The Art of Thievery in New York

I have seen the 'artists' on the streets of New York drawing caricatures, from Times Square to Central Park. Sometimes you'll find a genuine artists with honest samples up, but most of these caricaturists seem to have no integrity and give us all a bad image.

Most individuals don't know the difference between (or have ever heard of) Sebastian Kruger or Tom Richmond... but we know.

Tom has mentioned this on his blog before (I've seen his work out there), and it's nothing to call your lawyer over, as it will surely effect nothing. But it really is a fun, when taking a day off in the city, to spot your own artwork, as well as your friends'.

While shopping near Rockefeller Center, I had a fun encounter. I first spotted a caricature by my friend, and former house-mate Glenn Ferguson, depicting master caricaturist Kage Nakanishi. This made me laugh, as no one on the streets will recognize Kage, a Japanese businessman and artist, so there is no logic behind it other than laziness and lack of respect or honesty. It made me laugh out loud, so I ran across the street, where my girlfriend took this photograph:

In it, you an see the tracings from the work of Chris Wahl, Thomas Fluharty, Glenn Ferguson and others!

This made me smile and give the guy a hard time:


"Those are nice caricatures."

"Five dollars - you want one?"

"No, my friends already drew all of these. Where is your work? This isn't your art."

"..." (he ignored me of course, playing with his phone as though he didn't hear me, no longer interested in my money for some reason)


And then to my enjoyment (a block later) we found yet another thief already drawing a nice couple. They look confused when I posed for this picture, pointing at my very own painting of Freddy Mercury, so I told them it was mine:


"Yeah, I painted that one." (pointing at the image while the artist acted like he didn't hear me)

"Really? What do you mean?" the woman asked.

"Oh, none of these are his images. He stole them from the internet. That one's on my website."

"huh..." (slight confusion and disbelief)

"I'm not joking," I finished, with a confident voice and smile, "but have a good day."


I don't mean to ruin their experience, but I felt they could handle the truth. They looked mildly entertained while being swindled.

I did bump into a Russian artist who laughed when I pointed out the dishonesty of the first artist. He was set up with all original art, right next to him and his reaction revealed that he agreed with my statement. He walked over to talk to me for a minute or two, and it was refreshing to hear someone be very honest and realistic; he came to the United States as a teenager and went to school for graphic design. Because he is so comfortable with the computer and imaging programs, a lot of his work had photographic elements and distortion, yet he was the first to point this out to me... how he needs to overcome this and he likes to practice. What an amazing juxtaposition within those 10 feet of New York sidewalk. It made me quite happy to meet him, after seeing implied plagiarism just seconds before.

Anyway... if you go to New York and get a caricature, find the artist that will talk to you before selling you a half-hearted sketch, because that's the one that matters. This isn't the last time I'll see my colleagues' work on the street... and it's sort of fun. While it doesn't matter to 90% of their customers (and it shouldn't), it's something that the artists have the right to point out. It's humanity at its best.



Unknown said...

Stick it to 'em, sir !!
Street Justice in it's finest example.

That photo of you pointing is AWESOME

Now not only are you a fantastic and true artist - you're a Vigilante !!

Craig Zablo said...


Usually you find these "artists" hanging with the guys who sell "Rolexes and Raybans." Con artist is more like it.

Leslie said...

sam and i were in stitches about this saturday night. how funny

Joe Bluhm said...

Saturday night? Did you see a similar photo somewhere else?

Unknown said...

Danielle shared the photo with us over msn. was it sat night or sun morning? can't remember.

This whole thing makes me feel like a celebrity. i need to con more famous artists into drawing me for the chance of my face appearing as rip-off's on the streets of new york, prague, france, worldwide.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

HILARIOUS STORY JOE LOL!!!! Man! i wish I coulda seen da face of dat moron when ya pointed out that the caricature was yours. Yer a nice guy, because i wouldve opened up an Ice cold can of whip azz and sprayed it all over the guy if he was using my art. Kenly and I use to rat out these guys on a regular!
Add me to your blog "officially" will ya?

Arkady Roytman said...

you know you made it when some chump decides your work will help increase business.

it's funny, most of those guys act as if they're part of some Park-Sketchers Mafia if you sit down next to them to sketch (spoken from experience). Maybe you should get some burly friends to come with you to get your, much deserved, cut of the dude's profits. Could be a good side business. I volunteer.

bert5693 said...

well do sir bluhm, and next time try to record those "artist" reactions, it will be hillarious

. said...

Hey man, people got to make money somehow. I just use the rejects book as my own personal portfolio, works like a charm!

Ken Knafou said...

Next time you see your work like that at someone's booth, just hand out your business cards to the people he's drawing and anyone watching him draw, point out which work is yours that he stole from you, then just walk away. Let him pretend to ignore you then. I doubt you'd get any business from it, but there's no way it wont piss off the "artist".

Anonymous said...

I saw that same Michael Jackson by Kruger displayed in Battery Park 2 years ago. I was very close to asking who drew it, and requesting that artist to draw me (there were two of them). But there was too much on the agenda for my limited time in that glorious city, so I moved on.

Had I seen my own work though, it would have been another story.

Chris Wahl said...

I feel so honoured!

One for the photo album.

Thanks Joe!

