How Smear built his brand
The Times' editorial board on Monday proposed a way to resolve the lawsuit that City Atty. Carmen Trutanich filed against 10 graffiti artists, the best known of them being Cristian "Smear" Gheorghiu. Trutanich is seeking to bar them from profiting from their street names, as well as asking for $1 million in penalties. Our suggestion was to let Gheorghiu use "Smear" to help sell his art, but levy a fee on each piece until he'd paid off the damages the courts assess for his tagging. (One case has already been decided: He was ordered to pay $28,000 in restitution in 2007, but has ponied up only $5,000 so far.)
I'm a member of the board, but I don't think we hit the sweet spot with that piece. I think Gheorghiu should pay a fee to the city for every piece he sells under the name of Smear. Consider it a type of royalty, a return on the investment the city made involuntarily in building the Smear brand.
It costs money for artists to get their work and their name in front of the public. For example, they typically pay (in one form or another) for their canvases and for their exhibition spaces. But Gheorghiu did neither. The city supplied the walls and structures that he painted on, and his work was displayed to passing motorists and pedestrians for free -- at least until the graffiti clean-up squads came by to take it down.
In short, city taxpayers made a real contribution to Gheorghiu's career, and in particular to the brand name he chose. As long as he uses that brand, they should be paid.
Readers, by the way, aren't expressing much sympathy for Gheorghiu. The deal we proposed strikes them as far too lenient. This comment from "areeda" (how cleva!) is typical:
I guess I just don't see art in the destruction of peoples property.
The owner of the property this person the Times insists on calling a "Graffiti Artist" is obligated by law to remove it. A costly and time-consuming task. I'll bet that owner never uses the term artist when referring to the person who did it.
Agree? Disagree? Read the editorial and leave your comment here.
-- Jon Healey
Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times