Ninety people at an exhibition opening in Whangārei watched in horror as well-known artist Douglas Chowns slashed his paintings with a knife.
Chowns carried out the startling act after welcoming people to his exhibition at
Northland Society of Arts' Reyburn House gallery on Wednesday evening.
The exhibition was called 1994 Enduring of Suffering, and featured 10 paintings he originally finished and showed in 1994. The day and time of the Reyburn House opening was 25 years to the hour since that earlier show opened in Auckland.
Wednesday was May 1, May Day, or "Beltaine" which is regarded as the beginning of the Celtic calendar. The day signifies rebirth and optimism in Celtic culture for which Chowns has been a major advocate in Northland.
He had warned guests that at the exhibition opening, ''These works will be finished in your presence. I look forward to your support and understanding.''
No one expected that the finishing touch would be a dramatic knife attack on his own artworks.
''He told me he was going to do something spectacular towards the end of the opening but it came as a huge shock,'' the exhibition's curator Wendy Cunliffe said.
After people got over the shock of Chowns' action, several made comments about his ''doing a Banksy''.
Banksy is an anonymous English street artist and political activist whose work Balloon Girl was sold in an auction at Sotheby's in London for £1.04 million, in October 2018. Shortly after the gavel dropped on the sale, the canvas passed through a shredder hidden within the frame. Afterward, the auction house acknowledged the destruction of the work was a prank by the artist.
Cunliffe said the exhibition was Chowns' ''swan song'' and his unexpected art statement had a marked sense of finality about it.
Chowns, 80-something, has sold the Whangārei Heads waterside home he owned with his late wife Meg and is moving into a retirement village in Whangārei.
''Dougie told me that for him the action was the release of suffering, as the exhibition itself was 'the enduring of suffering','' Cunliffe said.
''He didn't seem upset afterwards. He went off to the pub quite happily with his friends.''
Chowns said in his written artist statement that when he first showed the same social realism series in 1994, ''Few understood my concerns as a dedicated life long artist.''
He said the paintings, some of which were of nudes, were not ''pretty paintings, but social comment''.
One painting from the original 1994 Enduring of Suffering exhibition was sold to then Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta for the presidential suite in Dili, another bought by an Auckland neurological surgeon and the third, a self-portrait, is in the United Kingdom's Bushey Museum which honours the famous School of Art in Bushey.
The 2019 version of the 1994 Enduring of Suffering exhibition will be on show at Reyburn House for the month of May. The works are all for sale, but it is anyone's guess how the provenance of the art attack might slash the prices.
''They did have set prices originally but now they're all negotiable,'' Cunliffe said.