Troy Gua: The Artist Formally Stifled by Prince

Prince is officially dropping a $22 million lawsuit against 22 fans, whom he accused of “massive infringement and bootlegging,” since the targeted fans have since removed links to footage of his live performances.

Seattle-based artist Troy Gua is another fan familiar with the demands of Prince's attorneys. In 2012, he received a cease and desist notice from his favorite artist, after he recreated famous Prince moments and album covers using 'Le Petit Prince,' a doll he sculpted in the likeness of the Purple One. Gua has successfully (and optimistically) turned the threat of legal action from Prince into a marketing strategy; and credits the end of his 'Le Petit Prince' series for spawning the birth of his latest self portraiture series.

Here's what Gua had to say about his idol, fair use, and a famous fan–Questlove.

See also: Prince Fan Art, You Really Must Own


OC Weekly (Jena Ardell): Besides Prince, have you ever faced friction from other celebrities or musicians whose likeness you have used in your work?

Troy Gua: Not one. In fact, the Bruce Lee estate was so taken with a portrait I made in my 'Pop Hybrid' series of Bruce and Brandon Lee, that they purchased the rights.

The Prince likeness was incredible. How long did it take to create Le Petit Prince? And why Prince?

Thank you! I'd say it took about 30 years of research, about a week of actual work sculpting, painting, compiling and making.

I became a Prince fan in the early '80s as an awkward 13 year old in the throes of puberty who didn't feel comfortable in his own skin. I was shy, nerdy, creative, and just didn't feel like I fit in anywhere. Prince blew the doors off of all my angst. It was the music, yes, but it was much more than that. Back then, he had a message: we're all freaks, and we should just love each other for who we are now, because this ride is a short one. It was about love and lust and joy and positivity and freedom of expression and sexual liberation. It was the perfect manifesto for me. I was in.

You had to have known you were treading in dangerous territory though, right? For example, in 2007, Universal Music Publishing Group requested a 29-second home video clip with 29 views of a 18-month old dancing to “Let's Go Crazy” be removed from YouTube; and situations like that are not uncommon when it comes to the Prince…

I did know that, yes. I was aware of Prince's overly litigious attitude for years, but the project was never meant to become what it did become. It was a therapeutic and fun side project after a stressful year that turned into something much more, and entirely unexpected.
Receiving a cease and desist still seems a little harsh because you weren't selling and producing a Prince doll. Was the main problem the merchandising your calendar of images of the doll?

I sold prints, t-shirts, and calendars of my artwork from this series to fund the continuation of the project. 'Le Petit Prince' had, at that point, amassed a considerable fan base who requested merchandise, which I felt, in lieu of selling a reproduced version of the art doll, was perfectly legal. I see this work as parody, appropriation, recreation. I never felt, and still don't, that I was infringing on any copyrights. The cease and desist made several demands besides the demand to stop selling my art: it demanded that I remove all images from my online entities, that I never show the work again online or offline, such as in a gallery setting–which seems incredibly harsh. They even addressed the titling of my Facebook fan page as 'The Artist Currently Known as Troy Gua' as infringing.

Why didn't you fight back to keep your work in the public?

It would have been in opposition to the essence of the project to fight. It was meant as a positive, loving tribute to one of my heroes, and to fight my hero felt wrong. Not to mention the fact that I can't afford legal representation, nor the time to deal with it, which would take time away from income building projects.

Do you feel 'fair use' is too loosely defined to protect artists' rights?

Yes, the whole concept is far too gray. If it were more well-defined, I would feel a lot more comfortable about knowing which path to choose with this case, as well as in my other work.

You were entertaining a photo book and exhibition of the Le Petit Prince series, which were both scrapped. As as artist, do you feel creating artwork that can not be shared–or, in this case, forbidden to be shared–is a futile act?

No, making art is never futile, even if it's only for yourself. I did make the book–one gorgeous, 160-plus page volume of hundreds of images. I love it, and so do the few who've seen it. So, it's not futile to make the art, but it's terribly wrong and a damn shame to forbid art of any kind, especially art that makes so many people smile.

Did receiving the cease and desist inspire you to create a doll in your own likeness?

Absolutely. It was a bit of an 'a-ha moment', really. I mean, OK, I agreed to no longer use Prince's image, but there was no reason why I couldn't use my own image, and dress myself as Prince, or Luke Skywalker, or Muhammad Ali, or Andy Warhol, or any of the other heroes/obsessions in my vast personal arsenal of inspiration…so I made a 1/6 scale Gerry Anderson-esque version of myself, and one of my wife, Catherine, and began to do just that. For me, it's a look back at what has made me who I am, a way to relive significant moments throughout my life and love affair with popular culture. But 'Le Petit Troy' is really about fantasy fulfillment. With this series, I can be the hero. I can be the matinee idol, the genius musician, the master artist, the infamous pop star, the legendary athlete. I can do and be all the things I've always dreamed of and aspired to, sort of.

Why do you personally think pop art and derivative artwork is important in society?

Well, everything is derivative at this point, don't you think? Someone said the artist's purpose is to hold a mirror up to the times he or she lives in–I think that's all I'm doing. I take in a lot of media, I chew it up, digest it, and spit it back out in another form with new conceptual twists.

When did Questlove become a fan? Does he own any of your work?

Questlove caught a whiff of Le Petit Prince on Twitter, I think, sometime early 2012. He's a Princephile to the n'th degree. He immediately dug the work and started sharing it on social media. He really helped spread the work far and wide, and I'm super grateful to him for that. I've sent him some swag. He's worn some of my t-shirts at events and wore some of my art on the Late Night episode that Prince performed on–so cool.

What can we expect next from you?

Hopefully a gallery show in your neck of the woods. One of my goals is to break into the Southern California art market. You can also expect a lot of engaging, fun, thoughtful, and witty artwork in various forms online and offline.

And finally, what's your favorite Prince song?

Favorite Prince songs are like potato chips–you can't have just one. But if I had to give one, it would be two: 'Erotic City' and 'Adore'.

See also
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