Posts Tagged ‘Kewpies’

Update — Sep 25, 2013

More products! Tons of super cool buttons!

Update — Sep 5, 2013

And now… portrait mousepads! Scroll down to the bottom of the post for pictures!

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It’s been far, far too long since my last blog post, and rather than make up a bunch of lame excuses (blah, blah, blah, blah, exhibit, blah, blah) let’s get to some really cool news, shall we?

Robby (1024 x 1024)

Robby — macro photo on 12 x 12 panel

I recently closed a solo show at Pannikin Coffee & Tea in La Jolla, with over 70 pieces of art on display including large photos, small “landscapes”, videos, and 55 “portraits” of many of the characters that have been appearing in my art over the past 8 or 9 years. Originally, these portraits were intended to be nothing more than decoration: 12 x 12″ panels printed with a metallic finish on double thick mat board and mounted near the ceiling to look down upon gallery visitors while they took in the “real” art.

Surprise, surprise…

The portrait panels were a big hit! There were robots, animals, kewpies, bathing beauties, devils and monks; pretty much something for everyone! Where normally these characters — even in my largest photos — are printed to a scale not much larger than their original tiny toy-size, here were seen at 25 times normal! Features you’d never make out with the naked eye were blown up to life-size proportions giving each character real personality in a way that connected with visitors to the gallery.

This all got me thinking…

Why not create a line of cool Portrait products featuring many of the characters that appeared in the exhibit? Think of possibilities!

And so, I’ve very pleased to announce the first line of products featuring my portrait images! Beginning today you’ll find a wide selection of cool Portrait Watches and Portrait Mugs in my online Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares shop.

Watches come in a variety of different styles, allowing you to pick your favorite character and experiment with different styles and bands. The mugs (we have over 100!) come with three large images, or tiled with 24 repeating images all the way around.

Swing on over to the shop, or checkout the update to the store page on my web site.


Purple Buddha Watch Franken Stein Tiled

Mouse Mousepad

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Hot off the digital camera presses, I have a brand new photo and accompanying video to share! And since this piece has been in development for longer than I care to mention (though I will in a moment) I won’t waste any more time with a lot of buildup and hyperbole. So, here it is!

Sensible family planning is dreamt away to the 1950s by Esmeralda — Femme Fatale of Conservative Values

So, yes, I began this piece way back in late July (yes, July), and finally wrapped up work on the photo and video in early November. That’s over three months for those of you keeping score at home. The initial work of setting up the pieces and iterating over the composition took about a month, interrupted here and there by other ongoing projects and setting up my new shop on Zazzle. I shot the final set of photos and a couple of hundred frames of animation over Labor Day weekend. Then… my dad broke his hip, I ran into censorship problems on Zazzle, opened my Fair Use store, and finallygot back to the photo in mid October.

Early concept shot in July

To the right is an early concept shot built around a vintage record player, as if the woman in the background was placing records onto the turntable. This version also filled the space to the left and right of the album cover with pulp paperbacks. As you can see looking back at the final image, both concepts were abandoned as I moved towards the finished composition (but I’m sure the pulps will show up in future photos).

The record player proved too bulky and limiting for the composition I had in mind, so it was quickly replaced by stacks of vinyl records and alphabet blocks to form the basic stage. With the records in place I had room to build five connected scenes: one in the center, and two each to the left and right atop the surface of stacks of 45s. It then became a matter of establishing the action for each scene through the placement of various characters — a process that took a couple of weeks as I wandered my way through lots of combinations of characters and story concepts. Though, to be honest, I never truly understood what the photo was about until after it was actually complete! That’s how things sometimes work in my weirdly, disconnected, make-believe world.

Fresh out of the camera — unadjusted!

To the left is the final composition as it emerged from my camera, warts and all, prior to all the post-production image adjustments you see in the final image at the top of this post. As previously mentioned, I’d decided to eliminate the paperbacks, and instead wanted the entire background to have the same mauve-ishly textured background found on the album cover. Of course, I didn’t actually have any kind of mauve-ishly textured background material handy, so I hoped, uh, planned on cloning pieces of the album’s background behind all the other figures you see on the left and right. To make this task a little easier, I placed a couple of additional albums and sheets of pink poster board inside the light tent behind the stage construction. This actually proved to be a mistake for reasons I won’t get into, but art is forever a learning experience, and I was able to work around my blunder.

