A Sussex artist says he's surprised and disappointed to learn one of his paintings was apparently copied without his permission and without compensation.

"It made me shocked to know that somebody was doing this passing it off as their own and selling it to customers, essentially stealing from me and from them, at the same time," said Andrew Giffin.

Giffin's painting called Ladder Pool depicts a fly fisherman, standing in the Dartmouth River, in GaspĂ©, Que.

On the other side of the country, an image that resembles Giffin's painting in almost every compositional detail, was recently hanging in the reception area of a the Hatch Lapointe engineering office in Kitimat, B.C.

That painting was produced by Sarah Escaler, who wrote an email to Giffin saying, "By no means am I denying that I used your painting as a reference, as it is quite clear when you compare the two."

She went on to explain that she is a nurse by profession who took up acrylics for stress relief.

"I do not consider myself a professional by any means and have never taken an art class in my life," she wrote.

She also said she used Google to search for images and ideas that captured her attention and then tried to recreate them in her own style.

She offered her "profound apologies" and asked what she could do to repair the situation.

CBC News reached out to Escaler repeatedly, but she has not returned messages.

'It shamed my moral sense'

Anita Naidu, a former journalist and environmental engineer, was working in Kitimat on a contract, when she noticed the fly-fishing painting that she described as prominently displayed.

Naidu said she also observed other paintings reportedly done by Escaler, in various locations about town.

She felt they showed remarkable range for a small town artist who appeared to have no professional name recognition.  

She said something didn't sit right.

When she entered Escaler's fly-fishing painting into a Google image search, she said she immediately found Giffin's original. 

Andrew Giffin

Andrew Giffin, a Sussex artist, said he was "shocked" to learn that a portrait closely resembling one of his was hanging in an engineering company's office in British Columbia. (CBC)

"I mean, it's one thing when you can see references or you can see an inspiration. When someone makes an identical copy, it strikes you as intrinsically wrong," said Naidu.

Naidu said she also found remarkable similarities between some of  Escaler's other work and images on the internet.

Naidu said she felt compelled to contact Giffin and let him know.

"It shamed my moral sense to be honest. That somebody would be able to take advantage of other peoples' lack of knowledge in that way," said Naidu.

"They were creating a creation myth of themselves and they were taking advantage of so many people, whether it was the business owners or the artists being robbed of their money and their credentials."

Legal problems possible, gallery owner says

CBC News showed the two fly-fishing paintings to Peter Buckland, co-owner of  Buckland Merrifield Gallery in Saint John.

"It's not exactly forgery, of course," said Buckland. 

"If she had done the painting and signed Andrew's name to it, that would be forgery."

However, Buckland said he felt there were potential legal problems.

Peter Buckland

Peter Buckland, co-owner of Buckland Merrifield Gallery in Saint John, said he felt there were potential legal problems with Sarah Escaler's work. (CBC)

"She wasn't exactly reproducing Andrew's painting. What she was doing, was her own painting but copying it from him. So we are in the realm of intellectual property and that gets a little stickier," said Buckland.

"What Andrew did, was he created a bona fide work of art. What this woman did, at best, was simply illustrate. So she's not really an artist in this case. She's just taking somebody else's ideas."

Giffin said he laid a complaint with the RCMP in Kitimat but he said they did not seem to take it seriously.

He said he agreed to speak to the CBC because he thinks other artists who may have been copied by Escaler would also feel aggrieved.  

And if there are other customers out there, Giffin said he believes they would also want their situation rectified.

"We need to broadcast this somehow to ask people that have purchased paintings from her to come forward," said Giffin.

Paintings taken down

CBC News did contact Hatch Lapointe Engineering and learned that the fly-fishing painting that was hanging there, has been taken down.

CBC News also spoke with Tina Chamberlin, owner of Constant Cravings Cafe in Kitimat, who confirmed that she purchased a painting of a cherry blossom branch.

Chamberlin she made the purchase some time ago and did not recall what price she paid.

She also said she has taken the painting down after learning about the controversy.

"It's a small town," said Chamberlin.

"We don't want to be part of the drama. We don't want to have anything to do with plagiarism."