Before leaving France, I thought I might leave you with a few observations. Coming and going from this wonderful country over a period of years, I’ve noticed a few changes. While many of these changes are also world-wide, some are peculiar to France.
Twenty years ago France was in the grip of the photo-litho phenomenon. Collectors were often satisfying themselves by taking home a rolled-up print of something they had seen in a gallery. Sales of originals plummeted. Collectors in this sunny country had to wait until their prints faded to realize their folly.
Today the destination gallery — now selling mainly originals — is on the rise. These are often artist-owned, one-artist galleries, sometimes chained. Art is still sold in toffee galleries in the major cities, while the destination gallery fills a niche in tourist centers. While these too may offer quality work, the tendency is toward facile “quick-do” repeat images that the makers hope will ring the register. Commonplace effects commonly painted. Rocks with rude impasto like pie-crusts. A few touched-up Giclees and tight watercolors round out the offerings. This art is a combination of souvenir and safety. Prices are generally affordable, names are promoted by posters and the galleries display photos of celebrities purchasing.
Like most artists I love to be a fly on the wall, observe, and try to understand what’s going on. Here’s the crunch: I have the feeling that the appetite for quality is higher now, and getting higher. Many of these galleries are shooting too low. People pass in and out — “Bonjour” — “Merci,” and then they’re on to the creperie. Surprisingly, the most action we saw was in off-the-beaten-track galleries offering Ukrainian paintings. Yep, Ukrainian. Small paintings, academically sound, broadly worked for the most part, arresting subjects with genuine human values: Submariners aiming spotlights, women weaving or turning pots, illustrational characters juxtaposed with real happenings. Historical, ethnic, sincere nostalgia, sensitive, sensual. At the same time some of these paintings are highly inventive, even daring. These works have been imported here for cash from unspoiled artists who know what they’re doing. They are often graduates of responsible academies in Russia, painters no one around here has ever heard of. These artists are not catering. They are flowers who formerly bloomed in a desert. Collectors are loading up their Citroens.
PS: “We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” (Max de Pree)
Esoterica: “And this too will change,” said the wise man when asked by the king for a permanent, universal truth. Sometimes it’s difficult to believe in progress, but here on the Gulf of Morbihan I can feel, I can revel in it. “If we are to change our world view, images have to change. The artist now has a very important job. He’s not a little peripheral figure entertaining rich people, he’s really needed.” (David Hockney)
The following are selected correspondence related to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Toffee and Giclee
by Diane Schear and others
I need to know the terms “toffee galleries” and “Giclees.”
(RG note) “Toffee” is a British term that means high end or upper crust. I meant it to mean better class commercial galleries in big cities. “Giclee,” pronounced “Zheeclay” is a type of artist’s print, basically a high quality photocopy, where material is prepared digitally and squirted directly into fairly absorbent paper in order to make a long-lasting print. Touched-up giclees are where the artist or the artist’s helpers go in and add impasto or other detailing.
Danger in destination galleries
I have several destination galleries in my stable. The problem with these galleries is that their insatiable need for imagery based in and around the destination, causes them to have little or no loyalty. They fill their walls with ever poorer renditions of the same subject matter — at lower and lower prices — by whoever they can get to do it. This is no way to build artists and reputations. They work on the idea that certain motifs succeeded in selling previously and therefore may sell again. This type of business plan can interfere with an artist’s integrity. Be careful when dealing with destination galleries.
by Jan Zawadzki
I too have seen some absolutely remarkable work coming out of the former Soviet Union. Sztaskos’ stylization is a must to anybody’s study of form. Sidors’ sculptures are what visual invention is made of. Having just returned from Paris I found myself thinking of the city in terms of an old whore…only now to be corrupted by the ‘instant’ in culture.
‘Original’ doesn’t equal ‘art’
by Bryan Dunleavy, Southhampton, Hampshire, UK
I found that the ‘limited edition’ market here in the UK hit the wall about 18 months ago. What appears to have replaced it is a desire to own ‘original’ and affordable paintings. Canvas is making a comeback! Paper is out of favour! What they are getting is bright sunny images, which maximize painterly effort and can easily be repeated. Most people in this country are so stressed out at the end of the day that all they want to do is flake out on the couch and stare at a calm seascape or watch the tropical fish. They buy calm, not turbulence. I have to confess that some of my time is spent producing for this market. I paint backgrounds of a sort onto a small canvas square and then quickly impose a vase of flowers on top. I call them floral decoratives. They sell well enough that my dealer comes back each month for a box load, but nobody (least of all myself) is kidding themselves that this is art. It’s decoration. It’s the fashion of the moment. This too shall pass.