The final image was actually constructed from 6 separately shot photographs using the “focus stacking” technique I wrote about in a previous post. This time around each photo was shot at a different aperture setting so that the depth of field would vary from shot to shot. I then assembled the final image by masking the in-focus portions of each photo, and layering them all together in a big digital sandwich to create one image with everything in reasonably sharp focus.

The video is another of my simple pan’n’scan slideshow with the camera seeming to zoom around the staging as figures magically materialize into view. Oooooo! It’s a fun and simple technique that’s not nearly as tedious as true stop-motion animation. This time around I chose an instrumental piece of music from Tuatara that nicely captured the drama and tension I wished to convey in the photograph.


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I hope you enjoyed my first installment on Copyright Confusion and Fair Use, and the saga that has been unfolding as I attempt to make my artwork available on custom bags, mouse pads and other fun print-on-demand products sold by Zazzle.com. Thanks for coming back!

Today I’ll be continuing the story with lots of information about your rights as an artist. We’ll also talk about copyright and discuss what websites such as Zazzle can and can’t do with regard to your content. Yes, we’re going to toss around some legal stuff, but legal stuff is oh-so-much-more-fun when it revolves around pro golfers, prima donna rock stars, and raunch novelty rap acts, wouldn’t you agree?

So read on, and at the end of this article I’ll have pointers for how you can join in my crusade to support FAIR USE through a new blog, a Facebook page, and — yes! — through self-censored, “copyright friendly” versions of my Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares photos on everything from t-shirts to tote bags.

Oh yeah, disclaimer! I’m not a lawyer, neither professionally or in any amateur capacity. Still, I hope you find the information informative, enlightening, and entertaining.

Fair Use — when copyrights are not exclusive

What bothered me about Zazzle’s claim is that the appearance of an Elvis matchbook in my photo is protected by Fair Use, defined in the Copyright Act of 1976 as an exception to copyright law allowing the use of copyrighted material in transformative ways. It’s what allowed Duchamp to put a mustache on the Mona Lisa and Warhol to silk screen photographs of celebrities. Fair use has many tentacles in the art world, some valid (Barbie in a blender!), others not no much (the US Postal Service taking a photo of a sculpture and placing it on a stamp).

Oster Dive — Tom Forsythe, 1997

The Fair Use exception amounts to only 175 words in the law, but—oh!—how those words have been tested and applied to a wide variety of copyright disputes! I don’t mean for this post to be an in-depth debate on what constitutes fair use, so I’ll just focus on a few noted decisions from the courts to illustrate why my photos (and countless other works of art) satisfy the most prevalent arguments for Fair Use.

Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. 

Ugh! Legal stuff. ::: yawn ::: Boring!

No, wait, this is cool! In this landmark case the rap group 2 Live Crew was sued by the estate of Roy Orbison over a raunchy parody of Orbison’s song, “Oh, Pretty Woman.” The case went all the way to the Supreme Court with 2 Live Crew insisting that their version of the song was protected by Fair Use. The Court ruled in favor of the band and, in their summary judgement, had much to say about the transformative nature of Fair Use beyond the 175 words that define the law.

The issue, in the opinion of the Supreme Court, was whether the infringing work “merely supersedes” the original or, instead, “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning or message.”

Getting back to the Elvis matchbooks…

Given the Supreme Court’s opinion, had my art focused on only the matchbook, uploading to Zazzle the face of Elvis to be placed on my own set of commemorative plates, my use would clearly not be protected by Fair Use. I’d just be copying (i.e. “merely superseding”) the original, and I’d be in violation of the copyright held by Elvis Presley Enterprises. But that’s not what I did in my photo.

In Backstage Pass, the image of Elvis is merely one element within a complex conceptual narrative. In other words, quoting from the Stanford University Copyright and Fair Use Website in offering their interpretation of the Supreme Court’s ruling, “…the material has been used to help create something new.” There. Fair use.

Back to Zazzle

In the days following the rejection of products designed using Backstage Pass, I received dozens of additional rejection emails covering a total of 10 of my original photos—all judged by Zazzle’s content review team as having violated the copyrights of others.

