Salon des refusés

43

Dear Artist,

Liz Reday of Southern California wrote, “What do you do with all the extra art? Especially after fifty years of painting? How do I build a storage shed that will adequately protect the paintings and get them out of my now cluttered studio? Yes, I intend to destroy a number of the unfortunate unsuccessful ones (note I don’t call them “dogs”) but we can’t burn outside here in Southern California. Is a raised wood deck archival for storing paintings or is it better to have a concrete slab? Do your readers have any suggestions?”

jeh-macdonald_mist-fantasy_sketch_c-1922

Sketch for Mist Fantasy, c. 1922
oil on paperboard by
JEH MacDonald (1873-1932)
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
Gift of Ephry and Melvin Merkur
Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Thanks, Liz. While not a builder of sheds, I can attest to the value of a dry, warm place. Around our house, painting storage spots have been collectively known as “salon des refusés” — a term borrowed from the exhibition of rejects from the Paris Salon of 1863. Up until recently, a rumpus room, every corner of my parents’ mid-century rancher and even a boathouse has served as a salon. While convenient and close at hand, some spots were more archival than others, earning me the nickname, “RORS,” or “Remover Of Rusty Staples.” Here are a few more ideas for your archival shed:

jeh-macdonald_wild-river_sketch_c-1919

Sketch for Wild River, c. 1919
oil on paperboard by JEH MacDonald
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
Gift of Ephry and Melvin Merkur
Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

First, as you’ve suggested, cull work for quality and context. In the early days of accumulation, an artist can be a vigorous and vigilant cutter, knowing her best is ahead. More than a couple of random New York City construction skips have been accessorized with my own slashed rejects. If you’re at multiple decades, tackle the hoard with a philosophical gratitude for former selves, holding onto the best examples from each period as if planning a tight and exceptional retrospective.

If an outbuilding on your property is the goal, build it as if you’re going to put an almost-breathing thing in there. Paintings share the needs of the living — to be comfortably off the ground, with airflow, humidity control and protection from extreme temperatures, mold and wood bugs.

jeh-macdonald_falls-montreal-river_sketch-c-1920

Sketch for Falls, Montreal River, c. 1920
oil on paperboard by JEH MacDonald
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
Gift of Ephry and Melvin Merkur
Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

No matter where your work gets stored, wrap it. A sumo wrestler-sized Tribeca art handler recently urged me to switch to bubble-wrap that has a paper lining on one side. “All the big guys use it now,” he assured. The paper side goes against the painting, with the plastic bubble on the outside. Stretch wrap holds it without the stickiness of sticky tape.

Lastly, if things are extra precious, consider using an off-site storage facility rigged to protect from flood, fire, earthquake and other disasters. Dedicated art storage services offer wrapping, archiving, database, storage, insurance, crating and shipping and will vault up your paintings, for an investment, until summoned for future salon-goers.

jeh-macdonald_tangled-garden_sketch_c-1916

Sketch for Tangled Garden, c. 1916
oil on paperboard by JEH MacDonald
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
Gift of Ephry and Melvin Merkur
Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “Burn them at the wood stove.” (Lawren Harris to Thoreau MacDonald, son of J.E.H. MacDonald and storer of rejects.)

Esoterica: You can always just bury them. In 1931 after suffering a stroke, Canadian Group of Seven painter J.E.H. MacDonald was encouraged by his doctor to convalesce in a warmer climate. Before leaving for Barbados, J.E.H and his son, Thoreau wrapped a bunch of oil sketches in cellophane and tar paper, put them in boxes and buried them in the backyard of their Thornhill, Ontario home. After J.E.H’s death the following year, Thoreau left the paintings undisturbed until 1974, when he dug them up and sold them to his friend, Max Merkur, a high-rise developer and art collector. Max and his wife, Reta, kept them in their family for another four decades before the paintings were eventually sold and donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2015. As for Thoreau’s secret 40-year backyard stash, Ian Thom, curator of the VAG said, “There really wasn’t a tremendous market for sketches, so Thoreau felt no real need to unearth them.”

jeh-macdonald_untitled-algoma_c-1915

Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“The focus on MacDonald’s early practice lends considerable insight into the transformation of his style from more traditional depictions of the landscape to the bold, brilliantly coloured landscapes he was known for as a member of the Group of Seven.” (Ian Thom)

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43 Comments

  1. My really bad paintings never garner a high price tag.
    My really really bad paintings get marked down dirt cheap. Almost always someone finds beauty in them, and buys them.
    A painting has to reach three reallys before I’ll destroy it. If I’m angry with myself for the failure, I’ll slash it with a knife. Otherwise it’s gesso and a new painting.

