Sunday, September 9, 2007

Painting in the Third Level of Hell

I recently received a commission for this portrait.
"Hey", I thought "I like painting portraits". So I accepted the commission.

And then it began. The third party art studio through whom I received the commission suggested that they would print a badly photo-shopped picture onto the canvas to insure that I painted a likeness.

I was, of course, quite insulted. I didn't pay $40,000 for a masters from the Graduate School of Figurative Art (New York Academy) , and spend 20 years painting, so that someone could tell me that I didn't know how to paint a likeness. So, biting my tongue because I needed the money, I told them that it wasn't necessary. She insisted

I'm a patient man, so I again bit my tongue and suggested a compromise. "Print it in black and white or sepia so that it doesn't throw off my color development." She agreed. So, we wait a week for them to print it (during which time I could have painted the damn thing.)

The day I pick up the canvas she is not there, so I head home to find (to my horror) that it was printed in color! Not only did the image have drastically distorted proportions, but the color resembled the yellow glare of a Las Vegas street light.

And then there was the goofy smile.

I try not to be the kind of person who takes myself too seriously, but this just crossed the line. I mean I do have self-respect. So, I called the offending party up and promptly refused the commission. However, a friend of mine manages the studio (not the one causing the problems) and she begged me to do the portrait as the deadline was in four days and she didn't have time to find someone else.


Look, I'm typically a pretty thorough person. I asked the standard questions at the beginning and got vague responses - that should have been enough warning. But I really needed the money. My friend negotiated more money for me to finish the painting, and not wanting to put her in a bind, I agreed to do it. Certainly, the money helped too.

I roughly sketched out the composition and decided to give her a dignified expression and get rid of that cheesy smile. Upon e-mailing the image, I received this response:
As she is currently painted she looks too old and we would like you to refer back to the original print exactly as it was for her face and her smile, as we all found that to be pleasing.
How could she look old or young? It's a sketch!
No matter how I tried, I could not find a middle ground between what I could deal with and what she wanted (which changed daily by the way).

So, I bit my tongue so hard it bled.

And I painted the image above. The first day was 10 hours of pure, unadulterated, torture. Not only did I hate what I was painting, I couldn't paint properly because I didn't like it - so everything I knew went out the window and I struggled the whole time.

The second day was 12 hours of lamentable hell, and I still had a mental block. I finally came to what we have above, and I'm totally exhausted. I feel as if I've sold myself on the corner and been violated for 63 hours (shudder).

So, here's my advice:
Always make your price, time line, and working conditions perfectly clear at the beginning. Make sure there is a legal contract.
If they are not forthcoming with information, they are not someone you should be doing business with.

Update: The offending third party has now refused to pay what we agreed upon, and now asserts that she will pay me the equivalent of $7 an hour (big, surprise). I made more that when I worked at Wal-Mart in high School. She refuses to negotiate. So, I now have no qualms in revealing their identity in the hopes of warning others.

The company is Novo Arts, and the neurotic, condescending, micro-managing owner and arbiter of bad taste -who couldn't paint her way out of a paper bag (I've seen her paint) - is Marlaina Deppe. Further, her knowledge of art history doesn't extend much beyond Impressionism. Not only is she undercutting the business for real artists, she is exploiting us and destroying the quality of the work. I would strongly advise anyone who comes into contact with her to steer a wide course as she is unprofessional, exploitive, and cannot be trusted.


Steven LaRose said...

That is one familiar story. Only recently I have learned to say "no" to certain jobs. (Don't tell my wife this). It simply isn't worth it. No matter what the dangled carrot is, sometimes we have a visceral understanding that a client is going to be trouble. But the money. . . .


You end up losing money, and sleep, and pride.

But it is the end of the month. . .

Is there such a thing as a portrait artist union?

New York City said...

Yes, you're right. And this should come as no surprise....

She now doesn't want to pay me the full amount.

I should have known better, but being jobless at the time, I was desperate.

By the way, the good news is I just got a job.

Anonymous said...

You have no idea how happy I am to finally see this business exposed for what it truly is. Being an ex-employee of the above mentioned company was by far the hardest test of survival any NY artist can find them selves, gratuating art school and falling into. My next 3 jobs in the NY art world had all heard of this company and were very well aware of what goes on there. Don't forget, she shows her true colors to clients as well. She does have a reputation. THE constant abuse, and I mean Severe abuse that the artists, consultants, management, senior level advisors had to endure on a daily basis is matched by no other situation I have ever heard of. If the money was worth it it would be one thing, but, this company likes to keep workers poor often hiring illegals as book keepers, etc. Perhaps if everyone who had ever passed through the doors of this company started EXPOSING the abuse, a quick call the dept. of labor, and how bout one to the IRS...we could show the president that yes, she too is as replaceable as all of us were. I would get a lawyer if i were you. Based on past knowledge she won't have the time or energy and will back down. she hates paying anybody...if she were to have to hire a litigation lawyer that would perhaps make her back down.

