by Chris Shott, Washington City Paper
July 14, 2005
Two years ago, D.C. artists Matt Sesow and Dana Ellyn Kaufman began a rather regimented painting project titled "31 Days in July."
Every day that month, the duo would scour the front page of the Washington Post, then get busy putting their brushes to canvas, each illustrating their own colorful-yet-totally-sick-and-twisted views on the day's news.
Among the resulting 62 works of art was a Sesow homage to the Wizard of Oz titled Path to Peace, which shows childhood favorites Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion fleeing down the yellow brick road as a missile-launching helicopter bombs a fiery Emerald City.
Kaufman composed a landscape littered with dead, dying, and crushed waterfowl including one with what appears to be a gaping bullet wound - dubbed Sitting Ducks Meltdown, as well as a rather stunning portrait of obscenely obese humanoids, titled Livin' XXL (Live Long Live Free).
"We came up with "31 Days In July" together as a way to show how important it is as painters to document the times we live in," says Sesow.
Not only did the creative couple manage to meet their one-painting-per-day goal, they also managed to make a little money from it. Sesow ultimately sold all but two of his 31 paintings. Kaufman sold six. They considered the project so successful that they repeated the whole process once again last July.
This summer, Kaufman thought about postponing the start of her annual monthlong paint-a-thon until August.
But on July 1, Sesow received an e-mail that made Kaufman change her mind. "AND WE'RE OFF!!!!" announced the message from a person calling himself the curator of an international art project not-so-originally titled "THE 31 DAYS IN JULY." The e-mail also included a link to a Web site of the same name, which described the concept as "artists of the world united to create 31 works of art in the 31 days of july 2005."
“I was like, ‘What?’ ” Sesow says.
The copycat project, it turned out, was the brainchild of New York–based cable-TV-advertising executive Gregg Hill, who’d earlier inquired about purchasing one of Sesow’s paintings.
Sesow and Kaufman were admittedly upset about their project’s surprise co-optation. The couple fired off e-mails to the rival curator, outlining, in Kaufman’s words, “the details of the project as we conceived it,” and asking to be given proper credit for its creation.
Feeling robbed of her intellectual property, Kaufman also scrapped the whole August idea and got busy on her third July painting binge.
Hill, however, declined to identify the couple as originators of his project. He replied that his initial inspiration was another source altogether: “I have always been interested in this project that started a few years ago where writers write a full novel in one month,” Hill informed the couple via e-mail on July 5.
That’s not to say, however, that Hill wasn’t fully aware of the duo’s earlier 31-day projects. “I was on [Sesow’s] website trying to buy a painting called ‘Mary’ which was already sold. Bummer. I noticed the 31 days, thought it was closer to what we had been getting toward,” he explains. At one point in his e-mail to the couple, Hill even referred to his project as “this other version of Matt’s idea for 31 days in July with Matt’s tilte [sic] ‘31 days in July.’ ”
The similarities to Sesow and Kaufman’s concept have apparently cost Hill one of his participants. New York–based painter, sculptor, and musician Jasun Martz has informed Sesow and Kaufman via e-mail that “now that I heard about your projects, I’ve decided to no longer be involved with Gregg’s endeavor.”
In an attempt to appease the aggrieved couple—and perhaps prevent an increase in the dropout rate–Hill has asked Sesow to become “the patriarch of this thing.…The Godfather,” according to his e-mail.
All Sesow wants, though, is a little credit for the concept, as well as links to both his and Kaufman’s Web sites. “I’m so damn busy this month,” Sesow says of his daily painting efforts, “I can’t even think about taking other action.” CP