Artist Paints Burning Banks, Attracting Police Attention

Alex Schaefer's painting of a Chase Bank branch on fire. The work measures 22 by 28 inches. (Photo courtesy the artist)

A Los Angeles artist who has been making paintings that depict local branches of multinational banks on fire has caught the attention of L.A. police, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.

The artist, Alex Schaefer, was working on a painting of Chase branch in L.A. last month when police approached him and began asking questions. “They asked if I was a terrorist and was I going to follow through and do what I was painting,” Mr. Schaefer asked.

Mr. Schaefer told The Times that he told the police that he did not plan to take any action agains the bank, but he gave them his contact information. “The flames symbolize bringing the system down,” he said. “Some might say that the banks are the terrorists.”

Last week, Mr. Schaefer says, police officers visited him at his home and asked him additional questions about his works, though they did not detain him.

Given the omnipresence of Chase Bank branches in many parts of the country, it is perhaps unsurprising that this is the second time in recent memory that they have have figured in a contemporary artwork. Last year, New York artist Liz Magic Laser presented a film called chase at the Derek Eller Gallery that was shot in the ATM vestibules of New York banks, including many Chases.

As art blogger Tyler Green has pointed out, Mr. Schaefer’s series has precedents in works by the L.A. painter Ed Ruscha, like Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (1965-68) and Norm’s, La Cienega, on Fire (1964). (In a 2004 interview with artist Doug Aitken last year, Mr. Ruscha coyly said that, in the case of Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, he was “thinking like an abstract artist.”)

Mr. Schaefer is currently at work on a painting depicting a Bank of America branch on fire. He said that he does his banking at a small community bank. Artist Paints Burning Banks, Attracting Police Attention