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David Bowie painting found in dump near North Bay, Ont., expected to fetch up to $12K

A painting by British musician David Bowie that was discovered in a northern Ontario landfill is expected to sell at auction for up to $12,000, and maybe much more.

The president of Cowley Abbott Fine Art in Toronto says his auction house was contacted by a person who purchased the painting at a donation centre at the entrance of the Machar municipal landfill, approximately 60 kilometres south of North Bay.

The price: $5.

It turned out to be a computer and acrylic collage on canvas that was part of Bowie’s D HEAD series (XLVI).  

“There’s a label on the back and it quite clearly identifies the work, so she of course wondered if it could be authentic,” said Rob Cowley.

The painter’s owner wishes to remain anonymous, said Cowley, and conducted some preliminary research over the internet. A few months after finding it, she contacted his group.

david bowie
Bowie created a series of portraits in the mid-1990s, part of his fascination with art as he broke into the music world as Robert David Jones and then was a key influencer of the Glam Rock Era as Ziggy Stardust. He died in 2016. (Hulton Archive)

“We were able to identify the fact that the work was quite similar to many of the portraits, these smaller-type portraits from this series that Bowie had produced in the mid-’90s,” he said. 

“From there, we also reached out to Andy Peters, who is recognized as an expert in David Bowie’s signature and also has a great familiarity with his artwork as well.

“He quite enthusiastically, and quite quickly, came back to us … and was able to say that, yes, it is an authentic work by the artist.”

‘Fame’ singer was an artist, collector

Bowie, born David Robert Jones on Jan. 8, 1947, was an enigmatic performer known for albums including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane, Let’s Dance and the Grammy-winning Blackstar, released two days before his death in 2016.

Bowie was a noted art collector as well.

Cowley describes the D HEAD XLVI work as a “semi-abstract portrait.”

“It’s a figure who is in side profile,” he said. “So the face doesn’t have any clear distinguishing features … with hair kind of coming down the side, longish hair.”

The figure harkens back to the 1960s and ’70s, Cowley said.

“The figure is dressed in a teal colour, and their hair has touches of teal as well as some dark red. And there’s kind of a light red background, almost like a crimson background, as well.”

david bowie painting
The musician’s signature was ascertained by Andy Peters, recognized as an expert in Bowie’s artwork. (Supplied by Cowley Abbott)

Overall, Cowley said, the diminutive piece — it’s only 20 by 25 centimetres — is “quite a striking work.”

Cowley said a quick valuation pegs it at between $9,000 and $12,000; however, at recent auctions, other paintings by Bowie have fetched over $30,000.

“It’s always exciting when a work like this, by a recognized artist, is found in such a place,” Cowley said. 

Although it’s not a common occurrence, Cowley said discovering well-known artists in odd places has happened “a couple of times.”

“Oftentimes it’ll be collectors,” he said. “It’ll be people who have an eye for art and know art. And so they might be looking through the artwork at Goodwill, and they might see something and realize, ‘Oh, that does look to be an original work or a print that has some value.’

“But sometimes you get these cases where the individual is not a collector and who just sees something that catches their eye, and this was the case here.”

The painting will be part of an online auction opening Tuesday.

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