The characters found to be in violation?

  • Elvis
  • The Beatles
  • Kewpies (yes, kewpies!)

I defy any website, court, law student, or scholar to determine that the placement of a pink kewpie head on the body of a plastic bride, with Leonardo Da Vinci and Grover Cleveland looking on, is not a valid example of fair use.

Kewpies play a particular and recurring role in my work, to the extent that individual kewpies (red, green, pink or yellow) add very specific symbolism and character to a given photograph. Likewise, the “Beatle” figures I use in many photos (actually, manufactured in Asia during the mid 1960’s and sold as “The Swingers Music Set”) are not intended to be a literal recasting of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Like the kewpies, the presence of these blue-suited figures is symbolic, contributing to the conceptual arc of a given photo through their facial expressions and placement within a given composition.

As before, the product designs I’d submitted were completely removed from my Zazzle account and I was left with no discourse but to write to Zazzle’s content review team for clarification. Over the course of several emails I presented a case for the consideration of Fair Use, citing copyright legislation, cornerstone papers on the transformative aspect of determining fair use, and pointing to case law that supports the rights of artists to use copyrighted material in the creation of new work. Unfortunately, in their brief replies, Zazzle ignored the legal arguments, falling back on their “acceptable content guides” and making statements such as:

Unfortunately, celebrity names and/or likeness (sic) may not be used for commercial resale on Zazzle.com without permission from the celebrity, their legal representative or their estate.


The issue is not with you creating the art of Elvis, the issue is Zazzle selling the artwork images. Zazzle has been contacted by Elvis Presley Enterprises and they have submitted a DMCA notice. In accordance to following the notice, Zazzle cannot carry any images of Elvis Presley.

Oh really? Unfortunately, that’s not what the law says, and Zazzle may, in fact, be suppressing the rights of artists who wish to post and sell products created under the protection of Fair Use. Or, perhaps, they’re simply making a business decision to err on the side of caution and choose to ignore Fair Use as a valid form of artistic expression (note how the issue is deflected in the second response above). I can’t say, as recent emails asking such questions have gone unanswered; as have requests for a copy of the takedown notice Zazzle claims to have received from Elvis Presley Enterprises in reaction to the posting of products containing my Backstage Pass photo.

In any case, let’s take a look at their claim that “celebrity names and/or likeness may not be used for commercial resale on Zazzle.com without permission….”

Hey! What about Elvis’ right to his own face!

It makes sense that a celebrity or public figure would have the right to control how their image is used and marketed. In fact, they do! Under the Lanham Act; a broad piece of legislation that protects trademarks and establishes the “right of publicity,” the use of an individual’s name or likeness is protected from being used in a manner that would imply some unwanted affiliation. In other words, in a world without the Lanham act businesses would be free to Photoshop anyone they liked— Lady Gaga! Peyton Manning! Oprah! —into their advertisements without consequence.

Taken alone, the Lanham Act would seem to support Zazzle’s claim that images of celebrities can’t be used without permission. Ah, but the law is complicated, and the “right of publicity” is not incontrovertible. In fact, it is superseded by… you guessed it, Fair Use!

Let’s take another look at some case law (and I promise it won’t be dry, boring, or filled with Latin terms).

ETW Corporation v. Jireh Publishing, Inc.

Sounds like two big businesses butting heads, doesn’t it? Well, in this case ETW Corporation is the exclusive licensing agent for golfing great Tiger Woods, who sued artist Rick Rush over a painting Rush had created following Woods’ victory in the 1997 Masters tournament.

Attorneys for Tiger Woods argued that Rush did not have the right to use the image of their client in his 1998 painting, The Masters of Augusta (left), claiming Woods’ “right of publicity” under the Lanham Act.

Bzzzzt! Wrong answer.

The judges in the case ruled that the right of publicity is limited by the principles of Fair Use, and—where Rush may have lost the case if his painting was a straightforward portrait of Tiger Woods—the work was transformative in the sense that the image of Woods had been incorporated into a much more complex composition that included other Masters victors and elements of design that put Woods likeness in historical context.

Victory, Fair Use!

