Category Archives: History

Unpacking September

The Realiy Sandwich interview I posted yesterday is the second in their series of interviews with writers, artists and musicians who use Facebook to reach audiences that often don’t expect to find them here. So, that got me to thinking about the details of my sales success. I guess I could have included more information in the interview, but I prefer to do it here for two reasons. I control the content access and it’s a much smaller audience.

My FaceBook sales story has a definite spike in activity based on a feature that appeared mid-September. Three months later and sales are still higher than they were, but I’m cautiously neutral about the feature’s long-term impact. It’s not too good that we’re halfway through December and I’ve only sold 5.

2017
September = 35
October = 22
November = 25
December so far = 5

I use deadlines, internet-generated accountability and a variety of milestones – mostly sales by month – as motivation. The Jealous Curator’s feature on September 14th was a huge motivator. With new eyes on my FaceBook page, I wanted to paint and post new work in my usual way, which is aiming for almost daily, but, I have to admit that the business and packaging side of things got pretty intense!

35 is a record number of sales for one month. 31 of those were after The Jealous Curator’s feature. That is to say, September wasn’t looking too good, which is why I sent The Jealous Curator a press release.

By September 12, I’d done 8 paintings with 4 sales – including “No Hat #250” (below)falling into a best ever category (meaning either very popular or a personal favorite). Not wanting to give the impression I was going to paint as realistically as this from then on, I got a little more I got a little abstract. Actually, I did one more that same day (September 4) aiming to hit the same degree of intensity as “No Hat #250”, but “No Hat #251” (below) was its own thing and it was not received particularly well on FaceBook, but sold some time later. After this, my records show that I didn’t paint again until September 10 (likely to allow some breathing room in the overall project), but that next painting didn’t sell, nor did “No Hat #253” on September 12 (below) even though it’s a damn good painting. Sales throughout the summer hadn’t been great. I sold 8 in June, 10 in July and 4 in August – I need to sell 9 a month to meet my expenses and so far in 2017, at that point, I was averaging 8.25 sales a month.

2017
January = 4
22 in February with Studio Visits and a couple of multi-painting sales
March = 10
April = 9
May = 9
June = 8 
July = 10
August = 4
For my second year of business, things weren’t looking too good as far as growth or meeting my expenses. I’d hoped that more people would share my paintings on FaceBook to broaden my reach and increase sales that way, but it became clear that people didn’t share my posts – even when I asked. There were only a handful of shares and almost no new connections came from them. I had hoped that there would be collaboration in this way, since I frequently promote what my customers do, but that whole side of things hadn’t rubbed off. I hoped people would see that sort of reciprocity and build on it.

By mid-September, I had a feeling I’d set the bar too high with “No Hat #250” and I wasn’t sure how or when sales would get back on track. This is when I composed a press release to the Jealous Curator which included this detail (below), which, now that sales are stronger than ever, I feel FaceBook sales will continue.

“I’ve been selling my $100 USD paintings directly from my FaceBook page for the last 18 months, but as the pace of sales slows (200 sold) I’m considering gallery representation.”

I got an auto-response email back saying she got tons of submissions and then, about an hour later: “GAH! i love them, jean! post going up tomorrow!”

“First, oh my word I love these portraits {acrylic on canvas panel} so, so, so much. Second, Canadian rocker turned painter Jean Smith sells these paintings on Facebook for $100 a pop. WHAT? Yes, true story. Are you wondering what you’re still doing here and why you’re not over there buying a whole bunch of these 11×14 beauties? Me too. Here you go… Jean’s Facebook page. You’re welcome.” – The Jealous Curator

With the pressure on, I returned to a subject I’d worked from quite a few times already and painted “No Hat #254” which didn’t sell right away, but I felt the style took into account how I perceive The Jealous Curator’s audience.

