We produced the following written interview with Eric Doeringer for the July edition of Brigade’s monthly newsletter, to co-incide with the opening of "I Copy Therefore I Am", the artist's solo exhibition with Brigade:
Why do you choose to work in a smaller scale when producing your bootleg images? When I first started making my Bootleg paintings, I sold them on the sidewalk outside of galleries in New York. The small size made them portable (I transported my paintings in a large rolling suitcase) and kept the cost of materials low.
Many of the paintings incorporate collaged prints, and the small canvas size allows me to make those prints on a standard letter-size printer.
Could you talk a bit about the performative aspect of this series? The “performative” aspect of selling my paintings on the street was an important part of the original project. I was just starting my art career, and trying to find a gallery in New York that would exhibit my artwork was incredibly frustrating.
By using the sidewalk as my “gallery” I could exhibit whatever I wanted, I didn’t have to pay rent, and there was great foot traffic because of all the art galleries on the block. But I also loved that the sidewalk was a completely unprofessional place to exhibit. One would not expect to encounter “Conceptual Art” there.
The paintings, themselves, also challenge the traditional art system. Beyond the fact that they are “copies” of works by other artists, they are neither numbered or produced in strictly limited editions. If I run out of one design, I make another batch of the “same” paintings. Therefore, the paintings that have been the least “popular” are the most “rare”.
They also exist in a weird place between being unique “paintings” and identical “multiples”. Each painting is made by hand, but they also incorporate mechanical reproduction. I usually make a batch of 5-25 copies of the “same” painting at a time. When those sell out, I might make another batch.
Do you think your work is particularly “American”? I was definitely inspired by living in New York City. I got the idea for selling Bootleg paintings on the sidewalk from the vendors selling fake Louis Vuitton handbags on Canal Street. Contemporary art seemed like another luxury status symbol that could be “knocked off” and sold at a discount. I know there are sidewalk vendors in other cities, but selling “fake” art on the street seems like a particularly New York kind of hustle.
I suppose my view of who is “hot” in the art world is an American (or New York) perspective. My Bootleg series is all about the art market. The artists I reproduce aren’t necessarily my favorites, they’re works I think will be popular - eye candy. They’re the “Class of ’21”. I might have chosen different artists if I lived in London or Hong Kong.
There are some new works based on imagery by Danish artists that were produced for this exhibition. Could I ask you to talk about your decision to choose these works? For this exhibition, I wanted to make a new Bootleg painting based on a Danish or Scandinavian artist. Brigade came up with a list of some potential artists and I researched their work. When I saw Superflex’s “I Copy Therefore I Am”, it was an obvious choice - so perfect that I decided to title the exhibition after it. Even better, I could use the same silkscreens to make a Bootleg version of Barbara Kruger’s “I Shop Therefore I Am” (which, of course, was the inspiration for Superflex’s artwork).
How important is materiality to you? Materiality is incredibly important. I’ve made thousands of paintings, but I think of myself more as a sculptor than a painter. My paintings are objects.
Do you view your practice as conceptual? Yes. When I used to sell my Bootleg paintings on the street, people would frequently ask, "What are your paintings like? What do you paint when you paint for yourself?" But, of course, the Bootlegs are my paintings and selling them outside of Gagosian or Art Basel was a combination of performance and art installation. It was hard for people to understand that I might want to paint an "Ed Ruscha" instead of a portrait or landscape.
How do you think the process of copying or reproduction changes a painting? Any reproduction - no matter how precise - introduces a change. The “copy” exists in a different space, is made from different molecules, and is younger than the original. If you look at two “identical” photocopies under a microscope, they don’t look alike at all.
It doesn’t matter whether you can tell the difference between a Sturtevant and a Warhol or a Bidlo and a Pollock hanging on a wall - they are not the “same” paintings. They were made for different reasons. They have different meanings.
When an image is reproduced by hand, there is inherently some interpretation by the second artist. Just as Cezanne and Seurat had different approaches to painting a tree, Richard Pettibone, Elaine Sturtevant, Deborah Kass, Jonathan Monk, and I each paint a “Warhol” differently.
What do you make of the copyright lawsuits that have been brought against artist like Richard Prince? The moment you share an image with others you lose control of it. I don’t think copyright law should be used against artists.
I believe Richard Prince (and any artist) should be able to incorporate whatever images he wants into his artwork.
Several artists have threatened to sue me and I’ve lost exhibition opportunities due to fear of potential lawsuits. In the end, it amounts to censorship of my artwork.