So, given the precedence of the decision above, to what degree can Zazzle claim that designs incorporating a celebrity likeness (like Elvis on a matchbook cover) are unacceptable, without also considering the protections offered by Fair Use?

Is Elvis just a bully?

To read Zazzle’s response to my email inquiries, one might assume that their corporate hands were tied, locked in a legal full nelson by the ghost of Elvis Presley, and bound by the stone tablet orders of the DMCA to “not carry any images of Elvis!” Convenient though that belief may be, the law around Fair Use and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) counters such absolute restrictions. In fact, copyright holders must consider Fair Use before instructing a website to remove material from their site; there’s really no such thing as a blanket “take down all things Elvis” order.

I’m going to sneak in one last legal case, because it reinforces my argument and—yet again—is mildly entertaining. This one comes from YouTube and it’s known officially as Lenz v. Universal Music, a case where the plaintiff saw a 29 second video of her toddler jumping around to “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince removed from the video website. Lenz countered that the use of the song (distorted and in the background) was Fair Use. Though YouTube eventually reinstated the video, Lenz took Universal to court on the basis that they had incorrectly interpreted the DMCA by not considering Fair Use in issuing their takedown notice. Universal countered the counter by releasing a statement that their intent was to rid the internet of all user generated Prince-related content, simply as a matter of moral principle. This was a particularly bad idea and became an issue in the suit, as Lenz argued that Universal was abusing the DMCA by issuing blanket takedown notices rather than considering alleged infringements on a case-by-case basis. Lenz won her case, and the court ruled that copyright holders must consider Fair Use before requesting that a website remove material uploaded by their users.

The DMCA actually protects websites such as Zazzle from liability when files posted to their servers are found to infringe on copyrighted material. True! It’s “safe harbor” legislation that takes legal responsibility off the shoulders of the middle man (in this case, Zazzle) and moves most of the liability and burden of enforcement to the uploader and copyright holder—provided that the middle man follow a few very simple procedures:

  1. Notify users when their material has been down.

We took down your file because
we’ve been told it infringes on someone 
else’s copyright.

  1. Provide users with an opportunity to challenge the removal of materials.

If you think we made a mistake,
here’s how to contact us with your side of the story

  1. The user can then send in a counter-notice stating why they believe their material does not infringe on another copyright.

My image is protected by Fair Use under the Copyright Act of 1976.

  1. At this point, the website must promptly notify the copyright holder that their copyright is being challenged.

Hey Elvis! One of our users is challenging your claim
that his image violates your copyright.
Here’s what he has to say.

  1. The copyright holder then has 14 days to file suit against the user who posted the disputed material.

Sue! Sue! Sue! Or…

If the copyright holder chooses not to file suit (perhaps agreeing that the use is fair, or simply not wanting to take the matter to court), the website is required to restore the materials that had been removed from their site.

That doesn’t seem so hard, does it? In fact, it’s exactly what other sites do (YouTube, for example, which provides a convenient online dispute form) to fairly manage disagreements between copyright claimants and the users who upload files.

So, no, Elvis is not a bully. I simply question whether he (or The Beatles, or all those adorable kewpies) is being included in the conversion.

Tap, tap, tap… Hello? Is this thing on?

Let’s take a look at how—when it came to Elvis, kewpies, and The Beatles—Zazzle implemented the copyright conflict process outlined by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:

  1. Notification  Check!
  2. Challenge  Check!
  3. Counter  Check!
  4. Promptly… notify… the copyright…  Oh, never mind.

Who knows? At step three I made my claim for Fair Use, and rather than see the process continue to some conclusion that would involve my dispute being provided to Elvis Presley Enterprises, I was told by a representative of Zazzle that there was nothing that they could do; hiding, effectively, behind a very limited interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This is not the way the DMCA is supposed to work and it is certainly not fair to artists and designers who have legitimate claims to publish and profit from the art they have created.

Furthermore, for the two dozen or so product designs that were taken down, Zazzle has followed the first three steps of the dispute process in only one case. Though I have responded to every notification with an email requesting additional information, Zazzle has failed to respond, except (on three occasions) where they simply passed the buck and identified the copyright holders making claims against the art I had uploaded. I’d like to assert my claim of Fair Use for each of the deleted product designs, but this is difficult to do when emails go unanswered.

