"I initially intended this piece to be a minimal painting of an artist in his studio. However, as I painted I was listening to a radio discussion on poverty. I began thinking of the different way poverty is perceived. The romantic notion of the penniless artist means it’s almost like proof of integrity, compared to the portrayal of the poor as feckless and lazy. I added a teacup to his table, rather than a glass of wine. It could still be an artist in his Parisienne garret, but it could also be a man in a room somewhere in England."
This unfortunately timed photo is me looking delighted to be interviewed by the BBC about my submission for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. A thank you to the lovely film crew, it really wasn't that bad! However, I was a bit startled and unprepared. If it does ever make it to TV, here are the 100 words I wrote to accompany the artwork ('Claude' - Oil on Board). Let's hope I managed to get some of it across on film!
I recently had a 'buyer' from Florida contact me via email. He said how much he admired my work and asked what works were currently available. I sent him details and prices and he expressed an interest in four pieces. He asked for more information - how I created them, my inspiration etc. Again, I sent him the information and he decided on purchasing them; we agreed on a figure of $1630, or £1100. He asked for my address and telephone number so his accountant could contact me. I gave him both, plus my PayPal account as I told him this is the way I prefer all payments. About a week later, he told me to look out for the payment as his accountant has sent it via cheque. So far, I wasn't suspicious. I then received an email telling me that his accountant had made an error on the cheque, and that there had been an overpayment. To avoid delaying the sale further, he asked if I could deposit the cheque and return the balance. I agreed.
After about two weeks later, the cheque arrived. It was in Euros, and at the current exchange it was for over £3000 more than the cost of the artwork. This was more than I anticipated, so I emailed the 'buyer' to give them two options: he cancel the cheque, or I deposit the cheque and return the balance to the account detailed on it. He replied that he wished to proceed with the purchase, asked me to deposit the cheque and that his accountant would be in touch. Again, at this point I wasn't too suspicious - the cheque was drawn from a bank which is part of the same banking group as mine, so I assumed due diligence had been carried out on the client. I duly deposited the cheque.
A few days later, the 'buyer' returns with his request for the transfer of the excess funds. MoneyGram to Sweden. He then changes his mind and requests Western Union, taking all transfer commission from the balance. I now knew something was wrong - nobody would transfer money in this way when there were at least two simpler and cheaper alternatives (cancel the cheque, or bank transfer back to the original cheque account.)
I contacted my bank, who now have a fraud marker on my account. I also contacted ActionFraud, and was issued with a crime reference number. With the benefit of hindsight, I feel I should've spotted the fraud earlier. However, the initial exchange of emails (especially the 'buyer' asking for more information about the individual artworks) coloured my view. It was only the request for money transfer via Western Union that aroused my suspicions. On contacting my bank I also learnt that cheques can be credited to accounts and drawn upon, but can later bounce at which point I am liable for any of the bogus cheque money I have withdrawn.
Using Google I found that overpayment is a common Western Union scam. This involves a buyer of an item sending the victim seller a cheque for a higher amount than the agreed sale price. The buyer then expects the seller to refund the difference via Western Union, however the original cheque does not cash – leaving the seller with no payment for the goods, and liable for the transferred funds. I also googled the address the 'buyer' wanted the artwork sent to. It was not a holiday home as they had said, but in fact a public library. Thankfully neither the excess funds or the artwork have been sent.
Here's a list of money transfer never-evers from Western Union's own website.