Artist Vincent Desiderio, whose 2008 painting “Sleep” was the primary inspiration behind Kanye West‘s provocative new video for “Famous,” penned a first-person accounting detailing his experience meeting the rapper just hours before the video’s arena debut, which Desiderio called “a feat of magic.”
“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,” Desiderio wrote for W.
In the piece, Desiderio talked about the frantic efforts West’s team made to ensure that the artist would be in attendance for the “Famous” premiere at Los Angeles’ Forum. After being guided through the labyrinthine corridors inside the arena, Desiderio came face to face with West, who he was told as a “tremendous fan” of the artist’s work.
After speaking about The Life of Pablo, Desiderio was still unclear why he was brought to Los Angeles to meet West, but then the rapper hit play on his laptop to unveil the “Famous” video.
“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,” Desiderio wrote. “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.”
Only then did it dawn on Desiderio that the “Famous” visual was a near-replica of the artist’s “Sleep.” “Could Kanye have seen my painting? There were so many similarities,” he wrote. “Yes, it was my painting. It had been sampled, or ‘spliced,’ into a new format and taken to a brilliant and daring extreme!”
While Desiderio applauded West’s vision, others weren’t as impressed by the voyeuristic visual. Girls star Lena Dunham condemned the clip, writing that “it feels informed and inspired by the aspects of our culture that make women feel unsafe even in their own beds, in their own bodies.”
Chris Brown, whose doppelganger also features in the video, complained about his double’s “plumber’s butt,” while a spokesperson for George W. Bush similarly commented that the former president “is in much better shape” than his synthetic double. West himself was just surprised no one had sued him yet over the video.