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

A painting by late musician David Bowie will be going up for auction after being discovered in a northern Ontario landfill.

Bowie, who died in 2016, was an enigmatic performer best known for his albums The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane, and Let’s Dance

Rob Cowley, president of Cowley Abbott Fine Art in Toronto, said 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.

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

David Bowie’s D HEAD XLVI, from a portrait series, was salvaged from a landfill near North Bay, Ontario. (Supplied by Cowley Abbott)

The person who found the painting, who Cowley said wishes to remain anonymous, conducted some preliminary research over the internet. A few months after finding it, she contacted his group.

“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 nineties,” Cowley 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.”

Bowie’s signature was ascertained by Andy Peters, recognized as an expert in David Bowie’s artwork. (Supplied by Cowley Abbott)

Cowley describes the 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 period of 1960s and 1970s, 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.”

Finding art in the trash rarer than you think

Overall, Cowley said, the diminutive piece – it’s only 20×25 cm (8 x 10 inches) – is “quite a striking work.”

Cowley said a quick valuation of the work pegs it between $9-12,000, however at recent auctions, other paintings by Bowie 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. “And it does happen.”

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,” he said. 

“And this was the case here.”

The painting will be part of an online auction opening June 15.

Read more at CBC.ca