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It’s a longstanding irony that every type of artist secretly wishes they were a different type of artist. Dancers want to be writers; writers wish they could draw; and musicians want to be painters. For David Bowie, it wasn’t enough to revolutionize music, fashion, and generally define cool for several generations — the man liked to try his hand at painting, as well. Whether or not Bowie’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures would have taken the art world by storm on their own merits is irrelevant to their value, considering they were produced by such a revered original and influential thinker. This was evidenced earlier this month by a recently rediscovered painting that sold at auction for CA$108,120 (~$87,789), including fees, at Toronto’s Cowley Abbott auction house.
The provenance of the piece is a real rags-to-riches tale. The small, framed canvas, “DHead XLVI” (1997), was purchased from the Machar Township landfill in South River, Ontario, for roughly $5, before going on to sell in the high five figures once identified as a genuine Bowie. It’s a prime example from the artist’s Dead Heads series, which includes some 40 to 50 portraits of Bowie’s friends, family members, and bandmates. However, the consignor who nabbed the piece from the landfill donation center simply liked the looks of the work.
Cowley set the pre-sale estimate for “DHead XLVI” at CA$9,000 to CA$12,000 (~$7,380–$9,840), even though sales of Bowie’s paintings have increased in value since the singer’s death in 2016. But this new sale eclipsed the previous high on Bowie’s paintings, established in March of 2016 with a £22,500 (~$31,725) sale of a painting from the same series at Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh. Though considering that a single snippet of the musician’s hair sold for just under $19,000 at a charity auction in 2016, $88,000 seems reasonable for a painting … at least in the valuation of celebrity, if not artistic merit. Not a bad paycheck for a day at the dump!