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Abstract painting that made Frank even later for work, only $15

TEN years ago, I was driving down Venice Boulevard one morning, late to work as usual, when I spotted a large modern artwork among the bric-a-brac in front of a thrift store. It's got to be a poster, I thought as I circled the block. But no, it was a framed abstract oil painting with an oversized, stylized signature in the upper right corner that said REYNOLDS. Being a fan of art featuring typography, I paid $15 and soon the canvas was hanging on my bedroom wall. Internet searches over the years led nowhere, but I suspected it was an early '70s-era painting mass-produced in Mexico for tourist consumption.

Recently, my friends who own a vintage furniture shop showed me their collection of Reynolds paintings, including one that looked almost exactly like my beloved abstract (but arguably, not as good). They didn't have any information about the artist, either. Coincidentally, last year I picked up a giant, lurid painting of sunflowers signed "Lee Reynolds" at my neighbor's yard sale for $5. With my curiosity piqued anew, I found tons of Lee Reynolds' original oil paintings in many different styles and subjects on eBay. Who was this often kitschy, sometimes brilliant, and very prolific artist? A Google search finally hit pay dirt.

In the late 1960s, Andy Warhol had glamorous lackeys silkscreen his canvases for him and called his studio The Factory. In the art-boom '80s, Mark Kostabi set up an art sweatshop where struggling East Village painters made Kostabi-esque works under his not-so-watchful eye. But in 1965, Lee Reynolds Burr and his Vanguard Studios were there first. His original "art factory" in Beverly Hills produced more painted canvases bearing one signature than any artist in history, but none of the artworks for sale were actually painted by him.

Burr was born in Los Angeles and graduated with a BFA from UCLA in 1962. He initially created artwork for Bertini Studios but soon decided to go out on his own. Two years later, he founded Vanguard Studios with his business-savvy brother Stuart to give average American families the chance to own a "real" oil painting, much like the etchings that had democratized the art-owning experience in America a century earlier. With paintings sold through a network of Vanguard showrooms, furniture stores and interior decorators around the country, business started booming, and 10 years later, both men were multimillionaires with a publicly traded company. To view the rest of this article, pick up a copy of Artillery Magazine your local art gallery or subscribe now for home delivery.

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