In a video now at the center of a federal lawsuit, Cheatham County rapper Ryan Upchurch unloads two shotgun shells and about 20 rounds from a semi-automatic rifle into a pair of portraits.
“You can have your paintings back,” Upchurch yells into the camera after shooting the canvases.
Now, the paintings’ creator is suing Upchurch for mutilating the works of art and damaging his reputation, according to a lawsuit filed in Florida on Aug. 5.
Jacksonville, Fla., artist Jacob Leveille alleges that by damaging and shooting the paintings, Upchurch violated the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 which states that any intentional mutilation of a piece of artwork violates the artist’s rights.
Leveille filed the lawsuit, claiming that the musician commissioned him for a painting of himself, then refused to pay. The agreement for the $1,000 painting was made over Instagram, Leveille said.
“There wasn’t a written (contract) but we’ve always been verbal about it,” he said.
While Leveille said he has screenshots of the agreement, he declined to share them with the Cheatham County Exchange. A representative for Upchurch declined to comment for this story.
When Leveille delivered the painting of Upchurch and another one of Hall of Fame singer Johnny Cash in October 2018, he wasn’t paid, according to the lawsuit.
“Despite Leveille’s repeated attempts to obtain payment or the return of his paintings, Leveille never received assurances that his works would be paid for or returned,” according to the lawsuit.
In November 2018, the men engaged in a social media argument about the payment, according to the lawsuit.
The next day, the video of Upchurch shooting the paintings was uploaded to his official Instagram page.
Before he shoots the pieces of art, he’s heard saying on the video “Talking (expletive) to me when I done (expletive) helped you out when I didn’t (expletive) have nothing.”
He then fires a shotgun twice, once at each painting, and unloads about 20 rounds from a semi-automatic rifle into the artwork, knocking them both backward.
Photos included in the lawsuit show that Upchurch also signed the painting of Cash and wrote “(expletive) this dudes painting.”
Leveille alleges that in doing this, Upchurch violated the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which states that any intentional mutilation of a piece of artwork violates the artist’s rights.
The painting was later auctioned off by the Facebook group “Cheatham County After Dark.” The proceeds from the painting reportedly went to Cheatham County elementary schools for overdue lunch payments.
The lawsuit calls for the return of both portraits and for Upchurch to pay for all damages caused by the incident, according to the document.
One reason Leveille filed the lawsuit is because he “didn’t want to back down,” he said. “It was never a gift from the start and he (Upchurch) knew it too.”