The defendants facing a lawsuit filed by famed collage artist Deborah Roberts are seeking to have the case dismissed on the grounds that she cannot copyright “an entire artistic style she didn’t even create.” Photo courtesy of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York
Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The defendants facing a lawsuit filed by famed collage artist Deborah Roberts are seeking to have the case dismissed on the grounds that she cannot copyright "an entire artistic style she didn't even create."
Roberts, who is known for her mixed media collages of Black children, filed the $1 million lawsuit against fellow artist Lynthia Edwards, as well as her art dealer and his New York City gallery, according to court documents obtained by UPI.
Edwards, like Roberts, also constructs collages of Black children from found photographs and other materials -- often set against colorful backgrounds. Roberts' collages are usually set against white backgrounds.
Lawyers for Edwards and her dealer, Richard Beavers, filed a motion to dismiss on Wednesday in a federal court in Brooklyn.
"This case is about an artist at the height of her career punching down on an emerging artist in order to stifle market competition and eliminate a competitive threat," a memorandum filed with the motion reads.
Lawyers for Edwards and Beavers noted that the use of photo-based collage has "deep roots in the work of Black American artists" and that artists have been using the style well before Roberts.
"The only similarity between Roberts' and Edwards' art is that both artists fit into a long-established historical tradition that Roberts neither invented nor owns," the memorandum reads.
"Roberts may be well deserving of all the accolades she has accomplished, but she did not invent and does not own the concept of depicting Black figures through collage."
The memorandum noted that Pablo Picasso did not maintain the copyright for painting in the cubist style he championed and that other artists have not owned the exclusive rights for their styles.
Picasso and the famed artist Hannah Hoch were also referenced in the lawsuit for their development of the assemblage techniques used to create collages in the early 20th century.
"The cubist-inspired works of Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and their contemporaries were equally fueled by local practices such as the piecing of quilts and the papering of walls of Southern homes with newspapers and magazine pages," the memorandum reads.
"The following generation of artists, such as Benny Andrews and Faith Ringgold expanded the direction of Black cubist collage to include patterning, surface embellishments and fabric drawn directly from African textiles."
The lawsuit noted that other artists who currently employ similar techniques include Lorna Simpson, Neo Matloga and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.
Roberts in her complaint also alleged that Edwards had used some of the same source photographs in her own collages, including famed images of Rosa Parks -- of which lawyers for Edwards and Beavers noted she does not maintain the copyrights.
Speaking with Sightlines magazine last year, Roberts denied that she was trying to stifle emerging competition.
"This is not a frivolous claim," Roberts told Sightlines."I want everyone to be successful in the art world, especially young and emerging artists of color. To say that I punch down at a younger artist is disingenuous. I don't know [Edwards], but her work is being mistaken as mine."