Sherri Littlefield didn’t expect to find a photo of herself taken from online, painted, and now being sold.
“Sometimes I google myself, treat gallery [sic], or my maiden name ‘Nienass’ to see if there’s anything new,” says Sherri in an email to us about her likeness being used for a painting without her consent or knowledge. “To my surprise, I found the painting of myself. At first, I thought maybe it was a former student or colleague, but I have no affiliation with the artist or gallery.” Now, a lot of things are bound to go through one’s mind. Do you have a stalker? Was this shot in public? How did someone get this image and paint it for a sale? These are just some of the questions that came to my mind at least when seeing Sherri post about this.
Sherri Nienass Littlefield is the curator of the Treat Gallery in NYC. They’re an online gallery aimed at helping emerging artists and businesses that could use a “treat.” Since 2016, they’ve offered scholarships, artist counseling, and have two to three pop-up exhibitions a year. 25%-100% of proceeds get donated to various causes or non-profits. She’s an important part of the photo community as she serves on the board of the NY Chapter of ASMP and also puts on events. Sherri has used the SnapChat glasses for a special project she’s been working on about catcallers in NYC.
Friends of Mrs. Littlefield’s did some research around both the gallery and the artist who painted her image. YeonJee MoMo Kim is a South Korean artist represented by Gallery HZ and the piece is currently for sale on Artsy. If you’re truly into the creative part of the photo world, you know that Artsy is a fantastic resource for this kind of stuff. To Sherri’s surprise, it was a piece that had been displayed during an art fair. “At first, I assumed maybe the artist did a series of paintings on curators, but it appears that it is just me,” explains Sherri to us. “The usual work she creates is quite different than the painting of me.”
Things like this aren’t uncommon, but they’re weird and sometimes high profile. There’s Shepard Fairey v. AP, Lynn Goldsmith v. Warhol (Estate) and Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia for example. In the latter, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia photographed a man named Ermo Nussenzweig and published his image in a gallery. DiCorcia won the case as the piece was considered art and street photography. And that’s where Mrs. Littlefield’s case gets more complicated. Her likeness was painted. “I found the conversation that took place on my Facebook wall very interesting, that people assumed I had wanted to sue the artist; people arguing with one another over what I should do and what my legal options are,” Sherri tells us. “That isn’t me, haha.” She continued to say she would never sue over something like this.
“It would be backwards of me to run treat gallery, a project that aims to help others (including artists) and sue others in my personal time. I can only assume it was a naive mistake.”– Sherri Littlefield
In Sherri’s eyes, this is all a bit bizarre, but a form of flattery. It’s not the first time other artists have wanted to create work of Sherri’s image. They usually ask first though, and Sherri always grants consent. “More than anything, I’d like to know why the artist chose me, and what their ideas were behind it.” Mrs. Littlefield tells us. She expressed to us that both she and the artist have nothing in common and she’s curious about how YeonJee found the image from 2012.