AN INTERVIEW WITH D. LeTANTE, DESIGNER OF THE MONA LISA
I recently had the opportunity of visiting the studio of M. D. LeTante, the celebrated graphics artist and music sampler. While I was there, he unveiled for me his latest work, The Mona Lisa, a poster of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in situ at the Louvre, in a limited graphics palette, underlined in big letters with the word, “REPRODUCE.” I took the opportunity of interviewing him for this journal.
The Mona Lisa is your boldest work yet.
May I ask if the word “Reproduce” is a reference to the copy of the Mona Lisa in your work?
Oh heavens no–in the first place, this is not a copy of the Mona Lisa–that would take HOURS–no, this is a photograph I took when I was in Paris for my senior year of high school.
I didn’t think they allowed photographs.
No, they kicked me out (laughs).
You worked from a photograph, then?
Yes, I scanned it into Photoshop and posterized it and smoothed it. With the addition of the word REPRODUCE it took less than 10 minutes. I never do anything that takes longer because I want to maintain the spontaneity of creation.
I understand, nothing kills spontaneity like disciplined concentration.
Yes, discipline kills inspiration. But to go on with your question: nor is it a copy in an artistic or philosophical sense. My poster is more of a re-contextulization and re-conceptualization of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Have you ever read Borges’ Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote? Pierre Menard has decided to write Cervantes’ Don Quixote. He buries himself in studying Cervantes’ sources and his period so that he can compose the Quixote, matching Cervantes’ work word for word. It is an amazing work, so much richer than the original. Cervantes’ work was superficial, grounded in his own time, but Menard’s had so much more depth because it was written in the 20th century. Similarly, my version of the Mona Lisa is grounded in the 21st century, looking back at the Renaissance. It makes a completely different statement in a Foucaultian context. One is forced to ask, what is this woman smiling at? And why is she smiling at all, while we are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the world is being destroyed by global warming?
Then what is the meaning of the word REPRODUCE?
Exactly what it says–a command to be fruitful and multiply so we may satisfy the maw of our corporate overlords, like the humans in John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE satisfied the needs of the aliens who ruled the world. I’m thinking of doing a series on the concept.
Oh? What would you call it?
I think, “REPRODUCTIONS”.
Shepard Fairey was impressed with THEY LIVE as well–he did a series of works on the command OBEY as used in the movie.
Yes, we used to skateboard together. As a matter of fact, he’s the reason I decided to concentrate on re-sampling public domain works…that bad business with the Obama HOPE poster. But Shepard was always a bit lax about attributions and things like that.
Yes. As a friend of Shepard Fairey, do you have any insights into that?
I think so. I have no doubt that Shepard was using the larger photo of Obama with George Clooney. After all, taking only a portion of that photograph would put him well within the restrictions of fair use. When he cropped it, like Pierre Menard and the Quixote, he managed to reproduce the precise cropping that AP used to release a second version of that photograph. Naturally, when he found that other photograph on his hard drive, he realized that in this cynical world, no one would believe that he independently made the same judgement as some anonymous AP editor, so he had no choice but to erase it from his computer.
He did say that he lied and deliberately destroyed the evidence by erasing it.
See what I mean? He had to confess since no one would believe otherwise.
But you do agree that AP is behaving like a stultifying corporate giant in insisting on its intellectual property? After all, the photographer said he couldn’t imagine anything better than his photograph being used to help Obama’s election.
Oh, of course! But I do have a little quibble from the point of view of an artist. Supposing someone comes along and sees my masterpiece, The Mona Lisa. What’s to stop him from appropriating it and using it in his own artwork. That is so inappropriate. I mean, what are MY rights with regard to my own work? Mannie Garcia can be noble because his work was used in a noble cause, but I’m planning on selling my limited edition on eBay at 500 dollars a print. I need to have that protected. Shep would agree–look how he jumps on people who copy HIS work.