Not all artists dream of seeing their work around the world. At least, not when it's being copied, which is what Dallas artist Ricardo Paniagua claims has happened to him, twice in the last few months.
Having their art displayed in public areas brings about many, many nuisances for muralists, which vary from thoughtless to illegal. Most frequently, they'll find their work posted online as photo backgrounds without getting credited, or, in more extreme cases, they'll find their works vandalized. But having their designs stolen is a less common occurrence, as most artists want to present unique works to the world.
If you’ve gone shopping in West Village, you’ve surely come across Paniagua’s piece “Super Deluxe,” one of Dallas’ most Instagram-friendly murals, an optical illusion of texture designed through geometric colors. While Paniagua's style is highly recognizable to Dallasites, that hasn't stopped people from allegedly copying it for their own use, the artist says.
In January, Paniagua says he first learned that a bar in Houston called Present Company had commissioned a mural that looked almost identical to “Super Deluxe.” Paniagua found social media posts by artist Shelbi Nicole, who was a member of a team of artists hired by Present Company owner Shawn Bermudez. According to an article from the Houston Chronicle, the mural was inspired by an arcade game called Q*Bert, but Paniagua believes the mural's color scheme was too sophisticated to resemble elements from a video game from the ’80s.
Paniagua had a few exchanges with the artist, who told him she hadn't known of his work. While he hasn't come to a resolution with Houston, Paniagua says others continue to make very similar works. Earlier this month, Paniagua discovered that The WOW! Gallery in Berlin had also used a similar bit of artwork to create a selfie pop-up.
“Last Sunday morning, I woke up and I received a message from one of my friends who lives in Maryland, I think,” Paniagua says. “He sent me a link and said, ‘I follow BBC on Twitter and they had posted the week in images.’ There was a picture of what appeared to be my mural. He said ‘Ricardo, I think someone is trying to steal your mural.’”
While many may believe that “Super Deluxe" has a simple design that's easy to replicate, Paniagua insists he had purposefully arranged certain colors and utilized specific techniques when creating the mural. The self-taught artist reiterates that “Super Deluxe” isn’t something that can accidentally be duplicated.
“It's not easy. I mean, you look at it and you're like, ‘Oh, it's a simple geometric pattern,’ but it's really not,” Paniagua says. “It's a difficult practice in color. There are literally so many colors, tones and values in it. That’s what makes it so unique and different and new.”
“Super Deluxe” first made its debut in West Village in 2016. Since then, Paniagua says there have been four instances in which similar murals appeared. One of these instances took place last year, on the wall of a development in Mexico City.
“It was literally a photograph of my mural that they blew up on a wall vinyl,” Paniagua says. “They put ‘Vida’ on it, or some generic shit. It was international, and I didn’t know international law and I didn’t have an attorney and the time, so I just let it go. But then, it kept happening.”
Paniagua is working with an attorney for the Berlin and Houston cases. While he didn’t disclose the details of the legal process, he said that The WOW! Gallery has reached out to him via email. He feels that they did not say or do enough to rectify allegedly copying his work.
“They said, ‘It's been pointed out to us that this artwork resembles an artwork that you completed before this time’ and that they were ‘inspired by M.C. Escher,’” Paniagua says. “I was like, no, that's a bunch of bullshit. You’re saying, ‘Oh, this is your design, but we want you to compromise so you can’t get credit for it, but we’ll say, “Inspired by Ricardo Paniagua.” ’
"There weren’t even that many colors or shadings, neither digitally or in real life, when M.C. Escher was alive. This, to me, is an insult because they're using my art for commercial purposes and basically robbing me of money that’s rightfully mine.”
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Paniagua chose not to respond to The WOW!
“It was so blatant,” Paniagua says, “at that point, I was like wow, these guys have no shame, or they didn't think that they wouldn't be caught or nobody would notice.’”
We reached out to The WOW! and Present Company, but haven't heard back. Paniagua says that no one should take anyone’s artwork and get away with it.
“It’s not cool to steal someone’s art,” Paniagua says. “They don't realize that there could be repercussions because they don't know things like color theory or they don't know things like color field painting and ideas have occurred in contemporary modern art.”