Do you believe in ghosts? I’m talking about the folks in our culture who “collaborate” in creating some of the largest art and entertainment brands known in the world today. On the heels of the Meek Mill and Drake ghostwriting feud, I was introduced to another quarrel, this time in the contemporary art world, between well-known street artist ALEC Monopoly and illustrator Mike Mozart.
While interviewing both parties and hearing convincing arguments from both sides, I noticed a couple of keywords that seemed to come up very often and wanted to distinguish the difference between them. These words are “Collaborate” and “Work For Hire”. Collaborate, is defined as “working jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something” and Work for Hire is explained as “work created on behalf of a client where all parties agree in writing to the Work For Hire designation“. Keep these two words in mind as you read this story.
ALEC Monopoly has created one of the most globally recognizable art brands today. By incorporating his personality with the face of “Mr Monopoly”, a character created by Dan Fox and made famous by the “Parker Brothers” brand, ALEC has managed to tackle current events and convey messages through paint that has collectors salivating about owning a piece of his work. As a “Celebrity artist”, ALEC polarizes his fans with his persona of opulent living, countless high-profile clients, and his signature top hat and face mask concealing his identity.
Mike Mozart, An illustrator for over 30 years, specializes in creating some of the most recognizable kid characters for many corporations. Has has been published in over 100 kids books and was also one of the first live YouTube broadcasters from “Occupy Wall Street” rallies in New York City. Mike gained prominence through his JeepersMedia brand and his channel titled “TheToyChannel”, but not too many folks (at least those I have spoken with) have ever heard of the artist “MiMo” which is Mike’s moniker as a graffiti/street artist.
“I felt this would be a great opportunity for Alec and me, I like the kid. I help out lots of people”, Mozart explains.
To hear Mike’s story, is to hear a tale of deception by an artist and friend he looked to help and support. “I felt this would be a great opportunity for Alec and me, I like the kid. I help out lots of people”, Mozart explains. But, to hear ALEC’s side of the story, it was all business. “Mike Mozart was never a “mentor” or “collaborator” as he claims, but merely a Freelance Illustrator who created works for hire and was compensated for these services.” says Avery Andon (ALEC Monopoly’s manager).
“It is important to note that Alec Monopoly began incorporating the Monopoly Man character into his work in 2008. By the time he met Mike Mozart several years later, he had already held a sold out solo exhibition in NYC, been arrested for doing illegal graffiti and placed his iconic “ALEC” logo and Monopoly Man characters on walls around the world.” – Avery Andon (ALEC Monopoly’s Manager)
Mozart remembers the day he met ALEC at a video production studio in Beverly Hills. He had no idea that ALEC would be there, and at that point in time, had never heard of the then emerging street artist. He went on to share some of his drawings with ALEC and says he (ALEC) was very enamored with him. “He was very excited to meet me, he even bought some art/drawing supplies from me.” Mozart adds, acknowledging that ALEC was working on art during this visit. This encounter lead to what is believed to be a working relationship and friendship of almost 4 years between the two artists in which Mozart states he even inspired the naming of ALEC’s dog, “Bruisa”, indicating how close the two became as friends.
What gets tricky is whether further business between the artists was understood by both parties as a “collaboration” or “work for hire”.
“Mike clearly presented himself as a professional Illustrator during our entire relationship with him and we were paying him under that pretense.” – Avery Andon (ALEC Monopoly’s Manager)
Mozart has revealed that he has worked on hundreds on projects in “collaboration” with ALEC Monopoly, varying in theme, and that some of the original drawings given to ALEC in that first meeting helped brand and skyrocket his artist persona. He says, the “Monopoly Man on a Cross”, one of ALEC most notable pieces (pictured below), was among that earlier bunch of drawings given to ALEC. He also sent us a link to a folder containing hundreds of drawings and ideas that were the inspiration for tons of other ALEC Monopoly pieces.
