It's paintbrushes at 20 paces, with a local artist accusing the National Gallery of Australia of buying a "fraudulent" artwork, a charge the gallery -- and those involved in the painting's purchase -- strongly deny. The NGA acquired contemporary Gold Coast artist Scott Redford's surf painting Black Palms/High Rise in mid-2012 for around $10,000, and wanted it to be included in a prestigious exhibition of Australian artwork at London's Royal Academy of Arts later this year. Redford told Crikey the painting, first produced at the turn of the millennium, was remade without his permission a decade ago after it had been damaged and declared it a "fake" and "fraudulent". He has asked for the painting to be withdrawn from the Australia exhibition. But others with knowledge of Black Palms/High Rise disagree with Redford's assessment. "What Scott is saying is fanciful and totally baseless," said Peter Bellas, Redford's long-term former art dealer, who represented him when the painting was made and first purchased. Suzanne O'Connell, the dealer who sold the painting to the NGA, added: "People should be careful when they start making statements like this. It's trying to tarnish people's names, and as far as we were concerned it was re-made because there was an issue, and it was all above board and Scott knew the situation, and life went on." The nature of surf paintings -- a hybrid of a surfboard and a painting -- mean they can be easily damaged by heat and are prone to dents. The surface of the 2.4-metre-high Black Palms/High Rise bubbled and its then-owner, Thornquest Investments, had it repaired by Chris Garrett from Phantom Surfboards, who made the original surfboard (Redford designed the artwork, and then Garrett and his factory copied the images, put a decal on it, covered it in fibre glass and put a wooden frame on the back). In the photo below, the original painting skin is on the left (before it was put onto surfboard backing), while the photo on the right shows the updated artwork as displayed in the All That Glitters: Contemporary Visions of the Gold Coast catalogue, a 2004 exhibition at the Gold Coast City Art Gallery.

"It's a copy," said Redford. "They got the decal in the wrong spot, and it destabilises the composition. The decal is not delineated properly -- if you look carefully, it has a white rectangle, which I find really ugly. It's thinner. And it was done without my permission." That's a charge former owner Ian Thornquest denies. "That is incorrect, he was fully aware of it at the time," he told Crikey. Surfboard shaper Chris Garrett also says he had a conversation over email with Redford (who was then overseas) about the remake back in the early 2000s. "Everything was done in good faith and with integrity," he said. The issue came to a head in April 2013, when Redford was contacted by the NGA for copyright permission for the Royal Academy exhibition and he raised the assertion that the painting was fraudulent. Redford says before this he was unaware that the national gallery had purchased his art. NGA told Crikey in a statement.
"The gallery immediately followed up with the artist, and then with the previous owner, the curator of the All that Glitters exhibition as well as previous dealers of the artist’s work. These enquiries have confirmed that to everyone else’s knowledge it seems that the work is not fraudulent. We have written statements from others to this effect. "There seems however to have been a serious breakdown in the relations between the artist and his former dealers, the surfboard maker and in particular the dealer who sold this work to Suzanne O'Connell. We continue to investigate the matter and obviously take these assertions very seriously. Contact with the curator of this exhibition [the 2004 All That Glitters exhibition] has confirmed in writing that the artist had actually attended the opening night of the exhibition and worked closely with the curator on the show. Further follow-up with the curator has confirmed that the artist never mentioned at the time that the work might be fraudulent."
Redford acknowledged he saw the re-made version in 2004: "There was the painting, but I knew immediately it was not the painting. It’s like you know your children." He says he complained about it at the time, however his relationship with Bellas was then tense and he didn't feel he could push it (Redford is now represented by Gould Galleries in Melbourne). The NGA is currently attempting to purchase two more of Redford's pieces -- together titled Boy With Surfboard Cross, with a combined price tag of $20,000 plus GST -- however Redford has asked for the sale to be stopped. "The NGA does not care about me, it cares about itself and is in damage control," he said. Redford's allegations come just weeks after the NGA became embroiled in a multimillion-dollar stolen Indian artefacts scandal involving art smuggler Subhash Kapoor.