No Hat 250 500
Best ever category. “No Hat #250″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel)
September 4, 2017. SOLD to Kenny Mellman of The Julie Ruin
 

No Hat 251 500
It was it’s own thing.
“No Hat #251″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel)
September 4, 2017.  SOLD
No Hat 253 500
“No Hat #253″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 12, 2017.
$100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat 254 500
“No Hat #253″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 12, 2017.
SOLD to a Vancouver collector

I did 24 paintings in September
16 of those were after The Jealous Curator feature

85 paintings have SOLD since the Jealous Curator feature

Here are SEPTEMBER’s paintings

 

Fox #10 800
“Fox #10″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 2, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

Fox #11 800
“Fox #11″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 2, 2017. SOLD

Fox #12 800
“Fox #12″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 2, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat 249 800.JPG
“No Hat #249″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 3, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 250 800
“No Hat #250″ (after Peter Paul Rubens) (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 4, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 251 800
“No Hat #251″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 4, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 252 800

“No Hat #252″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 10, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 253 800
“No Hat #253″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 12, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat 254 800
“No Hat #254″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 15, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 255 800

“No Hat #255″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 15, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 256 800
“No Hat #256″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 16, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 257 800
“No Hat #257″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 20, 2017. SOLD


No Hat 258 800

“No Hat #258″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 21, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 259 800
“No Hat #259″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 21, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 260 800

“No Hat #260″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 22, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat 261 800

“No Hat #261″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 23, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat 262 800

“No Hat #262″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 23, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat 263 800
“No Hat #263″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 24, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 264 800
“No Hat #264″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 24, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat 265 800
“No Hat #265″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 26, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 266 800
“No Hat #266″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 27, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 267 800
“No Hat #267″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 27, 2017. SOLD

No Hat 268 800
“No Hat #268″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 28, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

No Hat 269 800

“No Hat #269″ (11 x 14” acrylic on canvas panel) September 30, 2017. $100 USD plus shipping.

Paintings Currently Available

 

All content on this page (c) Jean Smith, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FaceBook Memories

My FaceBook page memories says I painted “No Hat #90” on this day’s date last year. It’s one of many I’ve done from a photo of transgender model Andreja Pejic, who I first painted in May of 2016 with “No Hat #21”.

No Hat #90 800

“No Hat #90” (acrylic on canvas board 11 x 14”) September 6, 2016.
$100 USD plus shipping.

AP crop
Andreja Pejic

No Hat #21 800“No Hat #21″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) May 12, 2016. SOLD

No Hat #94 800

“No Hat #94″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) SOLD

No Hat #79 800

“No Hat #79″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) SOLD

I return periodically to work from the photo of Andreja for various reasons. It’s soothing and stabilizing to paint the familiar — and it’s a barometer of my technical evolution in the ongoing series. I may consciously apply newly honed skills to it, aware of higher levels of brain-eye-hand activity that doesn’t always mean a better painting in the end. It’s still mostly about knowing when to stop. Each painting has thousands of micro-expressions (in the mouth and eyes in particular) that are in constant motion until I find a point where they hold a pronounced amount of personhood and attitude. It seems to be about inventing a fully fledged character that has obligations to me (and to you) — and possibly beyond that in terms of social philosophies and a history yet to unfurl.

Andreja Pejic is not just a well-lit face with lovely bone structure. Her story of personal and public evolution — and her professional understanding of what her face reveals — inform how I paint. I’m not overly-interested in making paintings that look like her. Obviously, as a very vocal feminist, I’m not using sex to sell art. I’m not subjugating women, but I think about these things. I worry about these things. What if I wasn’t a known feminist? Would my paintings of women be suspect?

Because I’m not beholden to the subject, I am free to change eye and hair color which are often based on other colours in the work, but I admit I am wary of painting too many blue-eyed blondes and what people will think when I paint African Americans. It was a truly strange week in my mind when I painted “The Party” without yet knowing of the uproar surrounding Dana Schutz’s painting “Open Casket” at the Whitney Biennial. Internally, I evaluated my motives and felt uneasy about how my painting might be interpreted, but it also gave me cause to realize nobody actually cares what I’m doing in any big way because I’m not in the “Art World” — I’m just some random painter who perhaps thinks her work is more important than it actually is. Having a history of being regarded as important in music has not translated to importance in writing and painting (yet).

People who see my work more or less know (and hopefully trust) my intentions, but is that good? I don’t essentially want to rely on that understanding. Anyway, it was a weird week.

The Party 800

“The Party” (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14″) March 20, 2017.
$100 USD plus shipping.

While I’m painting, I’m physically advocating for a strong personality to evolve in spite of — and because of — how things are (in my life, in your life, in the world at large). Yet, there are paintings with unmasked vulnerability, sadness, pain too. And paintings that are all mask — whether its paint, make-up, a lack figurative clarity or part of a traditional costume (the Kabuki series… which are men wearing white make-up portraying women).

Kabuki #1 by Jean Smith

“Kabuki #1″ (acrylic on canvas board, 11 x 14”) March 1, 2016.
$100 USD at John Doe Records Hudson, NY.