Problems with limited editions
by oliver, Houston, TX, USA
Artists based in the former eastern block have a cost advantage — $100 goes a lot farther there than New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London and even my home, Houston. It might be harder to get their product to those markets — but once there, they have an advantage. Higher quality, same or less price. If you are speculating on relatively unknown artists, why pay more for less? Photo-litho reproductions are a hard market to understand — even limited editions. Some limit edition size, but may make 10 or 20 different size editions. Some may also limit media, one edition for canvas, one, watercolor paper. All of a sudden editions don’t seem so limited. A gallery owner recounted how a customer was upset because his 16″x 20″ edition was still priced at $1000, but the ‘new’ 14″x 16″ edition of the same print was priced at $750. Perhaps Limited Edition practices need to be adjusted, as well as the pricing of ‘reproductions.’ On a personal note, the photo guild has almost tossed me out, even though I start with an analog camera, and scan into and use giclee, a digital print process to produce ‘originals.’ I do limit quantities, but I use a broad definition — archival quality prints of any size, and I count my copies in the total edition quantity. So my ‘originals’ are by definition multiples, like etchings, lithos, photos, prints. While my output looks like giclee’s they are not reproductions of an ‘original.’ I’m using new technologies that, historically, have had less than stellar results, but have improved greatly. Still, sales have been a tad tough in this recession — why am I not surprised?
Real art has spiritual values
by Gertjan Zwigglar
I didn’t need to paint for a living, so I had the luxury of being able to explore all kinds of directions, over the years. Like Picasso, I had a pastel period and a blue period. Now the work is gone into more literal visions of lost cities in jungles, with parrots and flowers, trees and sundry living things. I have all my life sought to be original, try different things and challenge myself. It is great to hear that other originals are out there and pushing the tide of mediocrity back, slowly, to where it belongs — Wal-Mart. Who needs another photograph? These Ukrainian guys and gals are painting ideas. They are not just reproducing photos, or the works of true original painters. “Artists are the froth on the waves of civilization” is an excellent description of what artists really are and how important they are to the world. I don’t know where that quote comes from. Maybe I made it up one time. I honestly can’t remember. Good art is both craft and art. The craft part is the science; the art, the metaphysics. Real art is totally imbued with spiritual values. Like the ancient Greeks, we see love in beautiful things made with a fellow human being’s hands. Sensitive people stand in awe and wonder before true works of art, even if they “know nothing about it.” That is why they are filling up their Citroens in the back alleys, n’est pas, mon ami?
Quality art in Ukraine no surprise
by Peter Shostak, Victoria, BC, Canada
You seemed rather surprised that quality art from Ukraine was being sold in Paris. In 1967, during the bad old days of the ‘Iron Curtain’, my wife and I, after much planning and ‘red tape’, were granted visas to visit the homeland of my parents, Ukraine. With the ever-watchful KGB angels constantly near us, it was impossible to make contact with the local population, or to meet any artists. We did visit a number of state-sanctioned and state run art galleries. There we saw some masterful and extremely well executed work. A great deal of it glorified the ideology of the state. This did not hide the fact that, at the art academies, there was a great deal of teaching going on. A lot of very good art was being created in Ukraine. In 1979 there was a marked change in the reception of tourists. Young people were eager to talk to you and bargain for your Levis. In 1989, on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was not only possible to see the work of the so called dissident artists, it was possible to visit their studios and purchase artwork. Despite poor conditions and inferior materials, they continued to produce work which had a soul. A traveling companion purchased a small sculpture, which required the artist to obtain an export permit from the Ministry of Culture. As payment, the artist asked that he be sent several books on contemporary sculpture. In the spring of 1998 and the winter of 1999, I revisited some of the artists whom I had met 10 years previously. For some, life as an artist was very difficult because of the withdrawal of state support. For others, the newly gained freedom to create and export their work was morally and financially rewarding. During my last two trips to Ukraine, I was able to spend some time photographing this marvelous land and its people. These slides have served as inspiration for many of my recent paintings. Early next summer I plan to travel to some of the villages of the Carpathian Mountains and do some painting. As for the art being sold in France, this is great. I just hope that the success of marketing their paintings there will not have an adverse effect on what and why they continue to paint.