    • Isn’t that indicative of an aging artist population! Who’d a thunk. Back in the day one was sure of success and never considered what to do with the dross or even that there would be any. But there certainly is. We’ve , my wife and I , have lived for 33 years on our artist colony in the far east Phoenix valley. It was old before we got here and we have worked hard to maintain the studios and grounds and as we age things get harder like patching roofs and sealing the skylights and the plumbing! So we decided to put the place up for sale.
      I have since wrapped over 200 paintings of all sizes and have placed them in a storage shed on the property. Keep in mind it gets hot here, like 110 degrees. That’s the tip of the iceberg, ( I wish)
      There are hundreds more and I have destroyed hundreds of drawings paintings molds etc. It’s very hard and I sympathize with all my other aging prolific artists!

    • No onewants my paintings,good or bad. I THINK PEOPLEDONTKNOW THE DIFFERENCE AND WANT YOU TO GIVE IT TO THEM. MEANWHILE IVE WON NUMEROUS AWARDS…

      • If you’ve won awards, I think the paintings are good. Not a lot of people take the time to really look or value real creativity. People will easily spend a lot of money on jewelry, but find it hard to pay for a painting. They don’t have the courage to hang things that THEY like.
        I understand , because I’m often in the same place as you.
        Follow your heart — keep on painting anyway.

      • I feel sad to hear that you say no one wants your paintings. I have been leasing Artworks mainly in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we have had many years of significant earthquakes. When my husband and I started the business over 40 years ago,I had no knowledge about the Art world in NZ. A cockney kid, growing up in war torn London, didn’t get much Art education.

        I don’t care any more what the Art world says about a particular Artwork, if it touches me in some way I buy it and share it with my rental clients many of whom leave me to chose what they should have on their walls.

    • For most artists, the reality is that whatever you leave behind will be dumped en masse into a dumpster or sold in bulk at some kind of estate sale. It is very rare that surviving relatives want to deal with all the stuff you leave behind, whatever it is, and whether or not you created it lovingly… they will quickly cull it for immediately-saleable valuables and offload the rest as quickly and expeditiously as possible. Just because something is valuable and precious to us doesn’t mean our survivors will care a fig for it. I have seen estate-cleanouts of several older relatives and it is a heartbreaking process. Stuff that has been carefully saved and/or created for decades gets tossed without a thought, right into the dumpster. A non-painting related example: I have a huge collection of hand-made crochet work, representing thousands of hours of loving effort and skill of unknown people (mostly women, I suppose) and these things get dumped en masse into “antique” (aka junk) shops and sold for ridiculously low prices (that’s why I can afford to buy it!) Unless an item (a painting, afghan, collectible, whatever) can be sold immediately and garner some quick cash, it’s gonna get trashed. That’s just reality. The bottom line: do your art for your own satisfaction, and never assume it will outlive you. It may – but that will be the rare exception.

      • Gwen Meyer Ethelbah on

        Had an experience of viewing some works of a very famous artist that were being sold by his family…and they were a total embarrassment. He must have been rolling in his grave.

        The challenge with giving away to charity, auction, etc., is that your lesser work will be sold at peanuts and that’s all that people think you’re worth for the good stuff, too.

      • If we leave paintings behind our survivors get to pay an inheritance tax on the stuff and the valuation put on them is full retail value, if you sold paintings through the galleries. Or so I am told. If you’re just a hobbyist, that may be a solution. Give them to charity and they will “devalue” the rest of my body of work…” only sign what is worthy” I was told.

        My old watercolours get the eagle eye treatment…touch up to enhance contrast etc. If that isn’t enough they become the acid barrier in framing the next time I have an exhibition and some “lucky” new owner will get a thrill at discovering a second masterpiece (I just make sure it is unsigned if I don’t particularly like the piece and I deface it…afterall my “reputation will be at stake! LOL)…or else a big pair of scissors converts them into postcards or, if they are large enough, into gift bags with the help of glue, staples, and cord for handles. Try converting an unsigned half sheet painting into a folder to hold stationary and tie it off with a fancy ribbon and present that as a gift! Or convert it into a file folder!

