Today I discovered an artist who had spent the better part of a year plagiarizing the work of others by photoshopping his own name into photographs that he found online. That artist is from Oklahoma City and goes by the name Bubo. He was quite active on Twitter, with 1399 followers before he deleted his account earlier today. His website was also wiped clean around the same time, but I made sure to take screenshots before that happened. Bubo’s deception began to unravel when my friend Wayne brought his work to my attention. I had a look at Bubo’s website and it was immediately clear that things were not right.
In the “walls” section of his site, Bubo had 13 photographs of different piece of street art. The work was of varying styles, from photorealistic to 1-layer stencils. And a lot of it looked familiar. I identified 5 pieces that could not be by Bubo, and one that was highly unlikely, with most of the rest being quite suspect as a result. With some quick Googling, I found that Bubo had put work on his website by SPQR, L.E.T., Priest, David Zinn, and Joe Iurato, as well as this unattributed piece which seemed unlikely to be by an artist who I already knew was stealing at least some of the work posted on his website. You can see the SPQR piece above, and the other pieces here, here, here, here, and here. Bubo added a small stenciled signature to some, but not all, of the photographs on his site. He also tweeted some of the works as his own, as shown here and here.
Thanks to another one of his tweets, shown below, I was able to determine that Bubo was also not the artist behind the unattributed piece that I recognized (does anyone know the artist? Is it maybe OaKoAk?). After all, the piece was posted to Nuart’s blog and Wooster Collective in 2011, so it was clearly not Bubo’s if he was claiming the work was “new” in November 2012.
This evening, I spoke with Bubo over Skype. He immediately came clean to me admitting that his website was full of other artists’ work. Bubo explained that some of the work on the site was his own (4 of 13 pieces in the walls section), but that he began passing of other work as his when he received negative reactions to his own pieces and positive reactions when he post other people’s work.
Bubo sounded genuinely remorseful and was very clear that he understood that what he had done was wrong. At times it sounded like he was practically in tears. He made almost no attempt to justify his actions. I asked Bubo why he would put his name on another artist’s work. He said, “I thought that if I did that, it would make [people] like mine I guess and draw more attention to my own stuff. That’s really it.”
Bubo also apologized to all the artists whose work he passed off as his own, many of whom he does know the names of, saying, “I’m very very very very remorseful, I’m very sorry to those guys because that was their shit. They put their life into it. It came from their mind, their hand, all of that. and I took it.”
After our conversation, he wrote this confession/apology/explanation…
I guess you know by now that the only thing that I told the truth about was my health. That is no lie but it’s my fault, I did it to myself and I deserve it. This was supposed to be bubo’s summer, I worked for about 8 months straight on the road and saved every penny that I could. I saved right at $16,000 and came home to okc to tear the place up but I got into drugs and it ruined me. That stupid fake weed shit, I was doing about 8-9 grams of it a day and I think it gave me my cancer but I can’t prove it, no one can. Nobody even knows what’s in the stuff, just nasty chemicals…
My first piece that I put out was the stupid walmart piece but everyone hated it. I tried the BP piece next but I got the same reaction. I thought that if I put that stuff directly on their property that it would be better but it didn’t matter. I wanted friends so bad in this world that I stole other people’s art to get them. I don’t have any friends, none that truly care about me anyway and I’m sick of being alone. The first piece I stole was the “eye” piece. People loved that one and I got many followers from it. I had people talking to me now and I couldn’t stop doing it. I have been alone for a long time now due to something else that happened to me a number of years ago.
I loved the attention and just talking to people. That’s really all it was about, I just wanted people to like me but I went about it the wrong way. I still can’t believe that it has gone on so long and that RJ is the only one to ever say anything to me. I’m sure other people knew as well but they chose to remain silent about it.
I had an awesome job but my drug use ruined that for me. I have cleaned up but have gotten myself so far down that I can’t pay for gas to get back & forth from work.
I have made several mistakes over the last year and I give you my word, I will be paying for them.
I want to say to the Artist’s whose work I stole, I apologize, very deeply. Your work means the world to you and I messed with that pretty hard. I will never in my life ever do this again, not in any way, shape, or form. I swear that to you and I offer you this consolation: The entire time I was stealing from you, I was slowly committing suicide and didn’t even know it until it was to late…:)
I’m not sure how much of that story is true about Bubo getting cancer from a drug habit that distracted him from his goals of making his own art, but I do believe that he is sorry. Maybe it’s true or maybe it’s not, but what I’m pretty sure of is that Bubo is a pretty desperate and confused guy who just wanted to fit in and maybe get a piece of the street art pie. I don’t think he is an evil genius who set out to manipulate people or become the next Mr. Brainwash through some complex scheme without creating his own work. I think he just got up for a bit and then made some very serious mistakes that he kept making when he saw that he was rewarded for them. The work that Bubo was doing that was his own wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, but he had the potential to become a solid artist if he just worked at it. Maybe he would have been one more in a sea of Banksy clones, but that’s not the worst place in the world to be. At least, it’s a hell of a lot better place to be than a plagiarist.
