'Rihanna's tree' up for grabs in church sale

By Simon Hunter
BBC News

image captionRihanna's controversial video was filmed in the field Gordon McKnight painted 30 years ago.

It seems a long time ago now but there was an age before the MTV European Music Awards descended on Belfast.

And in that pre-'Bieber hits Belfast' era, there were also huge entertainment stories.

The biggest of the bunch was the controversy caused by R&B star Rihanna filming her latest, raunchy video in a field near Bangor.

The story became a global phenomenon when farmer Alan Graham interrrupted filming of the video and told Rihanna to "cover up".

Now, the instantly recognisable tree from the 'We Found Love' video, which was also filmed in Belfast's New Lodge, is up for sale.

But this version of the tree comes from before the Barbadian popstar was even born.

It is a watercolour of the eye-catching tree as viewed from the main Belfast to Bangor carriageway. A view closely mirrored in the Rihanna video.

It was painted almost 30 years ago by Bangor man Gordon McKnight and it will be auctioned by Ballygilbert Church later this month to help raise funds.

The 92-year-old painted the tree in 1983 and never dreamt of the fuss it would be involved in come 2011.

image captionGordon McKnight with his painting of the infamous 'Rihanna' tree.

"I am absolutely astounded at the level of interest in the tree painting," said Mr McKnight

"I initially painted it as I had always liked the view coming along the carriageway.

"When the Rihanna furore came about, I dug the painting out of the attic and offered it to the church for the exhibition."

It is hoped the watercolour will help raise thousands of pounds for the newly refurbished and extended church halls.

The painting will be auctioned alongside 200 other pieces at an exhibition in the church from 17 to 20 November.

Director of the exhibition, John Coote said: "We are very excited about Gordon's painting and indeed all the artists who have contributed to the exhibition.

"This year, with Gordon's contribution, we aim to open the exhibition to a bigger audience and want to thank him for donating the painting to us."

Who knows, there may even be a phone bidder from Barbados looking for something to display in her multi-million dollar home.

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