A rare painting by the iconic musician David Bowie (1947-2016) has been found languishing at a landfill in Canada. Cowley Abbott auction house is set to sell the vibrant work online with bidding already surpassing the original estimate of C$9000-$12,000 (£5200-£6900).
The painting is unassuming in size, only 9.75 by 8 inches. “We were able to identify 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,” said Rob Cowley, the auction house president.
Titled ‘DHead XLVI’, the acrylic painting depicts an abstracted portrait of a long-haired man with a pronounced profile. The striking colours are reminiscent of Bowie’s androgynous rock star alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. Between 1995 and 1997, Bowie created a series of forty-seven ‘Dead Heads’ works featuring band members, friends, acquaintances and even self-portraits.
Last summer the seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, discovered the painting at a donation centre outside of an Ontario rubbish tip. “The painting itself caught their eye,” recalled Cowley, and so they bought it for a measly C$5 (£3). “They thought it was an interesting painting before they turned it around and saw the labels on the back.”
Bowie’s distinctive signature is inscribed on the back of the canvas, alongside the date 1997 and a label from a London framing company that worked for Bowie and other famous musicians before it went out of business. The auction house called in Andy Peters, a Bowie expert, who explained “the confusion lies in that he [Bowie] changed his signature so much during his 55-year career, but there are certain nuances in every single autograph that forgers cannot replicate.”
Nevertheless, Peters said “when I first saw the painting, I knew what it was straightaway. I did not need to see the autograph on the back because I knew, but obviously the signature sealed the deal.”
Growing up in Brixton in the 1950’s, Bowie soon rocketed to fame throughout the 1970’s with his innovative music and avant garde, oftentimes transgressional visual performances. By the time of his death at the age of 69, he had become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, selling over 100 million records worldwide.
Bidding for ‘DHead XLVI’ exceeded the auction’s high estimate on the very first day and by 18 June the highest bid had reached C$50,100 (£29,000). The auction will close on 24 June 2021.