It started with a Facebook post that compared two similar-looking works of art: one by 37-year-old artist and North Vancouver native Andy Dixon, the other by John Holcomb, a 32-year-old painter from Topeka, Kansas.
“I feel personally compelled to come to the aid and defence of my friend and fellow artist Andy Dixon,” said the post, authored by Graeme Berglund, a Vancouver-based artist and founder and creative director of the now defunct The Cheaper Show. “There is an artist named John Holcomb (based in Kansas) who has been replicating Andy’s distinct subject matter, colour palette, process, systems of distinct mark making, themes and ideologies that Andy has spent years developing on his own.”
Within a few days, Berglund’s original Facebook post received over 150 shares and almost the same number of comments, along with the attention of Vice magazine, which recently published an article about the controversy on its website.
Berglund, who first met Dixon 20 years ago through the punk rock scene, said he has watched Dixon’s growth as an artist and painter, and has been impressed by the evolution of Dixon’s style. He felt compelled to make a statement on social media after seeing Holcomb’s work and noting similarities to Dixon’s that Berglund felt might have overstepped the boundaries of interpretation and fallen into the grey area of replication.
In a mid-February Instagram post, Holcomb does cite Dixon – along with Matisse, Basquiat, Picasso, Andy Warhol and several other artists – as being an inspiration behind his work.
That many artists draw inspiration from the work of other artists – including Dixon, who is quoted in a 2011 article for Vancouver is Awesome as saying that he looks up to the works of Basquiat and Warhol – is something of which Berglund is keenly aware.
“We’re all aware that, as artists, you can be inspired by people,” said Berglund in a telephone interview, “but Andy has been waiting patiently for John to make an arc to the left or right [to take his art in a different direction] and do his own thing.”
Another plot twist is that a gallery that once represented Dixon – as recently as 2015 in New York, according to Dixon’s website – is now representing Holcomb.
Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery represented Holcomb at the 2017 Outside Art Fair in New York where, according to a January 23 post on Holcomb’s Facebook page: “I sold all of the paintings. … I outsold every other gallery at the fair.”
The issue of money, and who is or isn’t making it, is also an element in this debate that cannot be overlooked.
Dixon has hired legal representation from Paul E. Bain, a Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in business and entertainment law, including intellectual property rights. Although there are few details about the legal action (Bain said in an email that they “would rather not comment on an ongoing legal matter”), there is reason to believe the legal proceedings would involve Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery and John Holcomb.
“Andy is a commercial artist,” said Berglund, “and this [issue with Holcomb] could affect the path of his critical success in the future.”
Holcomb, Dixon and Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery did not respond to our requests for comment.