The illustration for the $ 5.7 million magazine

At the age of seventeen, artist and illustrator Chris Foss read a rave review of “Whaam! “I remember being completely outraged,” Foss said. “The world was going crazy because of that enlarged comic book panel, and all I could think of was the original artist, the person who arranged the dots and was completely ignored. Who knew that thirty years later the same would happen to me?

In October, “Ornamental Despair”, a 1994 painting by British artist Glenn Brown, was auctioned in London for $ 5.7 million. The painting is almost an exact replica of a science fiction illustration that Foss created for a men’s magazine in the 1970s, for which he was paid around three hundred and fifty pounds. Brown’s painting was based on a reprint of Foss’ original, featured in a 1990 book collection of the artist’s work. “I knew he had copied it from the book because the painting had been cropped to fit the page. His version is clearly based on the cropped version, ”Foss said.

Brown, who is 48, is a controversial figure in the art world, well known for his reinterpretations of the work of other artists that are surprisingly close to the originals. Brown imitated the works of bygone artists such as Rembrandt, Dali and van Gogh, but also lesser-known living illustrators. In 2000, Anthony Roberts, another British science fiction artist, sued Brown for copyright infringement on a version of Roberts’ illustration for the cover of a 1974 science fiction novel by Robert A Heinlein. The painting, titled “Loves of Shepherds”, was exhibited at the Tate. The ensuing legal battle cost Brown a hundred and forty thousand pounds – “Every penny I had,” he said later. Roberts’ claim against Brown was eventually settled out of court and Brown changed the title of his painting by adding the words “(After Anthony Roberts)”.

Sir Nicholas Serota, chairman of the Turner Prize jury, said of Brown’s work: “He uses the work of other artists, but that doesn’t mean you could possibly confuse his work with theirs… he takes the image, he transforms it. , he gives it a whole different scale. But, when Foss heard of mimicry, he was less generous in his assessment of Brown’s originality. In September 2004, when Brown was given a retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery in London, Foss traveled from his home on the island of Guernsey to confront the artist in person.

“I was furious,” he told me. “I burst into the gallery and shouted at the director, ‘Take these pictures off the wall; they have no place there. I was not happy to see copies of my work everywhere. With admirable diplomacy, the gallery manager managed to appease Foss, offering to add credit below the paintings that cited the source of inspiration. When his anger subsided, Foss was introduced to Brown. “He’s a pretty cool guy,” Foss said. “I said to him, ‘What if in the future I do the linework and you fill in the colors?’ “

Foss has always taken a pragmatic approach to his work. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be an artist, and at fifteen he was making a living designing signage for local businesses in Guernsey. Foss went to study architecture at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where studies were high on his priority list. He only attended two conferences in his first and only year at college. Instead, he devoted his time to pursuing orders from trade magazines. When he heard about the launch of Penthouse, he sent an erotic illustration to its founder, Bob Guccione, who, Foss said, “totally rocked it, and he published the photo in issue three.”

The new freelance work earned Foss an unusual privilege with the college night porter, a Penthouse reader, which would allow the undergraduate student to slip into their dorm after the midnight curfew. Foss left Cambridge and was immediately placed under warrant with Penthouse. His entry into the realm of sci-fi illustration, for which he is best known, came from his relationship with Guccione. “Bob said to me, ‘There’s this new movie called’ 2001 ‘that you have to see,” he recalls. “That’s when the spaceships started.”

Foss, who had purchased an airbrush to better render human skin in magazine nude illustrations, turned the tool into spaceships and, through his agent, began providing the covers for many of the founding novels of period, including those of Isaac Asimov and JG Ballard. Foss rarely read the books, relying instead on his own imagination to create his majestic spatial views, defined by buckshot stars, swirls of gaseous colors, and portly spaceships.

It was during this time that Foss created “Captain Nemo’s Castle”, the illustration on which Brown would later base his painting. “Men only the magazine ordered a completely open file from me, ”he said. “The concept of the piece was that Captain Nemo had reached space and had to dock on an asteroid to resupply.” At the time, Foss was creating about three pieces a week. In most cases, he was allowed to keep the original work. “Sometimes when people said they liked a piece, I would give them the original,” he said. “It never occurred to me that this could be worth anything. “