A Texas artist is getting a free exhibition of his creations in Miami after discovering that a Miami gallery was promoting copies of his work.
Jeff “Skele” Sheely first learned that someone was copying his paintings on Instagram. F.A.M.E. Gallery & Concept Store, based in Miami, had posted an image of a painting nearly identical to one of Sheely's, attributing it to an artist named R. Grays.
“I was driving home from Home Depot last week, and a friend of mine on Instagram shared a link with me from a gallery in Miami that was featuring an artist,” Sheely says. “I clicked on it and started flipping through the pictures, and I immediately recognized the work was mine.”
Through the F.A.M.E.'s website, Sheely found the website of the offending artist, a New York-based painter named Ryan Grays. Sheely found more of his paintings displayed on the home page.
He contacted F.A.M.E.'s curators with his discovery and sent them images of his original work. By this point, several of Sheely's friends had made comments on F.A.M.E.'s Instagram, calling for Grays' copycat paintings to be removed.
“We never thought that somebody would have … like the big balls to try and showcase ... someone else’s work,” says Anais Camacho, a curator for F.A.M.E. “We’re happy it happened the way it happened. It really would have pained us if those pieces would have ended up in our gallery.”
Camacho says Grays had purchased his spot at F.A.M.E. and that the images Sheely saw had been sent to the gallery by an agent representing Grays, who claims to have no idea that the art was copied.
The Observer tried to contact Grays through his website, but has not heard back at the time of writing.
F.A.M.E. removed Grays' art — without a refund, Camacho says — and put Sheely's in its place. Camacho says it was an awkward mistake, but it has a happy ending. The gallery curators loved the artistic flavor of Sheely’s paintings, and now they get to showcase the true artist.
“We told Jeff we fell in love with the art,” she says.
Sheely first began creating paintings 10 years ago in his native Virginia Beach, and he has lived off his art sales for almost five years. A few years ago, Sheely moved to Dallas, where his work has been featured in exhibitions at the Kettle Art Gallery and the Janette Kennedy Gallery, among others.
Sheely recently moved a third time, to Austin, but he still has a following in North Texas. Nevertheless, getting to show his art in Miami is a big opportunity.
F.A.M.E has told Sheely it will take extra precautions when accepting paid submissions in the future. He encourages people to be skeptical about art that is shared online — but he's also grateful for the internet since it allowed his copycat to be caught.
“They [F.A.M.E.] had no idea they were going to feature a hack until somebody noticed,” Sheely says. “So this thing could have gone on, if nobody had noticed, and that’s the scary part. This shit’s probably going around worldwide."
As a result of this incident, Sheely says he has contacted an attorney to help protect his intellectual property, and he will be sending a cease-and-desist letter to Grays. Sheely says he has tried to reach Grays without success.