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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 August, 2003, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Ex-gangster's art is big seller
Mark
The former criminals works have been well-received
Mark "Chopper" Read, one of Australia's most notorious criminals, has become an art world success after 27 of his paintings sold 24 hours into his first art exhibition.

Mr Read, who was immortalised by Hulk star Eric Bana in the film Chopper in 2000, has been holding an inaugural exhibition this month in Melbourne after turning to painting to relieve his anger.

Some of the larger works have sold for $4,500 Australian (1,900), while smaller painting have fetched as much as A$1,500 (635). The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne has bought one of the portraits.

I find painting wonderful, better than a psychiatrist
Mark "Chopper" Read

He spent 23 years in jail for kidnapping and malicious wounding. He was never charged with murder, despite his own admissions he had been involved in the killing of 19 criminals.

The exhibition at the Melbourne gallery includes portraits, abstract works, and other painting based on tattoos on his own body.

Crime writer

"It's a surprise that other people like what I'm doing. I took up painting as a form of therapy, to help me relax, so that instead of getting angry and shouting I went out into the backyard and painted," Mr Read, 48, said before the exhibition.

"I find painting wonderful, better than a psychiatrist," he said.

Mr Read was last released from prison in 1998 and became a stand-up comedian and crime writer. He has also published an autobiography, several volumes of memoirs, and children's books.

Some of the larger works have sold for $4,500 Australian (1900), while smaller painting have fetched as much as A$1,500 (635).

Curator Denis Chapman said he had been stunned by the strong interest shown in the former criminal's work.

"The work is genuinely interesting. It is very bright and colourful which surprises most people as they expect him to be dark," Mr Chapman said.

Earlobes

Mr Read earned the nickname "Chopper" because of his habit, he has said, of chopping off the toes of his victims.

During one of his prison terms he had his earlobes cut off by a fellow cellmate.

During his recent stand-up shows, he said that he had never harmed women, children or innocent people.




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