Eagle Rock artist’s paintings ignite collector and police interest

Alex Schaefer with painting of burning Los Feliz bank branch./Photo courtesy Alex Schaefer

"Chase Burning"/Photo courtesy Alex Schaefer

Eagle Rock plein artist Alex Schaefer is accustomed to having passersby take a peak at this canvas as he paints outdoors. But last month the visitors included a pair of LAPD officers who showed up as Schaefer stood on a Van Nuys sidewalk with easel and brushes painting a depiction of the local  Chase bank branch (bottom picture) in flames. The painting is part of  Schaefer’s series of burning bank branches – including the Chase branch in Los Feliz, pictured at top –  that serves as his artistic representation of the nation’s banking crises. But someone feared that Schaefer’s artistic pursuit  might be a form of terrorism, prompting a call to the LAPD.   Schaefer describes the incident on his blog:

I got lots of thumbs up and likes from passersby but after an hour and a half the cops showed up. They said someone called thought I might be a terrorist. It was a peaceful encounter and I think the cops felt a little silly writing me up; its a long way from painting a visual metaphor of the banks to actual terrorism. They ran my ID through their computer, we chatted a bit and they let me go. I can’t wait to start another one now! Aahahah! Who would have thought plein air painting could become an episode of COPS? The piece needs a little more work but I’m going to let it get good and dry and do more in the meantime.

The story does not end there, however.

A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times said two LAPD detectives later showed up at Schaefer’s  Eagle Rock home and asked him: “Do you hate banks? Do you plan to do that to the bank?”  The painter once again repeated his story.  Instead of landing him in more trouble, those bank paintings and publicity have generated several offers for Schaefer’s Van Nuys oil painting,  which is titled  “Chase Burning.”  Schaefer has now put the painting up for auction on eBay, with a starting bid of $920.


  1. Love the headline.

  2. Is there nothing more dangerous than artistic metaphor? It is tragic/funny that a guy who is out front of the bank PAINTING an interpretation of our nationa’s financial situation going up in flames is suspected of terrorism. If this guy truly wanted to set afire a bank would he really take the time to advertise with oil paints out front for all passersby to see? Please. We truly are a nation of hysterics, paranoids and snoops. Oh yeah, judging by the photos, Schaefer has training and talent. I hope he scores a good price for the painting and further leverages the publicity to get a proper gallery show. Good luck!

    I honestly do hate banks for what their greed has done to our nation’s economy and hard-working taxpayers, so I can appreciate where the artist is coming from. I believe most of us can also make the distinction between actual arson/terrorism vs. artistic expression. It is strange to have the LAPD now function as art critics. Maybe this will lead to some “deviant” art installations as interpreted by the city of Los Angeles and our hyper-concerned citizens? Perhaps then they can clarify what works are unacceptable for public consumption. Come on artists! They’re are still plenty of happy sunsets and cute kitties to paint in this best of all possible worlds.

  3. perhaps more entertaining would be an interview with the numskull who called the police.

  4. Instead of hassling artists outside the bank, the cops should be interrogating and arresting the people working inside.

  5. I’d like to see a painting of a burning burrito. And no that’s not a racist thing. I just think it’d be a nice image.

  6. I’m curious what Schaefer meant in the blog excerpt about the officers “writing him up?”

  7. No one is going to mention Ed Ruscha here? No one? Not a single mention? C’mon, Los Angeles.

  8. Disco inferno!

  9. I think he should just have fun with the whole burning motif and paint a burning doughnut shop.

  10. antoinette stones

    Priceless !

  11. I have a feeling his next painting is gonna be a cop car on fire lmfaooo. i mean seeing how LAPD is just so lazy , and corrupt . *cough cough rampart *cough *cough

  12. Ed Ruscha. Gas Stations. LACMA.

  13. huh, I remember doing this in High School back in the early 70’s. The art class assignment was to paint something of currnet interest. I thought about the student protests going on during that time, and decided to paint a protest at my high school, including the principal and his burning car, along with students throwing molotov cocktails at the school. The picture, along with others, was hung in the teacher’s lounge (part of the assignment was this reward), which then drew the ire of the principal. I was told I was being watched because of the painting. My freinds and I couldn’t stop laughing when hearing this.
    Didn’t realize i could’ve had a career 35 yrs later doing the same thing.

  14. So great. I hope he gets over 20,00 a piece for his paintings now

  15. IT’S common knowledge that terrorist cells always employ a fine artist–sometimes several–to create inspirational, pedantic art for future plans, and to commemorate their victories for future generations.

    Further, it’s common knowledge that photographers who don’t take pictures of people (or who take pictures of police) are generally terrorists { http://www.lbpost.com/life/greggory/12188 }, so it follows that painters are enemies of the state, as well.

  16. Wow, people really are fearful morons. As a Chase customer (by default since my bank went under..god I hate Chase) I think the painting is kind of perfect.

    And yeah, a bit of a homage to Ruscha. Basic art history.

  17. Wait! Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute!!!

    Write you up? Ran your ID??? Why did thay do this? Why did you allow them? What law were you breaking?

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