But Zeh's message didn't last long, he says, before it was defaced by the executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Bob Booker.

Zeh's photo was a self-portrait on matte paper that had a red circle and line through it: "Arizona Commission on the Arts: Visual Artists Need Not Apply," the piece read.

It was Zeh's reaction to the commission's project grant, for which he applied last year and was turned down. He says he feels the process was unfair and based on a skewed panel. (The majority of the jury was from a literary background, and the majority of the grants were given to local writers.)

Artwork by Nomas and Colton Brock at First Studio
Claire Lawton
Artwork by Nomas and Colton Brock at First Studio
Tony Zeh's piece, which was written on by Bob Booker at Eye Lounge.
Courtesy of Tony Zeh
Tony Zeh's piece, which was written on by Bob Booker at Eye Lounge.

"I decided to make a piece in response to that," Zeh says. "I went ahead and made variations to the image, and put it in the show as a commentary piece. I just wanted to poke fun at the situation and have a conversation."

On Friday night, Zeh was talking to someone at Eye Lounge when, he says, he turned around and saw Booker writing on his photograph. Booker wrote "BULLSHIT" over the red circle before signing his name and putting the piece back on the wall.

Both Zeh and Booker admit the atmosphere was a little crazy.

Booker says he had talked to Zeh a few times before writing on the photograph at Eye Lounge. Zeh says he had no idea it was going to happen. He was asked to pose for a picture with Booker in front of the picture afterward right after the incident occurred.

"I thought it was a hoot," says Booker. "Tony had two pieces in the show; I purchased one, re-appropriated it, and put it back up for sale. And then it resold, so essentially [Eye Lounge] got double the price . . . The message here is that Arts Commission is here for all artists in all parts of the state in all media."

Booker argues he was acting as an artist that night — not as a representative of the commission. He says it was his right to make a commentary on a piece of work and that while this kind of "discussion" between artists happens all the time in public spaces through street art (even on the west-facing exterior wall of Eye Lounge), the discussion between artists in the gallery also has had a large part of art history.

"Look at the work of Andy Warhol, who often appropriated images like the soup cans or the image of the Kennedy assassination," says Booker. "When an artist appropriates the work of another artist, it becomes collaboration . . . The Eye Lounge piece sold twice, and an artist bought the final product. Maybe my mark made the piece more valuable."

Though Zeh disagrees that the piece was a collaboration, he says that his photograph ultimately served its purpose.

"I'm not going to get bent out of shape over it," Zeh says. "It raised money for Eye Lounge. And I'm not totally pissed off, but I would never do that to someone else's work. There are a lot of conceptual artists out there who will take a piece that an artist worked hard on and took time to build, scribble on it, and take credit. I'm just not that kind of person."

The piece continued to hang at Eye Lounge all weekend, causing buzz about the place it has in the gallery and the precedent it sets for gallery behavior.

"I think for [Booker], being a part of the commission, to respond that way has a bad light," says Zeh. "I don't think it speaks too highly of the commission, and I know I'll never apply through the commission again."

Ultimately, Booker asserts that his actions did not deface the piece.

"As an artist, I purchased that work; I made a change," says Booker. "I have that right. I'm acting as an artist . . . I re-appropriated the piece, which appeared to have no copyright. I had a little fun, and I'm sorry that maybe Tony didn't. Life's too short to not have fun."

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