Thinking of prints
by Susan-Rose Slatkoff
Knowing how hard it is to make a living as an artist without a patron (read supportive spouse) I do not decry any way artists can get some money to pay for their “habit.” Ideally, people would buy original (and original) paintings, but hey, not everybody has money or refined taste. I know a few artists who have figured out what will “sell,” especially to tourists, and they churn them out so that they can make enough money to paint directly from the heart. And I say, bravo. Better to muck about with paints than a day job you dislike. I am thinking about doing a printing or giclee of the enclosed painting. Many people have expressed interest in it, but it’s one of my favourites and I am not ready to sell. What do people think? Any suggestions about the best way to get them well printed for the least amount of money?
Garage sales fate of some art
by Jim Rowe
I like looking for art at garage sales; there are some real good pieces for next to nothing. I was at a sale last Saturday and saw a nice acrylic on canvas just sitting on the ground leaning against a table. I won’t say whom it was done by, because my worst nightmare is to hear that one of my own paintings was sold this way. Anyways, I am a little stupid; I looked at it and just walked by. Five minutes later, I returned to pick it up and it was gone. I remarked to the lady that I should have grabbed it. She said that a dog had peed on it so they threw it out. The dog belonged to my son, who was just walking behind me. I rescued it out of the garbage and bought it for a dollar.
David Hockney’s “secret knowledge”
by Carol Lopez
There’s a movie going the rounds that asks the question — “Did the Old Masters cheat? Were lenses and mirrors — precursors to the camera lens — the secret tools of painters like Ingres, Holbein, van Eyck and Vermeer? The controversial theory laid out in David Hockney’s book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters is developed further in a documentary film. Hockney’s interest goes back to an Ingres exhibition he visited at the National Gallery in London in 1999. Inspired by the tiny perfect drawings on show, he blew them up “on a hunch” and noticed that the lines reminded him of the tracings Andy Warhol did to create his silk-screened portraits, lines “made without hesitation, bold and strong.” Other “eureka experiences” followed, and soon the artist found himself at the center of an art-world brouhaha. The film shows that he is obviously enjoying himself immensely as, engulfed in smoke from his Camels and surrounded by copies of paintings from the last five centuries, he gleefully deconstructs Western art. His argument is persuasive, especially when he walks us through the dramatic change in technique that occurred in 15th-century painting, when, suddenly it would seem, artists miraculously learned how to achieve exact proportions and paintings began to glow with photo-like perfection. Hockney does not dismiss the great masters, he merely demonstrates that they used these techniques to enhance their genius.” I’m wondering what you and your readers think of this.
(RG note) Ho hum. Artists who don’t/can’t draw very well often wonder about this. I’ve taken a look at the Ingres drawings too and I see evidence of “finding lines” and erasures that wouldn’t be there if the artist was tracing. That’s not to say that the camera lucida and other devices less sophisticated than our modern projectors were not used by many artists who wanted to “get it right” in the 15th century. Artists have always sought means to make life easier for themselves. In my opinion, as far as Ingres is concerned — he could draw.
Stretch the imagination
by Mary Jean Mailloux
With regards to the last three responses to too much amateur art: I’m not retired, nor is my husband. I work at other things so I can paint. I can recognize a professional piece of work from that of an amateur. Should I quit because I don’t measure up against a Renoir or Van Gogh? I just had a show. It was a shared show, my co-painter, paints very commercial scenic paintings. At the beginning he outsold me by a mile. I worked hard at promoting my show and my work and finished by selling 7 of my 23 pieces. I didn’t blame him for his commercial style. I organized a lot of private showings, I did special invitations, I suggested hanging possibilities and I educated people about my perspective and my goals. I think that everyone who purchased my work feels happy with what they got including a stretch to their imagination.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.