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Art raid leaves painter bereft

Three paintings with a $30,000 price tag have been stolen from the home of an Auckland artist just weeks after two million-dollar pieces were taken in a ram raid burglary.

Thieves moved artist Jimmy Kouratoras’ heavy 4WD van around three other more valuable cars parked in his Onehunga driveway last week.

Inside the vehicle were three finished paintings, Kouratoras told Newsroom. He said the works were only at his home and in his vehicle as they were being photographed for an auction catalogue.

Kouratoras is known for his unique contemporary art style which feature vivid colour combinations and are laced with expressions of Māori culture. His work is rapidly gaining popularity and value in New Zealand and abroad.

The crime follows the early-morning ram raid theft of two Gottfried Lindauer works taken from the International Art Centre on Parnell Rd this month.

Police will not say if the two crimes are linked, but there are definite similarities between the cases.

The paintings were all advertised as valuable collector's items by New Zealand artists and featured Maori subjects and designs.

Kouratoras’ works, which took him six weeks each to complete, had a conservative pricing of $30,000 and were due to go to auction soon.

Lindauer’s partner portraits, entitled Chieftainess Ngati-Raure and Chief Ngati-Raure, have a combined value of nearly $1 million and have not yet been recovered. Surveillance footage shows two men stealing the paintings, using a stolen van to smash into the gallery and fleeing in another car driven by a third person.

In Kouratoras’ case, the thieves stole his navy blue Mitsubishi delica (DJF963) with roof racks in the early morning of April 19.

“They would have had to navigate the car from between three other, more valuable cars, a BMW, a Suzuki Swift and a Toyota.

“It’s a very heavy car, it would have been hard to push - there was no broken glass or anything.”

Kouratoras had received information that he had been targeted, but could not fathom what the thieves would do with his work.

“It was the least expensive car of all so they weren’t stealing the van, they were stealing the art and I believe they must have cased it all out before stealing them.

“They can’t even do anything with them, everyone will know they are mine and they won’t be able to sell it to anyone.”

Kouratorus was told his work had been targeted. Photo: supplied

The same sentiment was shared by a commentator after the Lindauer thefts.

Initial reports suggested the paintings could have been taken by descendents of the chief and chieftainess angry the art is being sold instead of gifted to iwi.

Others suggested a ransom would be demanded for the safe return of the paintings, but no one claimed responsibility for the crime.

It was also speculated that the art may be intended for an overseas party linked to Asian organised crime here, or used as leverage with police. 

Criminologist Greg Newbold suspected the thefts were local criminals looking for a “bargaining chip” with police.

“The police would be prepared to give money or concessions for their return. These paintings could be a bargaining chip to have charges dropped or downgraded.”

Whatever the motive, the artist and father of three said he was left feeling violated.

“I am just gutted and pissed off, I was going to use that to pay to take my family to my father’s village in Crete. My paintings are like medicine for the eyes: the combination of marks and imagery gives the mind more to contemplate and all that contemplation helps you understand the world and make peace with the world, and that’s what my work does to people.

“It’s a bad move for people to steal medicine.”

A police spokeswoman said information was received from the public regarding the thefts, but further details of the investigation could not be revealed.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Auckland City Police on 09 302 6832 or anonymous tip line Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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