In many ways painting is like playing music or writing for me. I allow myself to be influenced by excellence, to connect my work to history without being thwarted by all that can be known, I infuse work with idiosyncratic stances — some of which have been in place from the beginning, other facets of which are just turning up now.

That Mecca Normal and my great creative partnership with David Lester are running concurrently makes this a nearly collaborative endeavour. Dave’s encouragement and understanding of me as both an artist and a human fuel my resolve to work, building my confidence and tenacity. I admire his discipline (work on a graphic novel about Emma Goldman), motivation and generosity. When his book is published, we’ll likely do some Mecca Normal-based events that will also include what I’m doing with the painting project. As with much of or work, there will be over-lapping themes and exciting ways to collaborate.

from FB

Drawing by David Lester – Graphic Novelist for his graphic novel about Emma Goldman.

I must admit, it suits my personality to be able to show people my paintings as soon as their finished. It’s integral, of course, the overall project. Books and records, tours and events all take so much time to complete and set in motion. It’s a great luxury to have an audience for my work here on FaceBook.

Thank-you for paying attention and for buying my paintings. This is the most exciting time of my life, but it would not be so without all the other incredibly exciting things that have happened (that I thought were the most exciting times).

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“Cherry Flowers” in “Spring”

I made a video for the Mecca Normal song “Cherry Flowers” (Dovetail, K Records, 1992) fairly spontaneously. It’s a pretty song about springtime and I did a cherry blossom painting recently, so it occurred to me to connect them. But, as I was putting the elements together, I recalled more about the song’s meaning, which I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about or expressed.

That got me to thinking about all Mecca Normal’s songs and the various meanings tucked up into them, so I listed all the songs, created a song meaning legend and assigned codes to most of the songs with a note saying that some of the songs need to be reviewed due to their nature, which might be psychological, poetic or complex.

As for “Cherry Flowers” (1992), it is about the geography of borders, clandestine crossings in vehicles (row boats heading for the united caves of america) laden with cherry flowers. Feel free to interpret what the cherry flowers are (maybe art and music?), but, in the song, “seven men in white shirts watch the needle on the gauge, rise and fall, swing and dive, on the border” using specialized equipment to assess the validity of those attempting to cross.

Spring 800

“Spring” (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel). $100 USD plus shipping.

$100 USD Paintings Currently Available

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Gloria Steinem, CIA

“No Hat #138 B aka Gloria Steinem, CIA” (acrylic on canvas board 11 x 14″) January 21, 2017 (not posted until today, February 25, 2017). SOLD

I referred to this painting in a post earlier today, in which I was writing about “No Hat #133”. I mentioned that one of the big skills I possess (in painting) is knowing when to stop and both #133 and #138 B are excellent examples of that.

 

No Hat 133 800

#138 B (at top) was one of the rare times that I set a painting aside because it felt finished well in advance of what I was intending to do, but I wasn’t entirely sure. With #133 there was no question that it was totally finished. In this case of #138 B, I still wanted to think about it. So it’s been sitting here since mid January and I haven’t had any inclination to add anything to it. Selling “No Hat #133” earlier today (to a radio journalist in Stockholm) has inspired me to call “No Hat #138 B aka Gloria Steinem, CIA” finished as well.

I started painting from a screengrab of Gloria Steinem speaking at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, but… I stopped here because, as I say, I liked it at this point. This is a good example of how I use photos of actual people to whatever degree I need them as a starting point.

After I set the painting aside I ended up doing some research on Steinem, just to refresh my memory on her history. I’m pretty sure I never knew she worked for the CIA. This kinda killed my interest in doing a portrait of her, not that it would necessarily be representattional to the degree that she’d be recognizable, but the CIA connection fortified my interest in halting my involvement with her.

Additionally, a novel I wrote a few years back (The Black Dot Museum of Political Art) has a segment in it about the CIA’s involvement in the abstract art movement in NYC in the 1950s and 60s, so this issue of cultural icons being willing and/or unwittingly participants in CIA activities was unexpectedly back in front of me.

So, while the is painting (#138 B) is at face value a solid composition made up of fairly similar tones with the suggestion of what might have followed (the shape of the head) for those that know my work, the backstory provides intellectual content that can be factored in.

The Hat 53 800

I painted Michael Moore the same day, so it’s conceivable that Gloria would have been similarly obscured had I continued and, as I type this, I realize that it was obscured – even more aggressively, but in a completely different way.
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Discovering Utopia, 2010

20 Questions: Calvin Johnson of K Records, Verbicide Magazine, October, 2016

Verbicide: What song really hits you in the feels and makes you cry?

