Joe Fresh T-Shirts Riff On Christopher Wool Word Paintings

joe-fresh-chris-wool
A graphic T-shirt available from Joe Fresh. Photo: Courtesy Joe Fresh.

The iconic style that artist Christopher Wool has honed over the years has resulted in a major recent Guggenheim retrospective and jaw-dropping prices in recent auction seasons—particularly the record $26.5 million realized at Christie’s New York this past November for Apocalypse Now, a quintessential Wool work that shouts in stark, black and white, stencil-syle letters across randomly broken lines: SELL THE HOUSE, SELL THE CAR, SELL THE KIDS.”

In a classic example of high-art infiltrating Pop culture, and, we might add, a mash-up that Warhol would have loved, similarly stylized musings in block lettering have cropped up on graphic T-shirts being sold by fashion retailer Joe Fresh, for $24 each. The Joe Fresh website is offering at least two of these Wool-ish stencil lettter messages, including “RUN/BABY/RUN,” evenly spread across three lines, and the more jumbled message, broken unevenly across five lines in block letters: “FRESH CATCH OF THE DAY.” A third, block-letter design that reads “JUST SAYIN,” looks less like a Wool design since the letters are solid black with no diagonal white stencil-lines through them.

Animal New York says Wool has been badly homaged with these t-shirts. According to Marina Galperina: “If we’re going to get literate about copyright legality of products derivative of an art work, yes, the black on white stencil lettering and breaks in words carried over to the next line is 100% Wool, but the spacing between the letters and the t-shirt’s lackluster branded text is a big, banal deviation. That $15 shirt is not fresh. Why, even? You can get real fake Christopher Wool t-shirts for $2.25 on eBay.” Indeed, a badly photographed T-shirt features the Apocalypse Now text.

And Henry Kaye at Art F City had this to say: “For those of you saying that it’s no big deal for Joe Fresh to use the style of Wool’s paintings, the Artist Rights Society (ARS)  feels differently. According to the ARS, if you have copyright on a work of art, even derivative works based upon the work are subject to copyright laws. Artistic copyright literally goes down to the brushstroke. Take for example Uniqlo’s current MoMA collaboration, called SPRZ NY, in which individual drips of a Jackson Pollock painting can and have been copyrighted.”


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