The artist being held to ransom over her own work
West Hampstead artist Suzi Malin appeals to readers to help her get her life back... her stolen works of art, that is
30 March, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Suzi Malin, whose sketches and paintings, as well as antique furniture, were taken when her Maida Vale studio was broken into
PORTRAIT artist Suzi Malin has spent decades creating a celebrated portfolio. She has painted Elton John and David Hockney, and her fêted work hangs in such institutes as the National Portrait Gallery.
But for the past year, Suzi has had a terrible, gut-wrenching problem hanging over her: a lifetime’s work, including sketches, books and canvases, was stolen last April, and now, 12 months on, she is ready to go public with a bizarre story of the attempts by an anonymous solicitor to broker a ransom deal to return the art.
Persons unknown smashed their way into her Maida Vale studio and took scores of sketches and paintings as well as antique furniture. Police investigations came to nothing – so three months later she offered a £10,000 reward through the pages of London lifestyle magazine About Time for their return.
“Someone contacted us and returned a few of my paintings which he had acquired at a car boot sale in Sussex,” she explains. “He gave a positive identification of the seller and told us he said he had kept the best for himself. The police tried to find the work at car boot sales – and so did we.”
They all drew a blank.
Suzi Malin’s portrait of David Hockney
Suzi, who lives in West Hampstead, grew up in Leeds and trained at the Slade in the late 1960s. She went on to complete a post graduate course and taught fine art.
“When I arrived I was just so, so happy,” she says. “I could paint all day and be with people who just wanted to talk art and go to galleries.”
She began portraits professionally to pay for her studies and won commissions through art dealers.
She met David Hockney while teaching at the Slade. “I went to his Kensington studio and at the time, he was working on a portrait of his parents that is in the Tate,” she recalls. Aged 25, she had a major show and Elton John’s manager, John Reid, bought her painting of Hockney. Reid set up a meeting and she was commissioned to paint the singer.
She has painted hundreds of people, many well known – and much of it is now missing.
The burglary became more complicated last summer when she was contacted by a lawyer claiming to be acting for the person who had her work. Calling him J, Suzi said the lawyer was working for a man who had the paintings but said he wasn’t responsible for the break-in.
“J said they were being carefully stored in a warehouse and could send me some pictures and wanted to claim the reward,” she says.
J said they did not have the furniture, so Suzi agreed to pay £2,000 instead of £10,000.
“I felt that I was negotiating for the purchase of my paintings rather than the pleasant task of giving a reward to a kindly person who wanted to return my work,” she adds.
To make sure the collection was intact, she asked to see the works, but J would only send pictures of them. He added he would deliver the pictures in person, but Suzi was wary of meeting.
“I was afraid,” she adds. “J would not allow me to come to his law offices. He said he was working outside his usual scope.”
When they arrived, the pictures showed her work in a crumpled and poor condition, and did not include numbers on the reverse of the works so Suzi could work out exactly what was left.
Suzi’s portrait of Elton John
The situation has caused her constant anxiety.
“The things that have gone missing are like a diary of my life,” she says. “The thing I love most of all when I am doing a portrait is I get to meet the subject, spend time shadowing them. I do masses of sketches, catch them in different poses and positions. I want to find their real essence.
“I always have a feeling of great empathy and affection for them. I do hundreds of sketches and it is a body of work I use to remember them by, including my entire portfolio from my time at the Slade.”
And her offer of a reward has meant the police cannot continue their enquiries. “The police said because of the reward it is now a civil matter,” she adds.
“And assisting someone in handing over reward money is not something that the police can get involved with. I have to say that the police, at all times, were helpful and sympathetic, but they have now closed the case.”
Arranging to swap cash for the paintings was also fraught.
“J and I couldn’t come to an agreement,” she says. “I was afraid to meet him with £2,000 cash. J wouldn’t let me deposit the money in his account nor could I come to his professional law offices. I wanted to see the paintings before I paid the money.”
After nine months of negotiations they arranged to do the exchange – but disaster struck.
“At the last minute, J emailed to say he wasn’t going to wait around while I counted my paintings and the deal was off,” she says.
So now Suzi hopes some one else will read the New Journal and come forward with information.
“I just want to paint,” she says. “I have worked hard all my life – but you could say I have never done a day’s work.
“It has always been my passion – and I hope someone out there will decide to do the right thing, and give me back my work.”