What now?

As things stand today, a couple of weeks following the initial flurry of product rejections, none of my disputed content has been restored and Zazzle’s content review team has been mum on prior claims of Fair Use. The good news, though, is that no additional products have been rejected, which is a bit maddening, as many of these designs are based on the same images, uploaded the same day, but applied to a different class of product. So, where one image was rejected as a mousepad, it has yet to be flagged for copyright infringement as an iPhone case or a tote bag. Baffling.

Though Zazzle has stonewalled in replying to my requests for more information, my resolve will not be hampered. I plan on issuing formal counter-notices on the grounds of Fair Use for each prior rejection. Tedious, yes, as often the same image was rejected in the design of multiple products. Hopefully, with Fair Use on my side and by working through the process defined by the DMCA, I’ll convince Zazzle’s content management team to follow through (as they are legally required) and notify the copyright holders of the challenges I am within my rights to raise.

In the meantime…

As stated near the beginning of this article, I like Zazzle. I think they make good products and I’d like to see my art featured on a wide range of their products. I yearn for a big, chubby-cheeked kewpie surrounded by buddhas and bathing beauties, cheerfully gazing from the back of my iPhone, but Zazzle tells me that my art infringes on the intellectual property that lives, apparently, in the DNA of a kewpie. And the Beatles. And Elvis. Until otherwise resolved, those figures as persona non grata on a Zazzle product.

And so, with the store I want to open currently in copyright limbo, I’ve decided to open an alternate store filled with “copyright friendly products” meant to bring attention to the case for Fair Use in fine art.

The Beatles? Banished!
Elvis? Erased!
Kewpies? Vaporized pixel by pixel in the merciless purgatory of a JPEG’s alpha channel.

To that end I sharpened my digital editing tools and created censored versions of each of the 10 photos Zazzle had flagged as unacceptable for product designs. Below is the censored version of Backstage pass in the ninth circle of Hell.

Backstage pass in the ninth circle of Hell — censored version

As the Clash once sang in the song 1977:

No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones!

The Elvis matchbooks have been whited away; the Beatle bobble heads, removed. (No Rolling Stones in the photo, but you will note a ticket stub from the Clash concert on the right side). In their place, the symbol for copyright, which as far as I know is fair… to use.

The new shop—I Support Fair Use—is now open! Come on by to see the censored versions of my art and maybe buy a mug so you too can support Fair Use while you sip your morning coffee.

And while you’re sipping that copyright friendly cup of morning joe, please visit my new Tumblr blog where I’ll be posting all kinds of example of art that benefits from the protection of Fair Use.

I Support FAIR USE on Tumblr

I’d love to hear from other artists to learn how you might have faced and (hopefully) overcome issues related Fair Use. I’ve created a page on Facebook for this very purpose:

I support FAIR USE and the Copyright Act of 1976

Drop by the page, give it a like, share it with all your creative artist friends (and their friends, and their friends’ friends)! Fair use and the creative freedom it affords artists in the expression of their artistic vision is IMPORTANT. Fair Use exists for a reason. It protects the work of countless excellent artists from Ron English to Isabel Samaras, Todd Schorr and Alex Gross, to Jason Freeny and Shepard Fairey. It will continue to protect the work of artists in generations to come, especially as technology and the ability to share and distribute content evolves—but only if we stand firm and defend the rights we as artists are clearly entitled to exercise, as there are no bounds to the imagination, and unjust restrictions to our creativity should not be tolerated.

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Envy springs forth from the pious song of man — censored version

Take a look at the photo above. Notice anything unusual? Ha! Rhetorical question! It would appear that this version of my original photo, Envy springs forth from the pious song of man, has undergone the careful hand of a surgeon’s scalpel, carving out objects and replacing them with big fat copyright signs. And that’s pretty much exactly what I’ve done, though using photo editing software to perform this digital photoectomy, as opposed to the gleaming blade of a surgical tool.

Envy springs forth from the pious song of man

So why, exactly, would I decide to censor my own work? Well, in the opinion of the print-on-demand service Zazzle, I don’t have the right to sell products containing my original copyrighted photo (seen to the right) on their website. This photo, along with nine other images, was rejected by Zazzle’s content review team as being “in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines.”