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Hey, isn't that your Brad and Angelina on the top corner of the red posterboard, too?

Joe Bluhm said...


Brooke, you JERK!

Not Just Some Drawing Broad said...

glad you had your camera.
i see them too - like the
plageurized picture of ed steckley near the restaurant mars 2112.

i know it's terrible that the work is stolen like that. but it's also fun to walk through the city trying to site ncn artists. like bird-watching.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

These guys really act like they dont understand English when You comfort them. On Forty Duce I pointed to this pic that Richmond did and asked the artist, can you draw me like THAT!? He said Yes, I draw you for real!! Is that YOURS. I aksed, Yes! I draw you! Five DOllar! That's not you, that Richmond I said! He's built like superman, and if he was here he'd knock you out!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Joe. Tony Cabral here.

This blog entry reminded me of visiting my aunt in Florida back when I was doing live caricature for occasional dough. I forget where we were, but there was some guy charging ridiculous prices for crappy work. All of his "samples" were lifted from Mort Drucker. ALL of them. I was all of 19 and I knew what was up.
When my aunt asked what I thought of the guy, I told her what was up and she said I should say something. I refused because what was I gonna do as a 19-year-old kid? So my aunt, a 60 year old woman, walked up to him and asked him point blank if he'd "heard of Mort Drucker". He responded to her pretty much like those guys responded to you.

You're far too polite. Me, if I had a sculpture of myself like Dave O'Keefe did of you, I'd carry it around with me and beat these schmucks 'round the head and neck with it. Then again, I drink.

Be well,


Nathan Lindsay said...

Reminds me of your Abe Lincoln incident. what ever happened with that?

Josh Spencer said...

Wow, It would be such a mix of emotions to see my work there like that. Complimented and Insulted.

But i feel sorry for the average dude wanting a sketch thinking he's getting a sweet one like your's.

Poor guy.

Piotr said...

haha ! must be a weird feeling to see those. must be an even weirder feeling for the artists pretending they don't know what you're talking about

Everybody's gotta be in a Gang said...

I hate to see that shit- and I've been seeing it for the past 12 years in Central Park in NYC, where i've been doing caricatures. I'm one of the real ones!!
I've seen this with guys trying to do caricatures and straight portraits, and it's shameful. I've tried to talk to many of them about that problem, and most of them don't care. It's unfortunate, because people's perceptions are influenced, and they think all the artists are trying to pull one over on the general public. I always try to convince them otherwise. One of my friends from China was showing someone else's work to get more straight portrait work, and I told him to look up the word "integrity" in his electronic translator. He looked it up and agreed with me (in theory), but then didn't change anything. I think for him and some others like him, he has no other way of making money, and his English isn't great, so he has to resort to that in order to survive. I still think it's wrong, but I can empathise with his predicament.
We need some art-police.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

As hard as it is to believe, these artists, expecially the ones on 42nd street are a "gang" of sorts. They come in at the designated time (which is unpredictable, y the way) and literally stand on spots not allowing any new artists to set up. I had an artist LITERALLY put their hands on my display and TRIED to move my stuffand I was THERE! They came repeating MY SPOT! MY SPOT! even though I had been there for HOURS! Needless to say they didnt get it, but I looked up and a freakin crowd of these morons were surrounding me. I had to use a combination of chutzpah and diplomacy to keep from getting hurt! lol!

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

Not only do these guys steal other people's stuff, pretend to not understand english, but they are, in a sense, given free reign by the police who will harass everyone else(Non Asian) for ID, etc. all the while leaving these guys alone. You'll often find that if you are able to set up next to them that the tourists will go to their chair FIRST before coming to yours! Not ALL of these guys are morons, in all fairness but enough of them are to make the ones who arent almost invisible.

Everybody's gotta be in a Gang said...

I think it's a little more fair in Central Park, rather than in Times Square. Maybe for no other reason than the fact that it's more diversified; there are Russian, Bulgarian, Armenian, Chinese, Korean, and even American artists on the path going towards the Central Park Zoo if you enter in at 5th Ave. and 60th St. Besides one "bad-ass" Chinese guy who thinks he's in the Mafia and he controls the path, most people are pretty fair, and we've established basic rules such as- you can't reserve your spot the night before or reserve a spot for someone else, which was happening too much last year. One regular guy from Armenia has called the real Police more than once if these rules are broken and the "bad-ass" got a good tounge lashing from the Police. That helped a bit, but sometimes he still locks a chair to one of the fences and claims it as his own the next day. He also dumped my friend's stuff over the fence last year and claimed it as his own. When we told the Park Police, he denied everything and cursed me out. He looked like he wanted to physically kill me.
Who'd of thought doing caricatures in the Park could be so dangerous?
It's definitely a sociological study.

Jeff Pecina said...

that last one is funny because i was standing in the same place telling the guy shit because i knew that u did it and not him

and he ignored me.

Gabriel Hunt said...

Your hairs getting long Joe.

Get a hair cut hippie.

Esly said...

Ever since I've been living in Australia.. I've found Kruger's stuff, Tom Richmond's stuff.. and others all over the place. And the artworks of the artist who is drawing is always soooo bad!!! It's unbelievable really that they can even make money off of it.. but they do. :P