        If a retouch of extra contrast doesn’t do the trick, “ye olde” oil paintings on masonite get a light sanding and a few strokes of an opaque colour and left to dry in a corner and they get a complete rework. If that doesn’t work they get cut into strips that fit into the bottoms of fabric bags and they get to haul my groceries from the grocers’. Pieces on canvas get reworked…I still don’t have the heart (or should I say “strength of heart”?) to destroy the ones on canvas…canvas can be unstapled from the stretcher bars and inverted, re-gessoed and painted on the reverse side if the original paint is too heavily textured. Some purists would argue that oil paintings need to breathe from the reverse side, but so far no paintings of mine have peeled off its support. My paintings are pretty thin, though. Perhaps one day I will disassemble my canvas paintings and sew them all together to make a throw carpet for the entryway into my home from the garage.

        • Dear Carol…You are my art refuse muse! I kneel at the alter of your creative genius–with scissors, knives, gesso, sanding papers, glue, staples and cord at hand–emboldened to turn the wretched into, er, gifts of beauty. Thank-you for your divine inspiration !

          P.S. I’ll add my trick of a plastic envelope-making template. Applied to baaaad paintings on paper, it makes for a stunning collection of envelopes that never fail to delight the reciever!

        • Brilliant…just love your ‘waste not want not’ approach. Also the replies you received. As a newcomer to painting (after retirement), I have lamented my late start. Now I see one, but only one, advantage……less to be left behind for family to dispose of!!!!

      • Very good point! Having just moved and knowing there are bugs eager to chow down on my watercolors, I had to really step back and determine what to save, donate or dump. The saved ones had to be wrapped in plastic for storage. I know eventually my family will have to decide what to do with the award- winning paintings I’ve kept or continue to paint, but won’t have the time/patience to be selective about where they go. So, I’ll paint what I like, keep aiming for collectors/shows and not worry about their futures.

  2. Wrapping with paper is a bad idea…….. especially if the paintings are acrylic with acrylic varnish….. The paper will stick to the painting and cannot be removed….. I wrap in 6 mil plastic sheets to prevent abrasion and sticking…… bubble wrap against a painting surface is a bad idea as well … the bubbles will create round circles on the surface……..

    • If paper sticks to an acrylic painting all you have to do is moisten the paper and rub it off with your fingertips. That is the way crafters mount images printed on paper onto canvas….they print the image in reverse (you can use your computer printer), glue it–images side onto a blank canvas with acrylic medium. After the glue has set they moisten the paper and slowly, painfully peel the paper off, leaving behind the image in it’s correct “view”.

  3. Like Marcao above, I give my paintings three opportunities for sale in on-line listings. Unless one is a real favourite of mine and I genuinely think it’s a good painting and have a space in my house for it, I then paint over them – no question, I just do it. Why put a good canvas on a skip or burn it? The painting serves as a great undercoat and if it’s textured that’s even better as it adds loads of character to the new one. By the way, I know Sara that you’ve advised in the past to price all paintings in the same kind of price range, I find it works well to have three platforms. My customers fully understand. Do email me if interested to know more about this. I think it may be the way to go for many artists and it certainly works very well for me.