We’ll get to the whole sordid tale in a moment, but first allow me to shamelessly plug my brand new Zazzle shop featuring exclusive censored versions of my work on mugs, tote bags and t-shirts, while simultaneously bringing attention to an area of copyright law Zazzle seems to ignore: Fair Use. Want to make a statement when attending the next opening reception at your favorite gallery? May we suggest the “I support FAIR USE and the Copyright Act of 1976” shirt. Or perhaps you’d prefer the classy and stylish “©ensored” tee? Take your pick! Choose your favorite colors, shirt style, and exclusive censored versions of the 10 photos that Zazzle has deemed as unacceptable and you’re good to go!

And now… the rest of the story.

Visions of Retail Glory dance in my head

Each of the past couple of years I’ve released new products around the holidays: a set of collector postcards in 2010, and a deluxe box set of my iPad book in 2011. For 2012 my product plans were far more ambitious, envisioning a veritable gift shop full of Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares merchandise. After researching a variety of print-on-demand services, I selected Zazzle, impressed with their wide range of products, their reputation for high quality printing, and the ease with which artists like myself are able to setup storefronts and sell custom products to the 25 million or so people who visit the site each month. Moreover, I was extremely impressed with their hand-sewn laptop bags and sleeves manufactured by Rickshaw Bagworks in San Francisco. These bags are COOL, providing artists the opportunity to use their creativity to layout seam-to-seam, all-over designs, and make these product available for sale on the Zazzle website. Awesome!!

Setting up the Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares store

With dozens of my photos to choose from, I began to design products, carefully scaling and laying out images using Zazzle’s helpful templates and online design tools. I made mugs, mouse pads, iPhone cases, laptop sleeves, notebooks, day planners, coin purses, cosmetic bags… even cool little desktop speakers manufactured by OrigAudio. After three or four weeks I had 80 or 90 products waiting in my “virtual stockroom” while I setup my store and made plans to go live with a launch of exclusive merchandise just in time for the online holiday shopping season.

Stocking shelves and getting ready for the Grand Opening!

As you work on the design of a new Zazzle product—say, a mug—it resides in a queue of In-Progress Designs, which is kind of like a little workshop where you can tweak and modify the images and text you want printed until it’s ready for prime time. Once you’re done, you can add it to your shopping cart, submit payment, and your custom printed mug will be shipped directly to you—personalized service with the click of a button.

Custom printing is one way of using Zazzle. Another is setting up a shop and offering your custom designs for sale in Zazzle’s online marketplace. Zazzle does the printing and the shipping, and you as the artist get a royalty (which you set) on each sale. With several dozen product designs now complete, I was ready to begin moving my work from In-Progress to my online Zazzle store (which had been created as “private” until I was ready for launch). The Zazzle mechanism for moving a product into a shop is to click “Post for sale.” There, you give your product a title, write up a description, specify a variety of options, establish your royalty, and add all-important search tags to catch the electronic eye of search engines. All very easy! At the bottom of the page is the following checkbox:

Yes, indeed, I indicated that I do have the right to publish and sell products designed using my photographs, and I didn’t see any reason why I would not agree with Zazzle’s user agreement.

Once posted it may take up to 24 hours for an item to appear in your shop, but the process actually runs much more quickly than that (maybe an hour or two) and Zazzle sends a nice email notifying when the process has completed. Though the “doors” were still closed, I was very excited to begin seeing all of my designs popping up in my little Wind-up Dreams shop!

Then… trouble began.

Sorry, you did not build that!

I posted my initial batch of products for sale on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 25th and 26th. The first sign of trouble began that Friday, September 28, with an email from Zazzle’s Content Review Team that read, in part:

Unfortunately, it appears that your product, Backstage Pass Mug, contains content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines.

We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.

Policy Notes: Your design contains and (sic) image or text that may be in violation of an individual’s rights of celebrity/publicity. This may be due to the actual design of the product, description or search tags that are associated to your product. Please feel free to submit a new design to our Marketplace from original elements.

