Artist whose painting inspired Kanye West reacts to controversial ‘Famous’ video

Vincent Desiderio's 2008 painting 'Sleep' is said to have influenced the clip, which shows various celebrities naked

The artist whose painting Kanye West references in his new ‘Famous’ video has responded to the homage, writing in an article that the clip is a “feat of magic… rapturously beautiful and frighteningly uncanny”.

West unveiled the controversial music video at Los Angeles’ Forum over the weekend. The ‘Famous’ clip features wax figures of naked celebrities laying in bed. Included in the video’s roll call are Swift, George W Bush, West, Kim Kardashian, Amber Rose, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Caitlyn Jenner, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Anna Wintour and Ray J.

Lena Dunham recently called the video “sickening”, while Taylor Swift is reportedly “horrified” by it.


In an essay penned for W Magazine, Desiderio described how he learned of the news: “It began with a random phone call: ‘Kanye West is trying to get in touch with Vincent Desiderio. It is extremely important that he return our call.’ After a series of missed calls and frantic text messaging I came to learn that I was being invited to fly out to Los Angeles the next morning to meet the acclaimed artist, and that Kanye, ‘being a tremendous fan’ of my work—I’m using quotes, because one hears that phrase so often in the art world that it might as well mean, ‘I have no idea who you are and please don’t call me out on this’ —wanted me to be present at an event the Forum in L.A. No other information was given.”

The artist continued: “When I arrived the next day, I was told not to go to the hotel but instead directly to the Forum. The mystery redoubled as I was lead through a system of corridors and security checks to a room whose door was streaked with wild Abstract Expressionist marks. Inside was a small gathering of men and women seated around a laptop. Kanye stood up and greeted me warmly. We spoke about his new album, ‘The Life of Pablo,’ and about a particular quote by Edgar Degas, about how a painting should be constructed ‘like the perfect crime.’ I ventured that the Pablo referred to in the title was a dual reference to Pablo Picasso and Pablo Escobar. Kanye smiled and said, ‘St. Paul, too.’ His eyes glistened. We were on the same page.”

READ MORE: We Can’t Decide If Kanye West’s NSFW ‘Famous’ Video Is The Best Or Worst Thing He’s Ever Done


“‘Would you like to see something we have been working on?’ he asked. I sat down in front of the computer screen as the play button was pushed. Within seconds, the disturbingly familiar faces of a range of celebrities became clear. What was not clear was what in fact they were doing sleeping in the same bed. Had there been some agreement to pose together naked? That aside, why was every impulse to ridicule these people, some of whom (I won’t name names) made my skin crawl, being tempered by a rising sense of empathy? Slumbering gods, they were, but also like babies or small children at the height of vulnerability.”

“Then an even stranger feeling overtook me. I began to recognise that the naked bodies floating past the camera lens were in positions identical to the figures in my painting, ‘Sleep’. Could Kanye have seen my painting? There were so many similarities. Yes, it was my painting. It had been sampled, or ‘spliced’, into a new format and taken to a brilliant and daring extreme!”

As I looked around the room at the smiling faces, it became apparent that, unbeknownst to me, a remarkable collaboration had occurred, one that brought together artistic expressions that, at least on the surface of it all, couldn’t seem further apart. I felt as if I had been presented with the most extraordinary gift: Kanye and his crew had spent the past months producing a video of tremendous power and beauty, and at its core was a painting. My painting.
But how could it be that Kanye could make a parallel version of ‘Sleep’, while charging it with the same kind of intrinsic strangeness that haunted my thoughts as I made the original painting.

“Kanye West’s video demonstrates how art speaks the language of art, how visual codes people the artistic imagination, enlivening the matrix of possibilities that are always and everywhere about us, but barely perceptible to those who focus only on the surface.”

“The remarkable debut this weekend of Kanye West’s video, ‘Famous’, was a feat of magic. It held its audience in suspension over a tableau that was disturbingly familiar, rapturously beautiful, and frighteningly uncanny.”

Watch a snippet from the ‘Famous’ video beneath.