The great online art illusion: A cautionary tale

An art gallery’s brush with some (very clever) ‘Warhol and Haring’ works

Arts Correspondent

Sometimes a deal is just too good to be true. One London gallery owner learned the hard way when a treasure trove of work apparently by artists including Andy Warhol and Keith Haring appeared for sale on eBay.

Charles Uzzell-Edwards, a graffiti artist who uses the moniker Pure Evil and who runs a gallery of the same name in Shoreditch, east London, thought he had hit the jackpot two months ago when the works appeared online – many bearing a stamp of authentication.

Yet after spending “substantial sums”, it appears his prize purchases were, in fact, high-quality imitations. He set about getting his money back, culminating in the threat “to go No Country for Old Men” on the seller; a reference to the thriller in which a hitman is sent to relentlessly track down a man who has stolen $2m.

“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Mr Uzzell-Edwards told The Independent yesterday. “I’ve had a real education here, and doing the research is so important.”


The row comes amid growing concern about the reliability of some online art sales. Last week a vicar’s son called Geoffrey Spilman, 48, from Rugby, Warwickshire, was revealed to have sold hundreds of fake paintings, including copies of work by L S Lowry and Ashley Jackson, via eBay. He was cautioned by the police and eBay has banned him from the site.

Mr Uzzell-Edwards had been searching online for works by a range of contemporary artists, including his “holy grail”, the graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. “I can’t afford £2m. I have set up searches on eBay for his work though, and for Warhol and Haring.”

About two months ago, Polaroids purporting to have been taken by Basquiat started to show up in his search results, as did works by Haring and Warhol.  Many seemed to bear the stamp of the now dissolved committees that once authenticated the artists’ work.

“We were thinking, wow we’ve found all this amazing stuff,” Mr Uzzell-Edwards said. “We were thinking about doing an amazing exhibition and catalogue. ‘Let’s get on Antiques Roadshow and show them the soup can box [a shipping box from the Campbell Soup Company supposedly used as reference material by Warhol, which was among the lots being offered]’. We said we’ll take it all right now.”

Mr Uzzell-Edwards bought some works and contacted the seller to see if he had more. That seller, who has the username bobinga33, then offered him even more pieces.

“We bought a Perfecto jacket with a Haring on it. He did a bunch of those in 1988. We bought some Andy Warhol screenprints and metal subway signs,” he said. “I did a lot of research into them to see if they were the right dimensions. Things checked out.”

Warhol remains hugely popular to this day with his work regularly going for millions of dollars. Haring was one of the most important artists from New York’s East Village scene in the 1970s and 1980s and his work appeared on the city’s subways and streets before he arrived in prominent galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art. 

But as Mr Uzzell-Edwards investigated his purchases further – and consulted a range of experts – it became clear they were not originals, but impressive imitations. 

And it seems likely he may not have been the only one to have made this expensive mistake. An investigation by the Artnet website has established that a “spreading plague” of imitation Harings is currently being offered around London dealers – by a mysterious seller who also lives in Sweden.

Mr Uzzell-Edwards tracked down his Swedish eBay seller through the return address on the parcel that delivered the works. The man called himself Patrick Maske.

The Independent was unable to contact Mr Maske, but in an email to Artnet he wrote: “I am not an expert in this area ... I’ve been selling items on a site called eBay and tried to be as clear as possible with these objects. Whenever I’ve listed something on eBay, I’ve written that I have no purchase ticket or any other paperwork to accompany the item. That’s why the listings are starting with 1 dollar.”

Mr Uzzell-Edwards said:  “We sent a letter to Maske two weeks ago saying: ‘Pay us back or else’. Nothing happened so I sent a strongly phrased letter along the lines of ‘if you’ve seen Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, I’m going to do that until you end up in prison’.”

The full amount was finally returned on Wednesday, and Mr Uzzell-Edwards decided against going to the police. The imitation  works remain in storage.

After going public with his experience, Mr Uzzell-Edwards was contacted by people in the US and Australia who had also bought pieces. “There are so many people doing this on eBay. There are all these terrible Jean Michel Basquiat drawings being sold. Because they say it’s ‘in the manner of Basquiat’ those aren’t against the rules.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor