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.