Prominent American painter Jasper Johns has reached a settlement with Cameroonian teenager Jean-Marc Togodgue after the artist used the drawing of his injured knee in a painting without his permission. The artwork is currently on display in Johns’ exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
In anticipation of the opening of his current double retrospective exhibition in the @whitney museum and the @philamuseum, Jasper Johns had a spot of legal trouble. The problem was one of his new works, Slice, and the use of a drawing by a 17-year-old boy. https://t.co/ofopwO08kU
— An Art Nation (@oneartnation) October 5, 2021
Artnews reports that Johns came across the amateur drawing in the office of his orthopedic surgeon Alexander M. Clark Jr. in Connecticut. Togodgue, a talented basketball star who attended Salisbury School in Connecticut, saw the orthopedic surgeon after sustaining an ACL injury while playing soccer. After his procedure, he gifted Clark the drawing of his injured knee, which was then hung in the office as a decoration.
The artist sent a letter to Togodgue saying that he had used a silkscreen copy of the drawing for one of his pieces.
“I should have asked you then if you’d mind using it, but I wasn’t sure my idea would ever become a reality,” the 91-year-old artist wrote, according to the outlet. “I’d like you to be happy with the idea and I hope you’ll come visit my studio to see what I’ve made.”
Togodgue and his Connecticut host parents, Rita Delgado and Jeff Ruskin, made the trip to visit Johns’ studio and even posed with the painting titled “Slice” –– oblivious to Johns’ status in the painting world.
Another artist and father of Togodgue’s friends, Brendan O’Connell, spoke about the matter. O’Connell wrote a letter denouncing Johns’ behavior, saying that “the richest and most respected Titan in the art world took on the personal drawing of an African resourceful” was the wrong move, especially in the era of Black Lives Matter. He also suggested that the millionaire artist create a foundation to help young artists like Togodgue or to pay for the student’s tuition fees, if any.
According to the Daily Mail, Conley Rollins, an informal representative for the artist, told The Washington Post that Johns had considered giving the teen some form of compensation, but none of the information was made public. Still, the two reached a settlement after lawyers got involved.
“I was happy and relieved that it was finally settled, although Rita and I argue that it could have been arranged earlier and then the lawyers and strong letters would not have been necessary,” Ruskin said of the agreement. “Jéan-Marc wants to study art at university. He finds it relaxing and is proud of the pieces he has completed.”
“We were a very proud mom and dad,” Delgado told
The Time. “We kept saying to people watching the play, ‘Well, if you want to know who did that over there, that’s Jéan-Marc!’ It resulted in great conversations with a wide range and variety of art lovers, art historians and art teachers. It was the perfect afternoon.”