      • Thank you and others for your queries about my way of pricing. It’s still evolving but it started (as I’m in Wales, UK) with http://www.eBay.co.uk – for U.S. it would be http://www.eBay.com
        When I downsized my house 7 years ago, I had, like most artists, a stack of unsold paintings.I’d sell three or four a year if I was lucky in the two galleries that showed my work, or from my studio at home. My then price range was usually between £300 and £500 depending on size because that’s what my tutors at art college had told me was the minimum price for credibility as an artist and the gallery owners agreed. When I came to my present smaller place, most were stacked in a stable. After a couple of years I feared they’d deteriorate from damp and end up on a skip if I didn’t do something quickly. So I tried putting a couple on eBay under the Direct from the Artist or Self-Representing Artist category of Art/Paintings. I’d sussed out that the eBay max for SR Artists, unless pretty famous, was £25 and listed them up to that depending on size and materials (I used to sell little ones on paper for 99p – but today put them on at £5 but mostly I work on boxed canvas now). To my surprise they sold and within a few months almost all my old stock and lots of new ones (I paint all the time) had all gone and painting, previously my enthusiastic hobby, became pretty much full time as by then I’d retired from the erstwhile day job. I even used to sell big ones for £25 – £35 only making a tiny profit. Then I decided to defy the conventional art market again and sell in different online galleries at different prices. I still sell canvases up to 24″ x 18″ and occasional works on paper on eBay but show my larger or unusual ones on Artfinder and Saatchi at my previous gallery prices of a few hundred. On Saatchi I sometimes ask £1000 or so but haven’t sold any for that much yet. That price – £1000 – my artist friends tell me is the minimum I should be selling them for now, but they have studios/houses full to the rafters with unsold work and so rarely paint. Whereas I paint to my heart’s content, sell one of the very big ones now and then on Artfinder and lots and lots on eBay. The prices may be low according to the conventional art market, but it’s surprising how because of the amount I sell the income adds up. True, it wouldn’t be enough to live on unless I listed far more, but it’s a substantial and hugely welcome supplement to my pension, keeps my work flowing and is a great incentive/inspiration to keep my listings up. Best of all my buyers are lovely people and so appreciative and I’ve made a couple of really good friends too who’ve been so inspired by me they now paint which is wonderful (though sadly that means they rarely buy from me any more!!) I’ve written notes on selling on eBay which you are welcome to. The vital thing for eBay sales is to price low and keep trying until you find subjects and styles that attract interest. Above all it’s fun and immensely satisfying to send my paintings off to people who love them. Anyway I could go on and on – I think it’s such a wonderful revolution in the way to sell art and avoid galleries (most of which terrify me). By the way I’m not alone in being successful – admittedly most of the self-representing artists listing on eBay don’t sell (that’s because they haven’t established a popular subject/style yet or reached a professional standard of ability) but there are several of us who sell well, and for a few of those, whose work is more popular generally than my unusual style/colours, their listings are nearly always competitively bid for and go up much higher than the start price. Fascinating stuff and the buyers who’ve discovered online opportunities to buy great original art love it as much as us artists. Sorry to rabbit on but as you can tell I think selling and buying on line is a brilliant idea. And it’s fine to sell different sizes or subjects at different prices on different sites as long as you are consistent within each. My buyers of the large ones can see on line that I offer smaller ones on eBay as I believe in truly affordable art for everyone and understand my mission! I also have to charge a lot for commissions with the full price paid in advance. But that’s another subject . . .

    • Jenny, I have been painting mostly in oils for years, then started using watercolors also. Have currently started using acrylic. In all sizes. Also have some giclee prints. So, yes, I would love to hear about your three platforms of pricing. Thanks.

  4. If you run out of space for paintings which you haven’t sold for one reason or another (they didn’t match the couch) consider donating them to your local hospice or animal rescue which may have a thrift store. That way it’s a win win situation for all concerned.

    • Not a good idea if you are also trying to flog paintings through galleries…your galleries representing you will definitely NOT like seeing your paintings at bargain basement prices while they are trying to sell yours for hundred or even thousands of dollars. Usually, if you’re selling through galleries, they will require or suggest that your retail prices are consistent.

  5. Anita Williams on

    I just sold an old unsuccessful painting for a decent price. I dipped a squeegee into several colors of paint and squeegeed across the old forest landscape. It had a misty quality. I was able to pull out of few of the veiled trees from the mysterious new atmosphere! Try something new!

  6. It must be in the air… this has been my pervading question to myself for the past month. I also am “over 50” years painting, and my studio is stuffed. I appreciate your ideas on preservation. Personally, I think I need a new area to show consistently since our area here is practically art brain dead. Meanwhile, I’m also wrestling with “why continue painting”??? But I NEED TO!!! There’s always EBAY! But then I’ve heard that takes a few years to get a following, and you need a blog and to be daily consistent. At 73, what else do I have to do? GO FOR IT!
    etc.

    • Keep painting ! Getting rid of finished ptgs in studio will free up the space for new work, especially if you take canvas of the old stretcher bars & restrech& regesso (5 coats/sand between) save money & gain space”. The storage space will cost money, but the act of moving out old stuff shd force me to prune “2/3 of the refuses”& while slashing, will slash some more, maybe saving a few small gems to mount on 8″x10” board later (for quicker yard or eBay?)
      But lower yardsale prices devalue legitimate gallery work & that painting you’re so proud of that got into a prestigious group show in a NY gallery won’t square its &1000. Price tag when some wiseacre announces he scored your work for $20 in a yard sale. Loss of credibility as an “collectible” artist. More important you’re in someone’s collection who is known for their unerring ability to pick “rising star” artists (note:helps 2B young)
      So burn baby burn. Thinking of taking them rolled to Varanasi & renting time at a funeral pyre by the Ganges. Could even chant rites for dearly departed art, spread ashes in Ganges along with all the other boats spreading ashes of loved ones in
      palm leaf flower candle boats
      Edit! But save stretcher bars.
      Prices consistent….i give them away too-
      But must have efficient access to exhibit & know where every thing is, and be able to show it & grab it fast &/or frame & ship quick

