Onetime SpongeBob SquarePants illustrator Todd White and a former Huntington Beach gallery owner have reportedly settled the gallerist's lawsuit and the internationally renown artist's counter-suit over her accusations he sicced ninjas on her in August 2011.
The art world has been closely watching the case involving alleged theft, fraud and commerce when it comes to prints of original artwork and signatures and identifying marks that make them more valuable.
The revelation about a settlement being reached last week comes as an end note to the online version of David Kushner's fascinating “Sponge-Fraud!” piece in the current issue of Vanity Fair. Terms of the settlement are confidential.
The Weekly reported on the alleged attack at Gallery HB at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach and the home of former gallery owner Peggy Howell shortly after it supposedly happened.
Howell first claimed thugs hired by White, who boasts about his mad ju-jitsu skills, confronted her at the gallery, removed White's artwork and forced her to sign an agreement turning over ownership of the space to the artist before she was taking to her home to retrieve more prints.
White, through his attorney, called Howell's claims “crazy,” explaining his representatives informed the Hyatt they had discovered the gallerist had engaged in art fraud and were going to the gallery to take care of the matter without risking harm to his future sales. The artist maintains the resulting meeting with Howell was not violent at all, that she complied willingly with his representatives and that she even expressed contrition, something a mover hired to ferry some prints confirms overhearing, according to the Kushner piece.
For its part, the Hyatt has declined to comment. Gallery HB is now being run by someone else–without White's work on the walls.
You can understand the artist's reaction (whatever it really was). He'd graduated from a character designer on the animated SpongeBob SquarePants program to a painter who managed to make himself a million-dollar brand with clients ranging from Coca-Cola to Sylvester Stallone. White claims he had to intervene because Howell's actions were polluting the market for his giclée prints, which can each sell for up to the tens of the thousands of dollars.
But giving the ninja story some possibility of credibility is Michael Madsen-lookalike White's own carefully crafted tough guy persona, as he's gravitated toward boxing and martial arts and has been known for a take-no-shit attitude dating back to his SpongeBob days.
The Vanity Fair account is something of a straw dog story–more for Howell than White. After first building the artist up (down?) as a baddie, based pretty much on Howell's original allegations reported here, she is torn apart by the time readers reach that end note. This is mostly done through the deposition Howell gave White's attorney in December.
For instance, she had been secretly taped selling a limited-edition print of White's painting Playing Around to a buyer who was told the artist embellished it with a personal message, making it even more valuable. The buyer was actually a private investigator hired by White, who had never been contacted by Howell to do anything special to that print. Howell admitted to White's attorney that she never got the artist to sign or embellish the Playing Around copy but that she created the markings herself.
This was the incident that culminated in the Gallery HB confrontation, where, despite Howell's claims she had been roughed up, she admitted in the deposition that she had no visible bruises and that her insurance company declined her robbery
claim. Huntington Beach Police previously told the Weekly the case remains open, although no criminal charges have ever been filed.
Howell also admitted that on another giclée print she forged White's name, the personal message “Cheers!” and, after using Goo Be
Gone to remove the print's original number, substituting a lower number to fraudulently make it more valuable. When White's attorney asked Howell why she did shit like this, she replied
“Because I'm unstable,” although–as Kushner reports–it's unclear if she was
being earnest or sarcastic.
Howell countered that in some instances where she added White's signature, she had the artist's permission. And she has her supporters, including a printer who believes something snapped in White's brain before that Gallery HB incident.
Something admittedly snapped when it came to working as an artist, as White concedes to Kushner he quit painting because he was so shaken by the whole ugly mess.
Now that the suit and counter-suit have been settled, he has returned to the canvas with a new series on a subject he now knows very well. As White tells the Vanity Fair scribe, “It's of scoundrels and rascals and cheats and
thieves and bandits.”
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.