a different opinion than my own, rather than avoid them. I want to listen and learn and of course sketch. Hatred needs to be stared in the face. When the KKK demonstrated in Maitland, I stood face to face with a grand poo-bah or dragon as he aimed his large mace can at my face. If he sprayed the mace he would be arrested. I've seen the look before. I don't get it. After I got kicked out of Sam Flax, there was an ocean of possibilities. I went to a Base Orlando, Body Painting Circus event where I was welcomed with open arms. Time to play and enjoy the uninterrupted sketching process again. Creativity among the chaos, I was back in my happy place. "Hey, I love you're otter shirt." a model shouted.


All artwork is for sale. Some originals available as well as limited edition prints. Commissions upon request. Please contact artist.

9 comments:

frankie messina said...

you are an Orlando institution, a gift to the city, and your honesty and intent is a trait I admire only second to your immense talent... paint on brother!!! paint on! ,frankie messina / Apartment E director!

Unknown said...

This is good.

Paul Castaneda said...

You are one of the things I like best about our cultural scene. Keep on keeping on!

D. Renee Wilson said...

It's such a shame that this happened. Your work is a boon to anyone in the arts community.
(And as an artist that spends her time in the sticks and prefers the company of actual otters over most, I REALLY love your shirt.)

Anonymous said...

who's this "gun" douche bag?

Thomas Thorspecken said...

Thanks Frankie and Paul! Renee, I love the positive vibe of your work, and I'm glad you appreciate the otter reference.

"The Gun" will remain unnamed because he does all want me promoting him or his work.

Anonymous said...

There are two sides to every story. this is definitely one side.

Keith Beasley said...

Good for you, I'm certainly happy that you have the integrity it takes to shadow this interaction you experienced....

As you keep 'the pistol' defamed, is the likeness accurate...? I'm an Orlando native and in the art community as a handler of fine art and artist as well.

Either way, a new fan, Keith Beasley....


Thomas Thorspecken said...

Keith, there is always a plausible deniability with any likeness. As a ways I did my best with the time I had.