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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Otis Kaye

 D'-jia-vu? The Stock Market, 1937, Otis Kaye
Copyright, Jim Lane
Memories in Bits and Pieces, 1999, Jim Lane
Artists are no different from anyone else in that we like to make money. Some of us have even painted money a few times. Take it from one who knows, it's tricky. People are so familiar with the appearance of currency, especially smaller bills, that the eye can instantly spot a crudely painted image or any errors the artist may have made. My Memories in Bits and Pieces (left) contains a small portion of a dollar bill along with similar parts of two foreign currencies leftover from one of our memories abroad. That tiny section took three or four hours to paint. I still have the painting so while I may have painted money, I've yet too make any money from it. I have that in common with Otis Kaye. Otis painted little else but money, but in that he never even tried to sell his work, he, too, never made any monrey from it.

Chicago Theater Scene in Winter, 1928, Otis Kaye,
one of only two or three of his urban landscapes.
The One Key to It All, Otis Kaye
Very rarely, if ever, have I spotlighted an amateur artist in this space. There are too many excellent, virtually unknown artist "now and then" for me to get involved with amateurs. Otis Kaye, however in that he always considered his painting as a hobby, would seem to fall into this classification. In terms of his painting skills, though, and creative twists and depth, few professionals could match his efforts. Joseph Peto and William Harnett both painting similar, "fool the eye" stilll-lifes, but neither in any way surpassed the efforts of this exceptional "amateur." His D'-jia-vu? The Stock Market (top), dating from 1937, charts in "real" dollars the ups and downs of the stock market in the years following the crash in 1929. Notice the items included in his object lesson saga besides the cash.

Hidden Assets, Otis Kaye. Items were painted life-size.
Coin Collection, Otis Kaye
Otis Kaye was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1885. His parents moved to Neemah, Michigan, when he was just three years old (other sources have him being born in Neemah). At the age of nineteen, Kaye spent several months studying art in New York, but as so often happened back then, his family insisted he take up a "real" profession, so he and his mother moved back to Germany in 1905 where he studied engineering. They returned to the U.S. shortly before the war. Kaye married and found work as an engineer until 1929 when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression greatly depressed the market for engineers. Otis Kaye was also greatly depressed so he began painting the one thing he had little of--money.

A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine..., 1953, Otis Kaye.
Due to federal legal restrictions, Kaye often painted outdated currency.
Rembrandt Etching The Goldsmith
with Gold Coin (illusionary), Otis Kaye.
Kaye painted both cash and coins. But because of a 1909 law making it illegal to paint money, Kay would not, and probably could not sell his work. Moreover, the feds got on his case, harrassing him even though he didn't sell his paintings. Instead he gave them away to friends and relatives. As time went on, Kaye broadened his painting content beyond money to include urban street scenes, paintings and drawings of Rembrandt edtchings (left), and other still-life subjects. Yet his specialty, his obsession even, remained money. Kaye moved back to Germany about eight years before his death in 1974 at the age of eighty-nine. During his lifetime he never exhibited his work, though he may actually have sold as many as two (but don't tell the treasury department). Since his death, his work has gradually come on the market as friends and relatives have cashed in on his "monetary" gifts. An Otis Kaye painting titled The American Dream (below), was recently sold by Christie's in New York for $16,250. Check your attics.

The American Dream, Otis Kaye,


1 comment:

  1. Mr. Lane, I enjoyed your blog & all the tromp l'oeil paintings. I'm an ancient history buff & collector of Roman & Byzantine coins. I also enjoyed your video from Syracuse, Sicily. The art of Otis Kaye is astonishing! Best regards, Al Kowsky