Backstage pass in the ninth circle of Hell

I was a bit puzzled. The mug I had designed featured the photo to the right, Backstage pass in the ninth circle of Hell, which I staged and photographed in my studio in the fall of 2008. The photo is a commentary on fame, selling out, and the potential consequences of getting what one seeks (e.g. money, fame, access). The piece has appeared in gallery shows, is sold online as a limited edition print, and is included in my book and postcard set.

No sooner had I read this first email that two more arrived—one denying my attempt to place Backstage Pass on a MacBook sleeve, the other restricting the same image on the face of a desktop speaker. Sure enough, upon clicking over to my as-of-yet-unopened Zazzle shop, all three products had been deleted. They hadn’t been moved, as I would have expected, to the In-Progress area of my account where I might be able to figure out what had happened. They were just gone. Poof.

Confused, I wrote to Zazzle requesting more specific information about why my photo had been rejected, and later in the day received a canned, condescendingly apologetic explanation that read in part :

We would love to offer every design that our users submit, however we must abide by all applicable laws and standards as well as our own content guidelines and copyright policies.

Unfortunately, it appears that your products did not meet Zazzle’s Acceptable Content Guidelines. Specifically, your products contained content which infringed upon the intellectual property rights of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

We have been contacted by Elvis Presley Enterprises, and at their request, have removed the product from the Zazzle Marketplace.

Elvis matchbooks in the staging of my photo

I certainly could not deny that the image of Elvis is, in fact, included in my photograph. There he is on three matchbook covers observing the scene backstage with detached reserve and dissatisfaction (essential to the social commentary intended by the piece).

Putting aside, for a moment, Zazzle’s claim that they had been “…contacted by Elvis Presley Enterprises” requesting that my mug design be removed, my concern was with this statement:

 …we must abide by all applicable laws and standards
as well as our own content guidelines and copyright policies

Well, in accordance to “all applicable laws and standards,” my photo is completely legal!

How can I be sure of this and what does it mean when it comes to posting images on the web? Tune in tomorrow to read the rest of the story. If you are an artist, a supporter of the arts, or just someone who likes reading unsual legal cases about celebrities (I know you’re out there!), I promise you will not be disappointed.

Thanks for reading!

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Just in case you missed me on TV this past Friday (and why did you?!?!), KPBS has posted a video of the segment to their arts and culture blog, and the piece came out GREAT!! In addition to all the live footage captured in my home and out back in the studio, the producers mixed in tons of clips from my video animations as well as a few well placed stills from finished photographs. You also get to see a sneak peek of work on a brand new photo that takes on vice, virtue, sex… and brains.

But wait! That’s not all…

See me rip the head off a kewpie doll!
See me fondle hula girls!
See me squint through a view finder!

All that, and more, is in the 4 minute segment that ran during the October 14th airing of Evening Edition.

Thanks and accolades to KPBS, cinema junkie Beth Accomando, and videographer Katie Euphrat for the tremendous job they did editing all that footage into a fun and exciting whirlwind of plastic fun!

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Sweet Feast at the House of Pink Delights

Yes, it’s a brand new photo!  Sweet Feast at the House of Pink Delights was created for a food themed group show in Los Angeles opening in mid-October.  I had a lot of fun creating this piece, envisioning a delightful restaurant scene where diners are served a very special delicacy — kewpie heads stewed in a savory broth of ice cream, pie and cake.  Mmmmmmmm!!  And your wait staff for the evening?  Why — of course! — the presidents of the United States!  It’s Benihana meets the Oval Office.

On the right side of the photo you see the kewpie pantry.  Fresh, raw, kewpie heads, each the visage of cute, cuddly mischief.  John Adams oversees the pantry, handing off the choicest cuts to his fellow heads of state who march to the bubbling cauldron at the center of the House of Pink Delights, where smiling kewpie heads bob amidst the sweet treats.

On the left, Harry Truman marches a well done entree to a pair of enraptured diners.

How would you like your kewpie head prepared?  Pink?  Red?  Or candy coated Green?

More information about the exhibit and the special framing treatment given to this piece coming soon!

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Humankind survived!

Yes, it’s true.  Despite an army of untold numbers of kewpie dolls, robots, monsters and animals descending on La Jolla this past July, the exhibit has ended.  The kewpies were relentless and put up a good fight, but in the end they were simply no match for my superior height and my ability to grab their little plastic heads and drop them into a big cardboard box.  Everything is now safely tucked away in my studio — kewpies, monks, record albums — where no doubt the kewpies are already plotting and planning their next attempt for world domination (I hear those whispers coming from the stacks of boxes in the corner… don’t think I don’t!).

