Dubbed the Beau Brummell of Burgess Hill for his natty dressing, master forger Max Brandrett will be painting at Worthing’s Room With A View fine art gallery on Saturday, June 29 .
He anticipates starting at 10am and working through until three or four in the afternoon – a great chance to find out more about his art and his practice – a practice which brought him three years in Ford open prison at one point.
Burgess Hill-based Max said: “I will be working on a Caravaggio or a Coolidge. There will be quite a few people I will be working on and I will also be meeting people and talking to people.
“I am an art forger. They call me the Master Forger. My life has been very varied. I got nicked three times.”
Max developed his art skills after running away from his Barnardo’s children’s home to join the circus at 15. While grooming elephants and painting the trucks for two years, he found his passion for art. After a chance meeting with forger Tom Keatings, Max was tempted to experiment with copying the great masters.
Word of his talents reached the black market, and the Kray twins asked for a portrait of their mother, which luckily they loved. Max, however, did end up paying the price with three prison sentences and promised he wouldn’t do it again, even when his most profitable piece fetched over £12,000 back in the 80s. Even today, many people don’t know exactly what is hanging on their walls…
“When I see an old canvas, I just want to paint a fake on it. I love the old masters. I love doing them. I am the sort of artist that will copy anything. I love the different styles. I love doing Caravaggio or Rockwell. I don’t like the abstracts and the modern works so much, but I love doing what I am doing now. All the years in the wilderness, I was struggling, but suddenly everybody wants to know me.
“If I am doing a Caravaggio now, I would not be trying to fool anybody. They are reproductions of a very high quality. I don’t have the urge to do my own work. Unless you are somebody like Banksy or Damien Hirst, you have got to know the right people. But no, I am not really interested in doing my own work.”
Much more important to Max is simply to get respect for the work he does copying other people’s pieces.
He prefers working on detailed recreations that challenge his skills such as battle scenes, ships and animals. He still produces copies of famous pieces, but by changing one tiny detail in each image, this time it is legal, he says.
“My paintings are good. I am one of the better ones. There are others that do it, but yes, I am good. I spent three years in Ford. When you are in prison, people like to know your story. They were saying ‘Max the forger is in!’ and the governor would let me have oil paints. I was even doing a bit of painting while I was in there.
“Yes, forgery is a crime if you are fooling people and you are doing it in a big way. But I went through bad times and the money was good. Tom Keating was one of the best and he taught me so much.”
“I was 18 or 19 and I got carried away. I should have stopped when Keating died, but I didn’t. I just carried on. But I would never do it again now…”
A film of Max’s life is currently being made. There will be filming happening during his stint in Worthing.