Imposter's art of disreputable living

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 05:00 02/06/2013
Auckland artist Dean Buchanan
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
REAL DEAL: Auckland artist Dean Buchanan has had a con-man impersonating him and selling his artwork over the past six years.
Sandra Killen with her Dean Buchanan painting which has a fake dedication.
PHIL DOYLE/Fairfax NZ
NOT THE REAL DEAN: Sandra Killen with her Dean Buchanan painting which has a fake dedication.

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For many artists, imitation is the highest form of flattery. But this is taking it a bit far.

For six years, after a truck-load of his paintings disappeared, west Auckland artist Dean Buchanan has been getting reports of his own disreputable behaviour from around the country.

In Karamea, on the West Coast, he stayed at a backpackers for two weeks, apparently on his way to sell a painting to Shania Twain at her ranch in central Otago, and then could not pay his bill.

A friend told him he had "shagged a woman in the back of his truck" while selling paintings at Auckland's Parnell markets.

He heard he had sold another woman a painting in Aotea Square, Auckland, signed the back of it with a cheesy slogan and then made a pass at her when he helped her hang it.

The thing is, it was all news to Buchanan.

Turns out an impostor had been touring the country claiming to be Buchanan and living off - and spoiling - the artist's reputation.

The real Buchanan noticed something was wrong when people were getting upset with him for no reason, particularly for ignoring close friends and family.

"Friends of my mother's were saying to her ‘Dean's down at the Browns Bay market selling his paintings'. Mum rang up and said ‘Why didn't you come up and see me?' "

Similarly, in Wanaka, the wife of a mountain-climbing friend heard Buchanan was in town selling paintings at the local square. She went and asked the man if he was her old friend and when he said yes, she said "Well, I don't think you are".

One night Buchanan, a super-fit non-drinker, got a phone call from "the VIP bar at Sky City", where someone claiming to be him was trying to cash a cheque for $5000.

Buchanan said he met the alleged imposter some years ago and entered into a loose agreement for him to sell his paintings. When he dissolved their relationship, it is alleged the man disappeared with a truckload of Buchanan's paintings.

Buchanan's paintings sell for thousands of dollars, and he has exhibited in Japan, the United States and Switzerland.

"I've met numerous people who have bought paintings off me who [actually] haven't," Buchanan said, "It's really devastatingly annoying."

Buchanan has had gallery owners as far afield as Arrowtown refuse to stock his work after news of his supposedly "disreputable" behaviour.

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"People look at me like I'm really bent. Being ostracised is really horrible, especially when you haven't done anything."

Devonport woman Sandra Killen bought a painting from the fake Buchanan at Aotea Square about five years ago. He insisted she pay in cash and then helped her to hang it in her apartment, but not before he signed the back "Love Auckland and it'll love you, DB".

The real Buchanan said he never signs his paintings with his initials, and cheesy slogans are not his cup of tea either.

Killen said her focus was on art, so she was surprised when the fake Buchanan tried to kiss her.

"I said, ‘I'm not going out with you after I've just given you all this money'."

Rongo Backpackers Karamea owner Paul Murray met "Dean Buchanan" as the artist passed through the West Coast, apparently on his way to sell a painting to Shania Twain at her ranch in central Otago.

Murray said the man was an amicable, friendly guest who allowed the backpackers to hang "Shania's" painting in the premises while he relaxed and "recovered his artistic muse". He then could not pay his bill.

A man has recently been charged with theft by a person in a special relationship over the disappearance of $20,000 worth of Buchanan's paintings.

Anyone who thinks they may have bought a Buchanan from the wrong man is asked to contact Detective Constable Stacey Bailey of the Napier police.

- Sunday Star Times

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