Kanye West released a new video on Friday night. As one might expect, it is extravagant, controversial and inspired. Inspired by a work of art, that is. The visual elements in the “Famous” video clearly reference figurative artist Vincent Desiderio’s “Sleep” painting. The original depicts a line of nude individuals lying on a messy bed. In West’s version, the people are wax figures of nude celebrities, from Taylor Swift to Donald Trump and George W. Bush to Amber Rose.
The NSFW video feels voyeuristic, but so does Desiderio’s realistic large-scale (we’re talking “eight-foot-high and 24-foot-long” large-scale) painting. The New York-based artist’s intriguing works are thematically complex and are often paired with intimate, absurd scenes that force the viewer to confront emotion-laden ideas.
It is unclear whether Desiderio (or anyone else depicted in the video, for that matter) were previously aware of the project, but we venture to say that the video isn’t just inspired by the painting but is instead a re-creation of it. The similarities are undeniable, as the figures are even each positioned almost identically:
Kanye took Vincent Desiderio’s “Sleep” & brought it to life with a modern twist.. if that isn’t genius idk what is. pic.twitter.com/bSDddfQFNo
— RAY MUÑOZ (@raymunoz94) June 25, 2016
As with anything West does, the Internet went into a frenzy after the “Famous” launch, and some people were quick to point out the Desiderio reference. At the LA premiere, West, who says the video is “a comment on fame,” reportedly did name Desiderio as an inspiration. So it is also unclear whether a lawsuit is on its way – or several. (While we’ve heard from George W. Bush, there’s still no word from Taylor Swift, who has a particularly tumultuous relationship with the rapper). Still, Kanye doesn’t seem to mind – a now-deleted tweet on Saturday stated: “Can someone sue me already. I’ll wait.”
Desiderio has yet to comment. As for whether he was involved or will sue, he did have this to say, in 2012*, about painters being inspired by one another’s work. So perhaps West will go unscathed on this one after all:
“As far as I’m concerned, what painters do when they work from the work of other painters is they allegorize the method. They take things that are present in the technical narrative of painters that precede them, and they imbue them with an anthropomorphic presence or give it a name or reissue it in a different way, but in doing so they treat that quality or character or set of relationships in a different way… I am interested in method – in the procedures of painters being reinvestigated, re-understood, even misread, in using them as touchstones for our own progress, process and the process of painting to come.” –Vincent Desiderio
*“The Art of Sensibility,” Out of Order Magazine, April 2012