New York City said...

So, I did threated litigation and she did indeed back down. I received a check for the full amount (peanuts) a week later.

Anonymous said...

yeah, i had a feeling that that would be the one thing that would make her give in. THat is the only kind of person she didn't have on full time staff. Hey, I have a question. About a year ago a former staff member that worked there several years contacted me. Being so close to the situation (he had worked there a while), he was writing a text book designed for "senior semester art students". You know - tips, tricks of the trade and of course his experience at novo. He told me that he wanted to make sure Novo went down and was documented properly for what it was. That 10, 15, 25 years from now The art historical world was well aware of the TRUTH behind NOVO, and what it was all about. He emailed me parts of the book, and it was amazing. It wasn't just a long actually described how the owner's vision was "well intended" at the beginning, but, how "corporate" blah blah blah drove her over the edge of .....Anyway I gave him an interview. He recently shot me an email to say that he had found a publisher that was very interested, after trying for 2 years. Would you be interested in giving him an interview? Perhaps I could email you his address.

New York City said...

Sure, I would be happy to contribute.
My e-mail is

Anonymous said...

I can't even tell you how happy I was to find this. I worked as an "intern" (and I use the term loosely) for Marlaina and she is one of the most horrible people I have ever worked for. At this point in time (around 2008) she was so broke she fired almost everyone and hired UNPAID interns to do the job that the hired employees were doing! This is ILLEGAL by the way. I work at a law firm now and I can tell you that yes, you should hire a lawyer. What she does is illegal. Seriously, this place is horrible. I think that everyone should know the truth about this place and she needs to be punished for her actions.

Anonymous said...

This post will be the highlight of my day. I worked for Novo Arts as an "intern" for 4 months (was supposed to be 6 months) in the fall/winter of 2011. Unfortunately, I also lived in one of the tiny rooms on the graphic design floor. I was paid minimum wage for NYC, and had to pay Marlaina $850/mo to rent the room, which was probably 10x12ft. The carpet in the room was disgusting scrap carpet just laid down on the floor, the walls were crap, and I had to share a bathroom and "kitchenette" (no stove) with another renter and the whole design department.

Every day was hell. The only reason I stayed 4 months was because my boyfriend lived in Brooklyn at the time. Everything concerning invoices and taxes was super sketchy. I was told that if any tax collectors came in, to lie to them and say I only worked 3 days a week in the office (I worked 9-5 m-f).

During the time I worked there, I got a pay raise and then everyone in the company got a 7% pay cut because the business was doing so poorly. Yet, Marlaina could still afford a housekeeper/chef to bring her 3 meals a day and do her laundry/clean her apartment. Everyone I worked with were really kind, honest, and talented people. We all deserved better. Marlaina treated us more like children than employees. Around the time I quit, several others had either already left, or were planning to leave in the coming weeks.

I really wish I saw this blog post before I accepted the job at Novo Arts. I would have definitely turned down the job.

I am still in contact with one friend from working there, who directed me to this blog. He is still unfortunately working for that witch. I really hope he finds a better job soon, but times are tough.

Anonymous said...

Another former employee chiming in. At the time I worked there she had TWO undocumented immigrants as employees, both were using other people's names and social security numbers to work there. They were even receiving pay checks made out to these other names despite the fact that everyone in the office knew and called them by their actual names.

Marlaina Deppe was more than aware of this as she signed the paychecks and brought it up several times while I was there. She was so casual about the whole thing, it was bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Was going to send in my resume packet for a position there TODAY. VERY happy to have seen these posts. the publicity for this company makes it seem like a good place- I wish I had found these reviews first :P

Anonymous said...

MARALIANA DEPPE IS A MONSTER!!! She is a lying cheating a decitefull woman. I rented from here for two years at her supposed "art studio in putnam county" I've never seen a woman abuse people with true talent more in my life and her daughters too there both spoiled brats. She will take advantage of anyone and then make them seem as if their profession is not worthy to her. Undercut pay NOT PAY THEM AT ALL, And then use ILLEGAL CONTRACTS


Anonymous said...

WOW!!! I'm so glad I read this, I actually have a interview with this old bat tomorrow. Im DEFINITELY NOT taking this job. nooo way in hell im dealing with another wanna be art dealer ever again. For all the people who said their writing about this company, feel free to drop me a line at would be delighted to pitch a story to VICE.