As It Happens

Artist of stolen $18K bullet-riddled Bieber painting says thief called him to confess

Toronto artist Viktor Mitic says he was contacted by the thief who stole his bullet-riddled portrait of Justin Bieber from a Toronto gallery, supposedly on a drunken dare.
This painting, appraised at $18,000, was stolen during a TIFF event. (Viktor Mitic)

Update: After this interview aired, As It Happens learned the alleged thief was arrested Wednesday evening and charged with mischief and theft over $5,000. He has been released from custody and is awaiting a court date. The painting has been returned to the Campbell House Museum. 

Toronto artist Viktor Mitic says he was contacted by the thief who stole his bullet-riddled portrait of Justin Bieber from a Toronto gallery, supposedly on a drunken dare.

The painting, appraised at $18,000, disappeared from its debut appearance at the Campbell House Museum during a Toronto International Film Festival event the week before last.

Mitic thought it was lost forever, until he got a surprising email on Tuesday morning from a man who claimed he'd swiped the painting on a dare after having "a bit too much to drink" during a series of festival parties.

Later that night, the artist and the thief talked on the phone.

"He sounded terrible," Mitic told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "He sounded like he really wanted a way out."

The thief made off with this portrait by Viktor Mitic, but later contacted the artist to confess. (Viktor Mitic)

Attached to the email were two photographs of the stolen painting, which revealed a distressing new detail — the thief had scrawled his own tag onto the portrait, then hastily tried to undo it.

"He tried to cover up the mistakes and bought some paints and tried to match the background of the painting a bit and made a bigger mess," Mitic said.

The man begged Mitic not to involve the police, he said, offering instead to return the painting and make a donation to the charity of the artist's choice.

But while it's not too late to say sorry, it is too late to dispense with the law.

"The police are already on it," Mitic said. "So it's not really up to me."

Toronto Police Services confirmed to As It Happens they are investigating the theft.

Mitic is known for his pop art portraits of public figures outlined with bullet holes. (Jim Allen Photography)

Mitic remains baffled as to how the drunken daredevil made off with the 30-by-40 inch portrait.

According to the thief, security guards stopped him at the door, but let him leave with the art.

"They asked him if he was supposed to have that and he said 'Yep!' and walked off," Mitic said. "And that was it."

The artist, who is known for his bullet-hole-riddled paintings that he says are a criticism of gun culture, says he's waiting for police before he decides how to proceed.

"I personally don't want to charge anybody. If he's going to do what he said he's going to do in that email, then I'm OK with that," he said.

"But it would be kind of cool for people to know that it's not cool to take people's artwork out of public institutions and galleries because it takes so much time to get them in there, there's so much work involved and it's just not cool."

Viktor Mitic’s bullet-hole art

10 years ago
Duration 2:38
Viktor Mitic aims to provoke a conversation about gun violence with his canvases with bullet holes.


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