  7. I”m closing in on 750 works of art in a 46 year (and counting) career. Of those, I have sold over 500 paintings and drawings. In the last few years, I have entered a prolific period of churning out relatively large canvases and my house walls are floor to ceiling with works and my home sun room and the loft at my country place are stacked with inventory. Price-reduced sales don’t seem to work, so I’ve taken to watching for opportunities to give paintings away. Nephews and nieces at a reunion last summer at my getaway place left with 8 of the stored works. And since then, I’ve given away another half dozen to folks who I feel will appreciate them. And am on the watch for suitable recipients going forward!

  8. Ha!

    I am prolific – lots of art usually.
    And because my first shown works after a hiatus due to injury, were physical therapy and NOT art, YESSSS refusées galore.

    BE NOT wasteful, I was taught in college, re: art supplies, so there was this to do –
    they sell for you or for charity or to tuck into a card to a friend:
    – Bookmarks –
    – BOOKJACKETS – so pretty a few of them on my shelf and a normal sticy label at the spine – tadahhhh
    – Postcards – if the surface is appropriate and the right size and clean enough
    – CLOTHING / Accessories – vests, handbags, children’s costumes – from canvas or likely papers – even beach shoes!
    – Refusé Basket – if you enjoy as I do at least one fun “outing” with your art each year, fill a basket with the refusees,
    and going by the ART TRUTH / provenance rule: be sure the basket has a sign that says just “refusé” , but do not sign the front, and label it ‘refusé’ on the back – (unless you reallllly want to trash it- then do.)

    BECAUSE people like what they like – I learned this , at one showtime, when my helper accidentally loaded a basket of rejects and set it out and people bought it!!!

  9. Grant Strange on

    I have been an artist most of my life, a woodcarver, woodworker, picture framer, stain glass designer, and a oil painter at this present time! Most of my creations I have sold, and others I gave away for gifts. To make sure most of my families and friends have a one or two of my works of art, to remember me by! Whenever I pass away I will donated all works of art to the businesses and friends of my town! Grant S.

  10. When we remodeled our house I hid a number of seconds and thirds. too good to totally trash, behind walls, under stairs, places where they may offer unexpected surprises to some future remodelers.

  11. Terry Gay Puckett on

    Hiding your work behind walls during remodeling is the most unique solution I have ever heard. I cut paintings up and sometimes am able to make collages out of them. And I do donate to charities. It is so hard to destroy a work of art, and I rarely can bring myself to do that. What a dilemma, and pricing is just as difficult. If I put something in the trash to be destroyed my experience is that it ends up on someone’s wall and they brag about it.

  12. Have you ever worked so hard on a painting that when that buyer took it away you wanted to say, “Wait come back, you are a part of me…”? Those memories, and the moments of your life that made you say, “I want to PAINT THAT.”

    I have always had a hard time letting them leave me, but once they are done, they can hide from me for years and thats OK. Babies, gangly-teenagers, every one of them. Years later I will look back and say to those STILL hanging around, “Wow, you guys helped me get here.” :)

  13. Great points made here! I, too, have more than enough award-winning paintings in storage than I’d like. Having just moved to a place where insects love dining on paper, my watercolors are wrapped in plastic. This reminds me of a question posed at a watercolor workshop: “What should I do with my old watercolor paintings?”. Another student in the class said, “Keep in mind, your husband’s next wife will throw all of them out, so decide what you want to do with them NOW’. It’s always sad when I see original works by artists I’ve known who’ve passed away, for sale in consignment stores for $25-$30. I guess one way or another, unless one is fortunate enough to have works included in museum/corporate collections, her work will end up in the trash or at a garage sale/consignment store!

  14. Thanks, Sara – after this article, ” the lightbulb” – I now have a Salon des refusés at my Website homepage. All that I recommend is TRUTH – do not sign the front, and clearly label the back, indelibly, that the work is a study or a rought draft or from your Salon des refusés but still your own original work. That protects all involved. “The Best Art is SOLD Art” – or Donated via my “Art With Heart” , although I often make new and complete works especially for my favorite .orgs…. a great thing to help that way.

  15. Debbie Rubin on

    I haven’t done it yet, but an artist friend of a friend held an event to make some space. She held a party where all paintings on display were for sale. The buyer set the price knowing that all funds raised were given to charity by the artist. Everyone went home happy.

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