Artist Lynthia Edwards Fires Back at Deborah Roberts in Ongoing Copyright Dispute

Edwards alleges Roberts "used a barrage of social media posts and private messages to spread her false conspiracy theory."

Deborah Roberts. Photo by Mark Poucher. ©Deborah Roberts. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

The artist Lynthia Edwards has filed a counterclaim against artist Deborah Roberts for alleged defamation amid the latter’s heated lawsuit against her and her gallery, the Richard Beavers Gallery, alleging copyright infringement.

Edwards filed her counterclaim on March 11 seeking unspecified damages, the reimbursement of legal fees and an injunction to bar Roberts from further alleged defamation. It is the latest and most significant development in the case since Roberts filed her initial lawsuit in 2022.

In introducing her counterclaim, lawyers for Edwards wrote that she was raised in Alabama and that her art—mixed media works inspired by quilting and collage—is rooted in her upbringing as a Black girl in the South. Edwards’s lawyers revealed that, unbeknownst to her, Roberts was monitoring her art practice through a private investigator.

Roberts, in her earlier lawsuit, alleged that Edwards was enlisted by the Richard Beavers Gallery to copy her works. Edwards’s counterclaim is rooted in the assertion that Roberts “used a barrage of social media posts and private messages to spread her false conspiracy theory” and even deter the lesser-known artist from showing at Expo Chicago and the Park Avenue Armory Show.

his is a drawing of a person with an expressive face, marked by red blush and lipstick. The individual has two buns adorned with red bows, and the outfit seems to have a collar with red details, suggesting a theatrical or clown-like costume. The drawing is accompanied by a date, "1/3/13," and a signature, which might be "BLKRTS," similar to the first image. Additional text, "SCHIELE PG 13," could indicate a reference or inspiration source.

The counterclaim additionally provides samples of drawings Edwards made in 2013 after completing her master’s degree in art education.

This is a sketch of a person with a neutral facial expression, featuring distinctive eyes and hair styled with multiple buns. The individual is wearing a striped garment. The artwork is characterized by a combination of ink and possibly watercolor or markers. The image has a date written at the bottom right, "1/5/13," and a signature that might read "BLKRTS."

The counterclaim additionally provides samples of drawings Edwards made in 2013 after completing her master’s degree in art education.

Edwards’s lawyers said in her counterclaim that the two artists share common influences, including the Black collage artist Romare Bearden and the German Dada collage artist Hannah Höch, a point they previously made in a memorandum last year answering the lawsuit. Her lawyers said the works by the two artists only bear “superficial similarity.”

“Emboldened by the success of her big lie, Roberts has gone so far as to claim that Edwards has copied Roberts’s more recent use of black backgrounds in her works, which Roberts has said she began during COVID,” Edwards’s lawyers said. They pointed to a post made on Instagram by a previous gallery that represented Edwards, showing one of her collages with a black background as far back as 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.

Edwards’s counterclaim also adds a third-party defendant not party to Roberts’s initial lawsuit. That defendant is New York gallerist Stephen Friedman who represents Roberts and allegedly discussed with her in 2022 how her rival was “gaining ground in [her] market.” Friedman allegedly helped Roberts spread her “big lie.”

This is a screenshot of a social media post with a comment. The post describes an artist named Lynthia Edwards, mentioning her subjects are often young black girls and are inspired by historical encounters and the context of southern life. The comment below, from a user with a verified checkmark, criticizes the post, claiming it's a copy of Deborah Roberts' work and questions the originality of the artist's voice. Another user agrees, suggesting that the gallery should help the artist find their own voice instead of copying another artist's work.

Lynthia Edwards’s counterclaim included screenshots of allegedly defamatory comments.

The counterclaim additionally provides samples of drawings Edwards made in 2013 after completing her master’s degree in art education. The drawings depict Black youth with some elements of collage against solid backgrounds, though are not quite precisely the look seen in her later works contested by Roberts, such as the 2020 collage Pinky Swear Promise. A review of Roberts’s Instagram shows her posting in such a style as far back as 2015. And Edwards’s counterclaim admits Beavers admired her work and bought two pieces in 2018.

But, as the counterclaim focuses primarily on defamation, Edwards’s lawyers shared a transcript of a voicemail to Beavers from Roberts shortly after he began representing the artist.

“I see that you’re representing that girl in Pinson, Alabama who is ripping off my work. And I did get an attorney on her. We researched. She has no money. That’s the only reason I haven’t sued her,” Roberts allegedly said in the voicemail. “But I’m telling you right now: If she continues to show my work and do my work, I’m gonna make it public. Public. The New York Times. I don’t care what I have to do. I’m gonna squash this.”

When Beavers called Roberts back and pushed for the two artists to talk and resolve the matter, Roberts allegedly declined the offer and suggested her “White galleries” would go after him. The counterclaim includes a copy of text messages sent between Roberts and Jonathan Horrocks of the Stephen Friedman Gallery in which they seeming to mock Edwards for wearing jeans with holes. Horrocks promised her the dispute would soon end.

Then, in April 2022, a representative for Friedman’s gallery under his direction allegedly contacted David Zwirner Gallery and the website requesting that Edwards’s art be removed from the website. Zwirner’s gallery and the affiliated website complied. Roberts allegedly celebrated that as a “power move” in texts to Horrocks, then commented on it in a live video shared to her fans.

“Let them shame him,” Horrocks said of Beavers in a message to Roberts as online commenters allegedly began repeating her claim that her work had been copied.

This is a screenshot of a conversation from social media. One user suggests calling out the artist, while another asks for the artist's name. The first user responds that the work is on Richard Beavers Gallery's page, indicating where to find information about the artist in question.

Lynthia Edwards’s counterclaim included screenshots of allegedly defamatory comments.

And when Beavers took Edwards’s art to Expo Chicago that month, he was only permitted to show her work when efforts by Roberts’s gallery representative Susanne Vielmetter to have her work excluded were unsuccessful, the court documents show. “Too bad that creep gallery and his stooge are allowed to show at the @expochicago,” Roberts allegedly said using a fake account after she called on others to “call him out and the artist.”

Roberts allegedly referred to Edwards as a “hoe” and the “bitch who’s copying me” in public and private messages, before recruiting the celebrated artist Amy Sherald in her alleged defamation efforts.

“This is ridiculous,” Sherald commented in a post celebrating Edwards’s art on social medial. “It’s a straight up Deborah Roberts copy.”

Beavers was excluded from the art fair Untitled in Miami in 2022 after he previously participated in 2020 and 2021. His gallery was initially declined by Expo Chicago in 2023 because of the Roberts controversy but only admitted after ordered not to exhibit Edwards’s work. It was excluded from the Park Avenue Armory shows in 2022 and 2023 after intervention by Vielmetter.

“Roberts had no interest in taking action against Edwards when her works were selling in Mississippi and Georgia for a few hundred dollars each,” the counterclaim read. “But once they started selling for thousands of dollars each in New York, Roberts determined that she had to ‘squash this’—before Edwards became a threat to her own sales in the hundreds of thousands. That, for Deborah Roberts and her galleries, is the ‘business of art.’”

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