Calvin: “Malachi” by Mecca Normal.

One painting in the series “Discovering Utopia” (cover art for the Mecca Normal 7″) is still available.

The 7″ cover was included in an exhibit about Malachi Ritscher in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

 

 

mecca-normal-malachi-single-cover-art

“Malachi” 7″ on K Records


jean-smith-discovering-utopia-3-600

“Discovering Utopia #3″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

jean-smith-discovering-utopia-4-600

“Discovering Utopia #4″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

jean-smith-discovering-utopia-5-600

“Discovering Utopia #5″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. SOLD

jean-smith-discovering-utopia-6-600

“Discovering Utopia #6″ by Jean Smith (12 x 16” acrylic on canvas) 2010. $250 USD plus shipping.

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aka Shanny McIntosh

No Hat #116 800

“No Hat #116 aka Shanny McIntosh” SOLD to Courtney Jaxon

Mecca Normal “I Walk Alone” at Courtney Jaxon’s house in Arcata, CA

No Hat #117 800

“No Hat #117 aka Shanny McIntosh #2” SOLD to Mack McFarland, Director of Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

“Essentially you have a culture of peoples who have often been neglected to the background of the history books but through sheer perseverance and talent have altered the ways in which we participate with each other in these cultural places and ultimately it comes down to being a part of a communal atmosphere and the inherent joys and hardships of being in a community.” – Shanny McIntosh

This post relates to Vol. 408 of my weekly column, January 14, 2017, in Magnet Magazine

 

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Making Political Art

I was on an upswing with the painting before the election results. I’ve been making a living painting $100 portraits for almost a year which I hope to continue. Upheaval as a self-employed artist is problematic. You can’t just keep going to a job and getting a paycheck which is how I’ve mainly supported myself in the last 15 years… before which I was a “professional” musician.

It was weird; just as the election results started to come in, a guy in San Francisco bought five paintings. A record sale. Then action dropped off entirely, in part because my FaceBook page is my “storefront” and I didn’t want to just keep posting paintings unrelated to what was happening politically. That seemed trite. My FaceBook friends are almost all connections through music, art and activism so, my newsfeed is basically 100% political from a leftist perspective. Interjecting paintings of mostly Caucasian women seemed disconnected if not downright absurd.

I don’t think I actually painted for the first few days, and then, when I did, I painted five or six total duds (which is highly unusual for me). A week or so later, I felt quite “human” about that. It seems my basic ability to create art is affected by what goes on in the world, but that’s a scary thing when you’re self-employed. How long would I be making lousy paintings? I aim to paint one a day, but I consistently fall short of that. I sell half of what I paint, which is exactly what I need to pay my bills. I can’t afford to do subpar paintings.

I had been switching back and forth between people and animals around the time of the election, and suddenly animals seemed like a viable direction considering how I felt about humans.

It’s weird how many animals are used to define human characteristics – including the fox (foxy, clever) – but the whole fox-hunting thing in England with a bunch of snobs (including the royal family) tracking foxes is pretty awful as far as sports go. It’s right up there with bullfighting as far as tormenting an animal and then killing it as part of the outcome is nuts.

Not Baboon #5 800

“Fox #4” $100 USD

Yet, I didn’t want to be steered off course, so I returned to the painting people. I had thought that animals for Christmas might be a thing sales-wise, but now I’m not so sure that’s what I should be doing. I created a FaceBook Event page offering gift certificates,  wrapping and hand-painted cards, but it didn’t get any reaction. Anyway, I’m a painter, not a card maker. I need to stay on track. Maybe discounts and free shipping are of little interest to people interested in buying a painting.

Prior to the animals, I did five or so of Standing Rock Water Protectors with 15% going to the Red Warrior Camp. The ones based on the composition below (with varying degrees of abstraction) felt appropriate in terms of both “bearing witness” and documentiation. It was September at this point, before the reaction to the water protectors became more physical. I did one in late October of the cops drenching people with water cannons, ice hanging off the razor wire, but I wasn’t happy enough with it to post it.

