Photographer Dennis Morris Threatens Elizabeth Peyton with Copyright Infringement Complaint

It's not the first time Morris has taken Peyton to task.

Elizabeth Peyton, John Lydon, Destroyed, 1994.
Elizabeth Peyton, John Lydon, Destroyed, 1994.

A 1994 drawing of punk singer John Lydon is at the center of a brewing battle between photographer Dennis Morris and New York artist Elizabeth Peyton.

Morris’s representatives tell the Art Newspaper that the photographer is considering a copyright infringement suit. John Lydon (Destroyed), an India ink drawing, shows the Sex Pistols front man in a white T shirt, his arms outstretched, against a dark background. Morris says it’s too close to a photograph he took of the singer in 1977.

The Peyton work was slated for auction at Sotheby’s London on February 11, but was withdrawn at the consignor’s request, the auctioneer tells the Art Newspaper. The auction house did go ahead with the sale of another Peyton drawing, John Lydon Reading the Daily Express, which sold for £11,250 ($16,323).

Elizabeth Peyton, <em>John Lydon Reading the Daily Express</em> (1994).  Photo: courtesy Sotheby's London.

Elizabeth Peyton, John Lydon Reading the Daily Express (1994).
Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s London.

Morris previously filed a copyright infringement complaint against Peyton over garments sold at Target stores that featured images of Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious. Peyton’s drawing closely mimics Morris’ photograph, showing Vicious with one arm outstretched and wearing a t-shirt featuring two cowboys engaged in what appears to be a sex act, their genitals touching. That case was settled out of court in May 2015.

Neither Morris nor Peyton’s New York gallery, Gladstone, immediately replied to a request for comment. A solo exhibition, “Live Forever: Elizabeth Peyton,” was organized by the New Museum in New York and traveled to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Whitechapel Gallery, London; and the Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Netherlands. In addition to immortalizing friends and loved ones, Peyton’s paintings and drawings often depict celebrities and musicians like Leonardo DiCaprio and David Bowie.

Morris’ career as a music photographer began when he was just sixteen, and reggae singer Bob Marley invited him along on tour. Morris has exhibited his work at venues from London to Tokyo, and published books of his photographs of Marley, the Sex Pistols, and Lydon’s later band, Public Image Limited, among other subjects.


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