When contemporary artist, Gavin Mitchell had two pieces from his limited edition series taken illegally from one of his London galleries, he resigned himself to never seeing them again. However, following the arrest and subsequent trial of Manchester playboy and ‘top tier’ cocaine gang boss, Aram Sheibani, the precious artworks were recovered in a Kensington apartment alongside originals from Andy Warhol and Banksy. The police have confirmed that the priceless artworks were obtained by illegitimate means.
Enter Gallery are excited to be able to exclusively offer these two pieces of art with a truly unique history...
Until Sheibani was rumbled by an extensive international investigation conducted in collaboration between Interpol, US Homeland Security and Greater Manchester Police, the crime boss had a £5 million property empire and was funding a playboy lifestyle for more than a decade via fraud, forgery, money laundering, drug dealing and tax evasion.
Alongside the priceless artworks, the police seized £1.2m in cash, Bentley cars, Class A drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine, safety deposit keys and crypto recovery codes. Sheibani has been sentenced to 37 years in prison.
Gavin Mitchell's art is admired for its ability to deconstruct preconceived notions. From his inspirations and processes to his use of materials, Mitchell’s aesthetic is determined by an idea of disorder and deconstruction, pulling apart the ordinary to put it back together in extraordinary ways. Built through layer-upon-layer of imagery, Mitchell’s highly original and provocative works of art speak their own unique visual language.
The stolen artworks were originally inspired by Ukiyo-e; (Pictures of the Floating World) a genre of Japanese art during the Edo period which depicted erotic scenes from an idealised view of contemporary urban life. This style of art is widely acknowledged to have influenced modern art movements such as Animé and Manga.
“I saw a show at the British museum about Shunga, a type of Japanese erotic art typically executed as a kind of Ukiyo-e during the Edo period. When the work was discovered by the Western world it was seen as pornographic, but it wasn’t seen that way in Eastern culture. Shunga was a satire on the middle classes and how they would detach from the difficulties of life and live in the moment.”
The artworks in question, ‘Manga I’ and ‘Blondie’ are mixed media collages crafted onto birch wood ply using photography onto acrylic. The layers create changing shadows that echo the transient nature of being which Ukiyo-e would emulate. It is a multi-sensory reference to the beauty of Japanese culture and referencing modern day art movements such as Manga that continue to use themes of eroticism, hedonism and duality.
Duality and the acceptance of imperfection are themes seen in Japanese art which have inspired Mitchell. The work also explores the concept of absolute vs relative;
“In the West we live in and absolute world - we strive for perfection, in terms of beauty and in terms of everything, we are always looking for control. Whereas in Eastern culture its all relative; you live with what’s in front of you. You can’t control beauty or nature, you live with it and appreciate it. Nothing can be perfect.”
How did you feel when you found out your artworks had been stolen?
To be honest I was pretty flattered by it because they had asked for my work when they went in and it was stolen alongside some Banksys and Andy Warhols so I was in good company. The investigation lasted for over 2 years and as the gallery got more information, they worked out it was part of a much larger art heist. I was more intrigued by it than concerned about it.
Out of the blue I got a call a few months ago from the gallery and then the police officer looking after the case. He gave me a full account of the investigation and subsequent trial. It was so interesting having the inside track on this guy who had been living life to the full and outside the law for so long.
It was lucky that my work was identified as mine. An art valuer who works for the police in helping resolve art theft and forgery cases had seen my work previously and contacted another gallery I work with to let them know my pictures were amongst the seized artworks. The gallery kindly got in touch with and we were able to begin the process of recovering them.
Tell us about the model featured in these artworks.
“I initially hired Natsumi to do some photography, she’s an actress but also does modelling. We got talking and she gave her perspective on my fascination with Japanese culture. She said (not in a rude way) that you will never see it fully from our point of view, but don’t try, because as open minded as you think you are, you will never get it. She said she was the same with Western culture – she loves it but there are some things she is just like, WHAT?
In Japan it’s very patriarchal and it’s difficult to become an artist or actress as a woman as it’s so male dominated. Males still will play the female role in some productions. I helped her write a letter for being an exceptional talent so she could continue to work on her projects in the UK.
She loved the finished artwork and we’ve become good friends now. She loves Western culture and fish & chips is her favourite meal so every now we get together at a chippy to continue the discussion and challenge of trying to further understand each other cultures.”