The Calgary artist behind the public art that used photos of British comedians without permission and prompted an international incident this week has apologized and offered an explanation.

Derek Besant's $20,000 piece, installed along the Fourth Street underpass in downtown Calgary two years ago, involves a series of images of people's faces, blurred out with words overtop of them.

This week, a U.K-based comedian named Bisha Ali noted — to her surprise — that one of the photos appeared to be a picture of her, and that several others appeared to be of her fellow comic colleagues.

workers take down art

Crews remove the artwork by Derek Besant on Wednesday night. (CBC)

The common thread was that all the comedians had been involved in the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and the photos appeared to be taken directly from the festival's guidebook.

On Wednesday, Besant admitted to using photos from the guidebook but said he didn't know they were copyrighted material.

"When I received some torn out pages from a handout flyer with these faces, my impression was they were already out in the public domain," Besant said in an email to CBC News.

"Therefore, I thought they could be collaged as backgrounds to be further interrupted with text elements for the Fourth Street community art-site concept."

He said his goal was to create a theme of "representations of strangers that could be from anywhere, in any city."

"My premise was to open up a conversation centred around 'who are we — in cities,'" he added.

Different explanation in 2015

This explanation differs from a 2015 article in Avenue Magazine in which Besant was interviewed about the underpass project.

That article states: "Besant chose the 20 people at random from the pedestrians he met at the underpass."

The City of Calgary said earlier this week it had been in contact with Besant and the artwork was taken down Wednesday evening.

Besant said he wants "to apologize to all concerned."

"In no way did I ever mean to hurt anyone involved, and I am extremely sorry that this is the result of my misunderstanding," he said.

Besant's public art display was considered temporary and was slated to be replaced with an interactive light display as part of a permanent refurbishment of the underpass.

With files from Drew Anderson