Renowned Painter Jasper Johns Copied An African Teen’s Drawing

Prominent U.S. painter Jasper Johns has reached a settlement with Cameroonian teenager Jean-Marc Togodgue after the artist used the drawing of his injured knee for a painting without his permission. The artwork is currently being featured in Johns’ exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. 

Artnews reports Johns came across the amateur drawing at his orthopedic surgeon Alexander M. Clark Jr.’s office in Connecticut. Togodgue, a talented basketball star who attended the Salisbury School in Connecticut, saw the orthopedic surgeon after suffering an ACL injury while playing soccer. Following his procedure, he gifted Clark with the drawing of his injured knee, which was then hung in the office as a decoration.

The artist sent a letter to Togodgue, sharing that he used a silkscreen copy of the drawing for one of his pieces.

“I should have asked you then if you would mind my using it, but I was not certain that my idea would ever materialize,” the 91-year-old artist wrote, according to the outlet. “I would like you to be pleased with the idea and I hope that you will visit my studio to see what I have made.”

Togodgue and his host parents in Connecticut, Rita Delgado and Jeff Ruskin, made the trip to visit Johns’ studio and even posed with the painting titled “Slice” –– unaware of Johns’ stature in the painting world.

Another artist and father of Togodgue’s friends, Brendan O’Connell, addressed the issue. O’Connell wrote a letter calling out Johns’ behavior, saying “the wealthiest and most respected Titan in the art world taking the personal drawing of an African ingenue” was the wrong move especially in the era of Black Lives Matter. He also suggested the millionaire artist should create a foundation to help young artists like Togodgue or assist in paying for the student’s eventual college tuition. 

According to the Daily Mail, Conley Rollins, an informal representative for the artist told The Washington Post that Johns had looked into giving the teen some form of compensation, however, none of the information was made public. Nevertheless, the two came to a settlement after lawyers became involved. 

“I was happy and relieved that it was settled in the end, although Rita and I maintain that it could have been settled earlier and then the lawyers and strong letters would not have been necessary,” Ruskin said of the agreement. “Jéan-Marc is looking into studying art in college. He finds it relaxing, and he is proud of the pieces he has finished.”

“We were a very proud mama and papa,” Delgado told
The Times. “We kept telling people who were looking at the piece: ‘Well, if you want to know who did that, right over there, that’s Jéan-Marc!’ It stimulated some wonderful conversations with a whole assortment and variety of art lovers, art historians and art teachers. It was the perfect afternoon.”

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