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Street artist’s iconic print makes Gisborne man $225,000.

A Gisborne man has turned $170 into $255,000 after a Banksy print he bought in London 17 years ago sold at auction in Auckland last week.

The artwork — Love Is In The Air, depicting a protestor throwing a bunch of flowers — is one of anonymous street artist Banksy's most famous pieces.

It was originally predicted to go for between $150,000 and $250,000 at the auction of important and rare art at the International Art Centre in Parnell.

However, the hammer went down at $255,000 last Tuesday — by far the highest of any of the eight Banksy works at the sale and one of three highest prices in the world paid for an unsigned Banksy.

With auction house commission taken from the price, the owner received $225,000.

Like Banksy, the Gisborne man who bought the print wishes to remain anonymous but did talk to The Herald about the print he almost never bought in the first place.

“I was walking back to the Underground and I heard this music coming out of the shop called Eat My Handbag, Bitch, with all these Banksys on the wall.”

Apart from a few stray pieces of street art he had seen around London, he knew nothing about Banksy.

“I saw a couple I liked and I didn't even buy them at the time. I just asked the guy if he could hold on to them and told him ‘I'm undecided and I'll make up my mind by the morning'.

“By the time I got home that night I had made up my mind and phoned the guy.”

He paid £60 (NZ$170) for the print.

The shop owner told him he had made a good decision as the pieces were becoming popular.

Little did he know, that decision years later would pay off his house.

The buyer had two reasons for selling the art.

Firstly he wanted to put a big dent in the mortgage — although it has turned out he will be able to pay off his mortgage with a nice chunk of change left over.

Secondly the artwork he enjoyed had become risky to keep around the house.

“I started to realise it was becoming more valuable and the more valuable it got, the more of a liability it became. I couldn't hang it anymore.”

All the Banksy works were accompanied by Certificates of Authenticity from Pest Control Office — the organisation established by Banksy to authenticate his work.

Love Is In The Air is a black and red screenprint on wove paper.

It depicts a protestor in a baseball cap back-to-front, and with a bandanna around his mouth, leaning back and poised to hurl a bouquet of flowers.

Also known as the Flower Thrower, the image first appeared in 2003 in large format stencilled on the West Bank Wall that separates Palestine from Israel.

The wall, as Banksy put it, “essentially turns Palestine into the world's largest open prison”.

The piece sold at the auction is edition 124 in a print run of 500.

International Art Centre director Richard Thompson said Love Is In The Air was considered one of Banksy's most iconic, powerful and sought-after works.

“The Banksy protestor has become the poster boy of the peace movement and has been reproduced on posters, T-shirts, phone covers and other merchandise material all around the world.”

Banksy has never been publicly identified but Mr Thomson said he had become the most popular contemporary artist in the world.

When asked what drew him to the print in the first place the Gisborne man said: “When I saw the prints in the shop, especially the protester with the flowers, it was just so current and it always will be. It had to be the one.”

“I love it as a piece of work. Even though it's only two colours, it's always renewed itself. It's so dynamic.”

MOST POPULAR: Richard Thomson, director of the International Art Centre, with some of the Banksy prints for sale at last week's auction. NZ Herald picture