Artist upset Saddam Hussein had her work

N.Y. woman wants 2 paintings found in love nest returned

April 19, 2003|By Dave Goldiner | Dave Goldiner,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NEW YORK - The artist known as Rowena admits her fantasy-art paintings - filled with snarling dragons, Fabio lookalikes and buxom damsels - can attract an offbeat clientele.

But Saddam Hussein?

The upstate New York painter was stunned to learn two of her campy, sexually charged artworks wound up at the tyrant's love shack in Baghdad.

And now she wants her '80s-vintage paintings back - taloned serpents, bare-breasted babes and all.

"I would give anything to get them back," said Rowena, whose last name is Morrill but prefers using only her first name. "I am so upset that they are there.

"I utterly hate Saddam Hussein," she said. "I loathe everything he is and everything he stands for."

Rowena, 58, said she did the oil paintings that hung in the dictator's den about 15 years ago as covers for bodice-ripper paperbacks with titles such as King Dragon and Shadows Out of Hell.

A busty blond is depicted in one painting conjuring up a forked-tongued serpent to wrap itself around the body of a hunky bare-chested warrior. In another, a chained woman clad in a tattered bikini arches her back as a dragon's talons reach toward her. Rowena knows no one would ever confuse her with Picasso or Goya - and insisted her more recent works are much better.

"I know they're not the Madonna by Leonardo da Vinci," she said. "They were high camp. I always found them hilariously funny."

Rowena was a classically trained artist who studied in Italy but took up the fantasy genre to support herself after moving to New York in the late '70s.

"I was looking for a way to make a living, and it paid the rent," she said by phone from her home near Albany, N.Y.

Considered the queen of fantasy art, she has held shows at science fiction conventions, although King Dragon was pulled from one exhibition after feminists complained.

She sold the two paintings years ago - the one with the dragon went for $20,000 to a Japanese collector - and hadn't heard about them since.

On Sunday, Rowena's sister called to say she had seen one of the paintings on TV hanging in a secluded townhouse in Baghdad. The pad is believed to have been used by Hussein to squire his girlfriends.

Rowena said she still cannot believe something in her artwork might have touched a chord in someone as evil as Hussein.

"That would be a horrifying thought," she said. "He, in his twisted mind, must have read something into it."

She admitted she may have no legal claim to the paintings, which now belong to a future Iraqi government.

"I don't like the idea of them being in that country," she said. "I'm the one who slaved over them. I worked very hard for them, and I am very attached to them."

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