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Anti-Capitalist Artist Makes Big Bucks Off Flaming Banks


Artistic expression, or signaling something more?

For one Los Angeles-based painter, scenes of anti-capitalist anarchy have really paid off.

Alex Schaefer has recently sold a 22-by-28-inch canvas (above) to a German art collector for $25,000. A 6-by-8 work also garnered $3,600 from a collector in Britain, and more paintings are underway.

But police weren't among the early admirers of Schaefer's work. In July, while he was set up outside a Chase bank branch in Los Angeles, Schaefer was stopped and questioned by patrol officers who were responding to a complaint that the painting frightened passersby.

The police were apparently concerned that there was a terrorist threat implied in the painting. According to the Los Angeles Times, police told told Schaefer that:

"They had to find out my intention. They asked if I was a terrorist and was I going to follow through and do what I was painting."

Once Schaefer convinced the patrol officers that he did not actually intend to set any banks on fire, they left. But three weeks later, two plain clothes detectives came to his residence and followed up with more questions about his inflammatory painting style.

More than anything else, law enforcement's interest in the paintings has served as free press for the artist and probably helped inflate prices on the international market due to the internet attention.

A series of copycats have also popped up on Ebay. The bidding on this original watercolor starts at $21, so it has a ways to go before it gets up around Schaefer's $25,000 windfall.

As for politics behind the paintings, Schaefer appears to have a clear anti-capitalsm and anti-bank animus that stretches far beyond Chase.

In an interview last week with Max Keiser about his burning bank paintings, Schaefer said:

"I don't hate the banks, but I do perceive them now to be criminals."

Schaefer also claimed to have other burning bank paintings in the works that will depict more Chase branches, a Bank of America, and a Citibank on fire. He plans to display the series of burning bank images at a February show called "Disaster Capitalism."

Keiser referred Schaefer as the "Cezanne of Arson." Schaefer countered "Maybe the Monet."

You can watch the full interview here, courtesy of Russia Today:

[youtube expand=1]

While the paintings are constitutionally protected speech, and may be nothing more than artistic expression, they could also be reflective of a simmering anti-capitalist movement in the U.S. that may reach a boil in the weeks and months ahead.

We already know, for example, that a supposedly non-violent "Day of Rage" has been planned to take over Wall Street in New York City on September 17th.

The "Day of Rage" movement has also singled out JP Morgan Chase -- which is the subject of Schaefer's most well-known painting."

In addition, the possibility that the Euro may collapse is now on the horizon. Economic discontent appears all too capable of creating widespread riots similar to those that have already rocked Greece. As we have seen with the recent U.K. mobs, the welfare state appears to be fertile ground for anarchic upheavals in the name of vaguely defined discontent.

And so the question remains: are Schaefer's paintings a case of art imitating life, or life imitating art, in the not-too-distant future?

(h/t Gawker)

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