Alex Schaefer‘s ‘Disaster Capitalism’ paintings came to prominence in the wake of the Occupy protests in 2011 and aroused fury, indignation and police heavy handedness in what was to become a farce and a indictment of the system we continue to live in.
On July 30, 2011, Alex Schaefer set up an easel across the road from a Chase bank and began painting the building in flames. However, before he had finished the police arrived, asked him for his information and if he was planning on actually carrying out an arson attack on the building. Ridiculous. Later they turned up on his doorstep asking about his artwork and looking for any signs that he was going to carry through an anarcho – terrorist plot based on his paintings. If this wasn’t bad enough a year later he was arrested for drawing the word ‘crime’ with a Chase logo infront of an LA bank.
This harassment, paranoia and protection, by the authorities, of the institutions that were responsible for the crash of 2008 are what lie at the heart of these paintings and the continued surveillance of an artist who found himself an accidental protester. A man who used his brush to express the unjust and criminal activity of a few. The 1%. As he put it himself:
The flames symbolize bringing the system down, some might say that the banks are the terrorists.
As well as painting banks engulfed in flames – symbolising the destructive effects banks have on our economy – he created images of foreclosed suburban homes and Chase-sponsored fake advertisements featuring Cabernet beer bongs. This incisive and unequivocal attack on the establishment brought the fiction of his paintings up against the reality of the situation, his pictures illustrating the power of the visual image and how the re-appropriation of symbols can both empower, disturb and agitate the status quo.
It’s this juxtaposition of reality and post-apocalyptic fiction that’s most interesting about these paintings. The reaction of the bank officials and police against an artist who is merely articulating the anger felt by the American people. Ironically it was their reaction to his pictures that led him to become a viral sensation and pushed up the value of his paintings. His burning banks went on to sell for $25,000. Here’s what he said to Artbound:
homeland security considers drawing or photographing “sensitive” locations and buildings is suspicious activity. But my painting protest is different because it’s so slow and blatant. I was not “casing” the location. I was standing on the street in full view painting for four hours, talking with people, interacting. I suspect it was someone from the bank that notified authorities that they are “threatened” by my painting. And that was the exact word the police used when first confronting me. Someone was “threatened” by my art and called them.
Once it was sketched out I started immediately with the flames. That was the first paint that I put on the canvas. So I led with the message, which was a bold move. The reaction of everyone who commented was positive. Thumbs up. [People would say] “They suck.” “they screwed my checking account,” “my brother’s losing his home.” I could feel that the image was a catharsis for lots of people. Three hours into it the police came and the rest is history.