Standing Rock 800 #3

“Standing Rock  Water Protectors #3” SOLD

The act of creating non-political art in public places (including online) during times of international upheaval reminded me of being on tour with Unwound and Thrones during 9/11. We were supposed to play Boston that night, but that show was canceled, partly because of the club’s name (the Middle East) and our band name being “Mecca” Normal. Evidently they got some threatening phone calls because of that. The club owner fed us an excellent meal and then we all sat around in the band room trying to figure out what to do. Continue or pull the plug on the remainder of the tour and head home. We decided to continue. Our Manhattan show at the Bowery Ballroom (9/12 I think) was canceled, so the next show was Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ which is basically considered a NY show. I desperately wanted to perform relevant songs! I felt completely ridiculous going up on stage to sing about interpersonal relationships. It was interesting though. Phones had been out in the area so people didn’t know what was going on with their friends. The show turned out to be a gathering point. People went to the show to connect with their community, to see if friends were OK, to hear what had happened to them. We were on first and because it was the first show since the attacks that many people were going to (I think it was 9/13), everyone talked through our set, which is something that would normally bug me, but, in this case, I felt like we were providing some sort of service. It felt good to be the kind of band people could talk over. No bass and drums. It felt relevant, but I never would have thought of it in advance. We played our regular set and no one listened and that was, in that moment, fine. Not totally great as a band promoting an album on tour 3000 miles from home, but… whatever.

The incredible thing about both Thrones and Unwound were that their sound took over in a way that I’d never experienced before. Visceral. The low end was therapeutic. Like some sort of massively thorough massage. The volume was like a flood of dopamine or whatever. Endorphins. I didn’t expect this. How the music felt.

Back to present day. After the recent election results in US, I made one of my paintings of a Caucasian woman “political” by painting “anti-fascist” and “sloganeer” “tattoos” instead of eyebrows (below). I’d been thinking about Woody Guthrie’s “this machine kills fascists” and came up with that idea. I marked it “not for sale” at the time because I felt like my paintings should somehow be a reaction to what’s going on, but I didn’t want to be trading on people’s emotions. Weeks later I marked it for sale.

No Hat #111 800

“No Hat 111” $100 USD

I’ve been thinking about artists who are in the middle of projects, in either creation or exhibition mode. I wonder what it feels like to be making work that isn’t related to current upheaval, work that has been in progress for a long time and needs to continue. Certainly artists can’t drop what they’re doing to respond to current events, but I’ve been wondering how those artists must feel. My approach is to continue with what I was doing with variations made based on my understanding of what’s going on around me. I’m not normalizing or ignoring, but just not stopping. Not giving up. Integrating new ideas as they arrive.

I have, in the last week or so, been painting non-Caucasian faces which is, in part, a reaction to recent events in the USA. Of the six African American faces I’ve painted two have sold.

No Hat #46 800

“The Hat #46” SOLD

No Hat #47 800

“The Hat #47” $100 USD

No Hat #48 800 ed

“The Hat #48” $100 USD

No Hat #49 800 ed

“The Hat #49” $100 USD

“No Hat #116” (below)  got a tremendous reaction on my FaceBook page. 141 “likes” and “loves” and 20 comments yesterday! It sold a few hours after I posted it.

No Hat #116 800

“No Hat #116” SOLD

For me, this kind of turning away from representing white people feels appropriate, but it means having to “learn” new color pallets and figuring out how to paint features that are different than the ones I’ve been painting since I began the series back in February, 2016.

There’s a point in art-making when finding new territory to explore increases motivation to work and that’s where I’m at now.

I’ve just posted “No Hat #117” (below) on my FaceBook page and I plan to paint from the same source photo at least once more.

No Hat #117 800

“No Hat #117” $100 USD

The high point so far as a political artist was in 2014 when David Lester and I were  interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! about a Mecca Normal 7″ (with a song about war protester Malachi Ritscher) featuring my painting “Discovering Utopia” on the cover (below) being included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

7 cover

“Discovering Utopia”

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100th painting sold

Baboon 2 800 SAFETY LIGHTER CROP

“Baboon #2” is the 100th painting sold!

See all paintings that have sold here. Paintings currently available are here.

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A brief history of Mecca Normal

A brief history of Mecca Normal in TV news clips and live footage to give background and context to Jeans Smith’s ongoing $100 painting series.

“I made this for Dan Seward’s Bunnybrains event during TBA: 16  at PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) 511 Gallery in Portland, Oregon on September 15, 2016.” – Jean Smith

Part of Makeup on Empty Space, curated by Kristan Kennedy. Co-presented with PNCA’s 511 Gallery & Director of Center for Contemporary Art and Culture, Mack McFarland.

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