Art theft hurts the community as well as the artist 

Thou shalt not steal

The good Lord said it best: "Thou Shalt Not Steal." Our parents taught us to live by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have done unto you. Simple, straightforward advice for leading a good life. But some seem to feel that these rules do not apply to them.

On July 2, 2013, Alizey Khan, a local astronomical artist and recent graduate of College of Charleston, proudly opened Interspatial, her first solo show at the Saul Alexander Gallery inside the Charleston County Public Library, located on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston. On July 30, 2013, Khan received news that no artist ever wants to hear. Three of her paintings had been stolen, right from the walls of the library’s gallery. On August 2, Khan was notified that a fourth painting had been stolen. By the very same thief.

Khan works two jobs, one for me at Redux Contemporary Art Center as our Membership and Media Coordinator, and one at Artist & Craftsman Supply. She puts nearly every single cent she earns back into canvases, paint, epoxy, and other supplies. She has spent years studying art; she majored in both Studio Art and Arts Management at CofC. Khan studies images of far off galaxies daily from NASA’s website, and has been exploring new techniques like resin painting, a costly medium that can have great results — slick, shiny surfaces that encapsulate paint or nearly any object one can imagine. Khan also teaches Resin Painting classes at Redux, and her students have created some incredible works. The hours and dollars that are poured into every piece can never be replaced.

As artists, we strive to create beautiful, meaningful works of art that can express all manner of human emotion. Artists like Khan spend years learning and perfecting their craft. It’s a life that requires a considerable amount of courage on top of talent, resourcefulness, and a work ethic rivaled only by the poor beasts pulling carriage tours through our historic district. Khan spent months, literally months, planning Interspatial, writing her own PR, designing and printing professional postcards to promote it, and long, late nights in her studio creating stunning works of art to unveil to the public.

The theft of her artwork has some terrible implications for our community. There is Khan herself. She may get reimbursed for the work, but that is a rare blessing. She will never get those hours of her life that were put into each painting back. Stealing her artwork is tantamount to stealing food from her hands or the money out of her bank account. Where’s the Golden Rule when you need it?

The public will suffer because of this as well. The library offers a rare gift of public art through the Saul Alexander Gallery, free and open daily to all visitors who walk through the doors. But you can bet that artists will be hesitant to display their work in the future. And they should be wary. We all suffer when goodwill and an earnest effort to positively contribute to our community is replaced by feelings of violation and disrespect.

As someone who spends my every day working with and for artists, I am incredibly angry at this lowly act of stealing from an artist. Khan and all artists are actively contributing to our culture, adding something personal, meaningful, or provoking, taking disparate objects and melding them together to create works of art.

Thief, you ruined the experience for both artist and viewer. So maybe your art collection is a whole lot cooler now, but how about all the patrons of the library who see only bland, blank walls? Art should be accessible for all. Which is what we really want. That, and a paycheck.

Total value of stolen works: $2,700
Total hours put into the works: 120 hours
Four years tuition for Khan at College of Charleston: $56,000

Stacy Huggins is the executive director of Redux Contemporary Art Center.

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