Before packing everything up I managed to capture the kewpies in their native habitat, roaming the ledges of the Pannikin and standing proud atop each of the framed photos in the exhibit.  The footage is rough, but I was being pursued by a posse of the small plastic imps while I was filming, so I had to complete the video in one long tracking shot before escaping into the daylight to tell me tale of kewpie mayhem.

Either click the video above, jump directly to YouTube, or visit the new and improved video page of my site.

Have fun!

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Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader

Exciting news in Wind-up Dreams land–we are now offering Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader (shown above) as a limited edition print! Unlike our other limited editions, Eve is printed on beautiful Fuji Pearl paper to give the image a brilliant, metallic-like finish (all the better to enhance Satan’s fiery gaze).  And priced at just $125, it is now our lowest-priced limited edition.  While it’s currently listed in the etsy shop, it won’t be available for shipment until Monday, July 26th because we’ll be attending Comic-Con this week. (!!!)  Reserve yours today and add some devilish fun to your world for a decidedly un-devilish price.

If you’re going to be in San Diego attending the Comic-Con convention as well, please swing by Pannikin Coffee & Tea in La Jolla and see the latest photo and slide show extravaganza, Seven Signs of the Kewpie Apocalypse.  It’s running through July 30, so you still have time to check it out.  Speaking of slide shows, have you seen the incredibly fun stop-motion animation video for the making of Eve?  Well what are you waiting for?!?!  Check it out here on our newly re-designed Videos page.  And if you can’t make it to Comic-Con, don’t feel left out!  We’ll be tweeting live, so follow @johnpurlia and/or @windupdreams on Twitter to see pics of the kookiest costumes and undoubtedly hilarious overheard conversations about Star Wars, Futurama, and loads of other geeky fun.

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Last week at the Opening Reception for the “Seven Signs of the Kewpie Apocalypse” exhibit, people really enjoyed the stop-motion animation and time-lapse videos that were created for Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader and Financial Freewheeling and the futile pursuit of the American DreamWe didn’t want to leave anyone out, so we’ve posted them on YouTube!  In the videos, you can see how the still life dioramas that eventually become the photos are created. The Eve video was created from 2,100 separately shot and edited photographs after the actual gallery photo was shot. The action was then storyboarded and the animation was shot in reverse. The entire production required about 8 weeks of work.

The Financial Freewheeling video was created from time lapse footage showing the construction of the photo.  The video was actually created during the deconstruction of the diorama, one shot every two seconds, then played back in reverse to create the effect of “building” the final scene. You can also watch the video, “The Fantastic Plastic World,” which shows the installations that were on display as part of the exhibit “And The Beat Goes On” at the New Puppy Gallery in Los Angeles last year. The four videos also feature super fun music by Fantastic Plastic Machine, Moby, and James Brown, and Nina Simone. The last new video that’s been posted is a retrospective of select works from 2004-2010. AND, we’re also excited to announce that these videos can be found on a newly re-designed Videos page on the Wind-up Dreams site. Feel free to leave comments and let us know what you think.

Of course, you can still see the videos and photos live! in person! at Pannikin Coffee & Tea, La Jolla, CA through July 30.

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Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader

Seven Signs of the Kewpie Apocalypse has arrived!  Starting today, July 3rd, John’s solo exhibit show will run through July 30th at the Pannikin Coffee & Tea, La Jolla, CA. There are new photos, old favorites from the Plastic Prophets series, a room filled with our lower-priced line of framed Album Editions, and a video installation with stop motion animations, slide shows, and other delightful treats.  Installations of kewpies (some will probably be the largest you’ve ever seen. Seriously, these guys are BIG.), robots, vintage album covers, and alphabet blocks will greet you at every turn.  The Opening Reception is tonight, 5:00-7:00pm. John will be there to answer your questions and entertain you with how he manages to make the devils, babies, and saints toe the line, even in the midst of an earthquake.  Oh, and there will be free munchies! Hope to see you there!

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