Spain’s Most Established Pop Artist Faces Authorship Lawsuit

A former studio assistant of the 'Spanish Andy Warhol' claims she painted his canvases.

The artist Antonio de Felipe poses with a series of works focused on the Spanish brand of beer Mahou. Photo via @antoniodefelipe Instagram.
The artist Antonio de Felipe poses with a series of works focused on the Spanish brand of beer Mahou. Photo via @antoniodefelipe Instagram.

The artist Antonio de Felipe, arguably Spain’s most established contemporary Pop artist, is facing one of the most challenging moments of his career: Fumiko Negishi, a Japanese artist based in Spain, has launched a lawsuit claiming she has painted 221 canvases signed by De Felipe.

Negishi told El Español that she worked at De Felipe’s Madrid studio for over 10 years, from 2006 until this past February, when she received a letter of dismissal citing financial reasons.

“Everyday, except for an annual month of vacation, I painted the canvases at a workshop at the rear end of the studio, which is not accessible to clients,” she told El Español.

The artist and lawsuit plaintiff Fumiko Negishi. Photo via Veneciana Stevenson website.

The artist and plaintiff Fumiko Negishi. Photo via Veneciana Stevenson website.

Upon her dismissal, El Español reports, she felt that De Felipe did not respect her work or had any sympathy towards her situation, and she decided to tell her story.

She is not only telling her story to the Spanish media, but also to a judge. In the lawsuit, she demands that De Felipe “admits the truthful facts regarding the authorship of the paintings” and tells collectors and institutions that have purchased said works that Negishi is their author, or at least co-author.

She also demands that De Felipe rectify statements he made in media outlets claiming to be the sole author of his works, with no mention of Negishi’s contributions.

Meanwhile, 49-year-old De Felipe—best-known for his 1990s series of Pop sculptures using the motif of the Laughing Cow and known by some as “the Spanish Andy Warhol”—got in touch with El Español to deny the claims:

“[Negishi] has intervened in some areas of my paintings, but the intellectual authorship of the works is mine. Fumiko has not contributed anything to them,” De Felipe said, accusing Negishi of being disloyal and adding that she’s only “a studio assistant, like all artists have.”

Negishi, meanwhile, claims she executed the 221 paintings from scratch, based on sketches De Felipe had given to her. Negishi adds that those sketches were done by Photoshop, not by the artist’s hand, and that on occasions not even a sketch was provided as a starting point, only a photograph or an idea.

In her lawsuit, she claims that she “created the works and executed them until they were finished, freely and following her own artistic criteria, reflecting on them her singularity and artistic personality.” Except for the original sketches, and adding his signature to the finished works, “De Felipe did not touch those paintings,” Negishi states.

De Felipe is responding to the allegations saying that Negishi is merely kicking up a fuss because of her dismissal. “I just don’t have the money to pay her. The economic situation is what it is,” he said.

According to El Español, the IVAM museum of modern art in Valencia (where De Felipe hails from), bought a series by the artist in 2003 for a whopping €140,000. Meanwhile, according to El País, De Felipe’s works fetch an average price of €40,000, with portrait commissions costing about €15,000.

Negishi’s current lawsuit doesn’t include a monetary compensation, but could be followed up with a subsequent legal process where it would be demanded.

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