Alec Monopoly has painted AT LEAST 60 unique works of art based on my Original Design Drawing of Mr Monopoly on the cross! I'm holding that first drawing that I created in 2011 the first time I met Alec in the FilmOn Studios in Beverly Hills California. … I still have the original artwork was was projected and traced to create so much artwork and value. I have secretly collaborated with Alec Monopoly since then, until about April this year. …… NOTE: I will no longer collaborate with Alec Monopoly! I still have all my design artwork in my possession except the few I have sold! Some of those are posted on @airjordansandart #AlecMonopoly #Mimo #MikeMozart #MonopolyGuy #MrMonopoly #Monopoly #StreetArt #Graffiti #GrafittiArt #PopArt @GuyHepner
A photo posted by Mike Mozart (@mikemozart) on
However, ALEC Monopoly’s manager, Avery Andon contends that “Mike has never painted or touched a single one of Alec’s original canvas paintings, nor were his sketches EVER sold as originals to clients. Mike clearly presented himself as a professional Illustrator during our entire relationship with him and we were paying him under that pretense.”
That’s where it seems to get pretty ugly. Mozart informed us that for the first two years of the “collaboration” with ALEC, he was NOT paid for his services, nor did he ever sign any agreements of Work-for-Hire, and was never considered a “Team Member” of the Monopoly camp. Monopoly’s camp says that Mozart was paid for his illustration services and “any claim that he believed he was a “collaborator” or partner in the Alec Monopoly project is also completely false.” Both parties claim to have proof that supports their argument.
“I never said anything bad or negative pertaining to ALEC or tracing or projecting.” adds Mozart.
The Monopoly camp thinks this is Mozart’s attempt at gaining fame and notoriety with his “Smear Campaign” on ALEC Monopoly as they claim they have made multiple attempts to resolve the issue amicably. Instead, they say he started by sending “aggressive and hateful emails” about Alec to galleries they’re associated with and that he “never once vocalized his discontent or requested additional credit or compensation from us throughout the entire period of time that he was working for us”.
Mozart slams this as being untrue noting that he has never said anything to discredit ALEC Monopoly as an artist or brand. “I never said anything bad or negative pertaining to ALEC Monopoly.” adds Mozart. “I have ONLY ever mentioned that we have “collaborated”.
Mozart recently attended the “Forever 21” launch event that ALEC was the featured artist of and is in “collaboration” with for a new line of Monopoly themed clothing, and even posed for a picture with his now nemesis wearing what seems to be a “collaboration” of “MiMo” and ALEC Monopoly.
@alecmonopoly and @mikemozart at Forever 21! I'm wearing a shirt that Alec and I created together as a collaboration in 2011! My corporate sponsor is Jetset Charter @Jetset_Charter #AlecMonopoly #alecmonopolyart #Graffiti #GrafittiArt #StreetArt #Painting #ModernArt #Drawings #FashionDesign #Forever21 @Forever21 Alec Monopoly / Mike Mozart Collaboration Shirt painted at FilmOn Beverly Hills Studio before Alec's First Solo Show in 2011!
A photo posted by Mike Mozart (@mikemozart) on
After that photo, almost every one of Mozart’s posts mentions that he “collaborated” with Monopoly and hints that he is in fact the man behind the creative direction of the artist’s brand.
“Dating back to Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Rubens to Andy Warhol’s famed “Factory” and most recently top-selling artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, artists have enlisted the help of creative professionals and staff members to help keep up with demand and scalability.” – Avery Andon
ALEC’s camp has never denied any involvement with Mike Mozart but also argue that it was a “good marketing plan” that helped ALEC Monopoly become a household name, not one single image. “Collectors are buying into Alec’s persona, mystique and star power. His unique style and personality, and pension for flair have propelled him into the international spotlight.” states Andon. He also remind readers that “the content in question is the appropriation of characters that neither Mike Mozart nor Alec Monopoly created” stating that public usage of the characters are fair game. They believe that Mike’s campaign will hold no relevance to collectibility or growth of ALEC as an artist.
Mozart believes that once the truth comes out fans will ultimately understand that it was he, not ALEC, that was the “creative force” behind much of the artwork. “I don’t want money, I’m not going to sue. I have a substantial amount of time invested and I have earned that recognition!”
Badir McCleary Editor in Chief
Badir McCleary is an independent consultant. He holds a M.A. in Arts Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art (Los Angeles/London) where he focused on creating art markets and with an undergraduate degree in Internet Computing from Cabrini University focusing on e-commerce and digital trends. Badir enjoys working with artists and consider them crucial to informing his practice.
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