Remaking A Masterpiece

Priscilla Briggs documents the lives of the commercial painters in the as they recreate masterpieces in their apartments.

By Robby Osborne

Painter #5 (Huang Wenlong) by Priscilla Briggs.

The world is filled with oil paintings. It seems like every office building has its own extensive collection of landscapes, portraits and sunflowers. Where do they come from? These imitative works have probably made their way from places like the Wushipu in Xiamen, China. Wushipu is an entire apartment complex filled with painters, who work to recreate famous oil paintings from digital images. 

Through her 18 portraits in the exhibition Making Mona Lisa, Priscilla Briggs  pulls these commercial painters and their apartments in the Wushipu complex in Xiamen onto the canvass. These portraits examine the lives of these painters as they replicate the works of European masters in their apartments. Briggs uses this exhibit to question, “the perceived value of such oil paintings as ‘ART’ in the global market.”

After visiting Yiwu, and seeing wholesale shops stuffed with more European paintings than the Italian Renaissance, Briggs’ curiosity about the industry grew. She contacted Bailey O’Malley, owner of Pix 2 Oils, and requested to photograph his oil painting factory. He had temporarily moved production to Xiamen, and introduced Briggs to the Wushipu community.

“From that point, I simply went through the apartment buildings knocking on doors with an interpreter, asking permission to photograph,” said Briggs. ” I spent many weeks photographing this community and getting to know the painters.”

The project took two trips to Xiamen to complete in 2010. Briggs would photograph these painters in front of their work, and arranged for Pix 2 Oils to convert the first batch of portraits. However, wanting a more personal touch, Briggs considered having the individual painters convert the images for the second group, but decided that one highly-skilled painter (#9), Wang Wei, would convert the second group.

“This is the first solo exhibition of the work,” said Briggs, about the exhibition’s debut at the Mason Hall Atrium Gallery from March 17 to April 11. “But pieces from the exhibit have been shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Hillstrom Museum of Art.”  

The Mason Hall Atrium Gallery, while located at George Mason University, is open to the public, and always free.



Mason Hall Atrium Gallery
4400 University Drive, Fairfax, 22030
Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Free