A California man has pleaded guilty to selling $1.1 million worth of fake art that he claimed was the work of the late Canadian artist Richard Hambleton.
Hambleton, who died in 2017, rose to prominence in the 1980s with his graffiti and street art, and later became known for his life-size canvases of a shadowy man.
Jason Harrington, who is 38, admitted to selling forged paintings of the figure known as , to at least 15 galleries between 2018 and 2020.
The record for a Hambleton painting at auction is $553,350 (set in 2018), according to the Artnet Price Database. One work sold for more than $396,000 at auction in 2019.
Harrington lied to buyers about the provenance of the works, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office for the southern district of California. Harrington gave buyers a forged letter purportedly signed by the work’s previous owner. On one occasion, he orchestrated a phone call between a prospective buyer and someone falsely claiming to have obtained the art from Hambleton.
Harrington altered publicly available photographs of Hambleton to make it appear like purported sellers knew the artist, according to court documents.
He also admitted to attempting to sell a fake Barkley Hendricks painting. According to court records, Harrington falsely told a gallerist that he had inherited the painting from his uncle. The gallery refused to purchase the painting, however, after Hendricks’s widow saw it and determined it was a forgery.
“Forged artwork harms investors, corrupts the integrity of the art market, and damages the historical-cultural record,” said acting U.S. attorney Randy Grossman. “This case reflects the federal government’s full commitment to effectively investigate and prosecute complex art fraud crimes.”
Harrington “created multiple fake paintings, devised elaborate cover stories to authenticate them, targeted unsuspecting buyers, and sold over a million dollars of forged artwork,” said FBI special agent-in-charge Suzanne Turner.
As part of his plea, Harrington agreed to pay at least $1.1 million in restitution. He will appear for sentencing on October 22 and could face up to 20 years in prison.