What makes something like this even possible? What makes someone think it is okay even for a second? Bubo’s career is kind of amazing in a very wrong way. When he shut down his Twitter account, he had 1399 followers, and he was having conversations with those people every day. Sometimes he would post photos to Twitter claiming them to be his own work, and of course his profile had a link to his website with all of the plagiarized pieces. And yet, nobody called him out. He had been at it for a year. It wasn’t just street art either. He was posting paintings on Twitter and his website that he did not make. How could nobody have seen this? Much of the work that Bubo stole had appeared on major blogs like Wooster Collective. Or, if people had noticed what Bubo was doing, how could they have stayed silent? Even Bubo seems amazed that he was able to keep going for so long.
I’ll admit that it seems that a community willing to criticize Bubo’s actual work may have been one of the contributing factors to his initial plagiarism, but I think that an overly-congratulatory and self-promotional street art community contributed to Bubo being able to pull of his deception for so long. On Twitter, artists who follow back and retweet every last positive mention of themselves inevitably leads to people following them and saying positive things about their work. Sometimes, the street art world, particularly over twitter, can be a big circlejerk. And in that circlejerk, nobody is going to question another artist’s work unless they absolutely know for a fact that it has been stolen, and maybe not even then. Perhaps if the street art community was generally more to giving and receiving constructive critiques, these kinds of things would not go on for so long.
The nature of the internet played role too. Since Bubo was posting photos online and he is based in Oklahoma City, where there aren’t many people going around photographing street art on their lunch breaks like in NYC, nobody seems to have questioned him about where exactly his works were located. He could post photos without any serious concern that someone might try to track down the work to see it in person.
And why would Bubo think his plagiarizing was okay or get any joy out of it? For the joy part, again, I think it goes back to the way that the street art community can be extremely supportive and positive to the point where it is detrimental sometimes. In addition to the drugs, Bubo seems to have become addicted to the modest fame that he had achieved and the fan-base he built up. In our Skype conversation, Bubo gave some insight into how he rationalized his actions. He said, “This is a fact. If you look at all of these people. Every single one of them steals people’s shit. Half of these millionaire artists out there, they don’t even do their own stuff anymore. And that’s a fact. So who’s the really bad person? I mean, they’re the ones making money off of it.” But there’s an obvious and crucial difference between Jeff Koons or Shepard Fairey appropriating work and employing assistants and what Bubo did: Those artists never lied to anyone. Everybody knows that Koons and Fairey employ paid assistants to help execute their work, and appropriation is part of the conceptual basis for some of what they do, not usually something that they try to hide. Bubo took others’ work and posted it as his own with no such conceptual component. Bubo just wanted to get more fans and be loved for the work he was posting as though he had thought-up and executed it himself.
While Bubo was able to go plagiarizing for nearly a year, he was eventually caught red-handed with only minimal investigation on my part. And I suppose that’s thanks to the internet too. If he were in Oklahoma City and just showing the plagiarized work to people there in handmade zines 20 years ago, he could still be at it (although then the question becomes how he would get access to the photos that he edited in the first place). So if you’re thinking about emulating Bubo or you already are, keep in mind that it’s only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down. And if you know of an artist doing anything like this, please, do not let it continue. Call them out on their lies. Stealing and re-attributing artwork may seem harmless at first, but plagiarism is unfair and potentially detrimental to the artists being plagiarized. For more stories like this, just check the blog You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice.
I would love to get other people’s thoughts on Bubo’s story in the comments section, particularly if your work was stolen by Bubo or you were a victim of his deception.
Here are links to the pieces that Bubo plagiarized that I was able to trace to a source:
- When Life Gives You Oil Spills by Priest
- Spongebob by unknown artist
- Ronald McDonald Vomiting by SPQR
- I Need It More, NY by L.E.T.
- Occupy Your Imagination or Someone Else Will by David Zinn
Screenshots by RJ Rushmore, photo of the BP piece by Bubo, but I’m not sure how to appropriately credit the photos within the screenshots.