The Elusive Art Buyer

By Kathy Marlene Bailey, March 29, 2016

 

Do you sometimes feel like you are beating your head on a brick wall when you plan on selling artwork? Where are those buyers, who are they and what do they want anyway?

 

Oh, those elusive buyers! You would think, after pouring your heart and soul into your artwork, and doing a perfect job of expressing what was so important, the world would instantly “get it” and have to get it!

 

Not so, evidently. It shouldn’t be that hard. Just one person has to come along that not only loves it as much as you do, but they love it enough to buy it! But where oh where is that person? Rarely is that person milling about galleries, art shows or art fairs, that is for sure, as any professional artist would attest.

 

Event, after event, after event, it happens. You plan to sell quite a bit. Your body of work is the best ever. You are in love with every piece. You have read all kinds of stuff on marketing and taken marketing courses. You have attended “the business of art” workshops. You are totally organized down to every last detail. Ready, waiting, poised, relaxed, and ready to share your heart of heart of why you did the artwork, and your all-important process. All ducks in a row. All people attending the event, including you, have a lovely time! Then, at about 4:30, the cold truth starts to creep in. Not a sale. Not one. Or, maybe you have sold a card. Maybe you sold a painting. Any way you slice it – you are out of the ballpark for financial success compared to anyone on minimum wage. Cold Hard Truth.

selling artwork

Sure, lots of those people seem to enjoy the art. Lots stand for periods of time marveling and verbalizing how incredible it is. But when it comes to tipping the scale and turning that enjoyment and appreciation into the act of buying, the vast majority of those in these crowds do not weigh in.  It seems that at an art event of any kind, average art sales would be zero to two paintings per artist. Fine craft would be higher and modestly viable. Virtually all professional art income is meager. These dedicated souls make the art. Perfection is achieved. So are long hours, study and execution of flawless marketing. Why no sales? Almost no art market – that is why. Look at your friends’ walls, while they diddle with their iPhones. The walls will show you; there will be NO ART THERE, almost assuredly. Today’s market is exceedingly small.

 

“These times” are particularly poor for artists. They have been since the big stock market crash of 2008.  It was lean before then.  Clearly, the number of buyers has gone way down since. But…. there are still a few out there! Who is left?

 

Somewhat by chance, one day a while ago, I met three.  I was attending the “Art In Action Studio Tour” here in Burlington, Ontario. While at an artist’s studio, I struck up conversation with a group of three patrons wielding bags of treasures, purchased at the tour. They told me that they regularly buy art. I knew that as an art journalist, I had struck gold. If only they would agree to be interviewed, surely, three real, live art buyers could shed some light, for all of us who trudge along this tricky path of professional art. Robin Cooke, Alex Kucharski and Joe Henriques, ALL agreed to be interviewed. My understanding of this market and its elusive buyer has now increased. This was far from a complete survey of art buyers, but it certainly was an interesting and insightful one from the three buyers I found. By the way, to add a bit of context, I will say that Alex is married to Joe, and Alex is also a sister to Robin.

 

When I first sat down to talk to Alex, I asked her what motivates her to buy art. She jumped on the answer: “NO REASON! It just grabs me! I cannot explain it – you need it spiritually. You can feel it; it connects. It would be a very shallow existence without art – art and nature and art….”. Alex seemed to – and needed to – react to art on a deep and primal level. This primal connection occurance was common to Joe and Robin as well. Although Robin was more hooked into a specific genre (Realism), and it sounded like Alex and Joe were quite eclectic in their tastes, not one buyer was eclectic in their motivations; all three made an instant emotional bond with the work, which drove the motivation to buy.

 

Robin said to me: “ I know immediately if I want it. There is absolutely no hemming or hawing. If I have to think about it, it’s no good.  It is 100% emotional. It has to talk to me. I have to see something I like. Price doesn’t matter.

 

Summarizing, Joe told me, “Artwork speaks to me in several ways. I know it is not for the sake of investment. There is no commercial attraction to buying art.  It is exclusively because it appeals to me. I enjoy my artwork everyday. It is eye candy all over my walls. I remember when I bought this piece called “The Curious Cow”. It was just this cow looking out, from a group of cows. I don’t know why, but I just had to have it. The reason is  – and was – completely beyond me. I just had to have it.

 

Money did not seem to enter into the equation with anyone. Craftsmanship, pattern, composition, aesthetic, message, subject matter and stories that they could personally identify with all might weigh in.

selling artwork

So could connection to the artist. Alex noted that she loved striking a cord with the featured artist at openings and usually ended up enjoying meeting the other artists there just as much. These buyers had a favourite gallery, where they were on a first name basis with all the artists and staff. These were relationships that Alex savoured.

 

Robin too noted that building a rapport with an artist was important to him. He said that the exchange of a piece of art was a two way emotional street. As a buyer, he wants to witness the attachment of an artist to his or her own work – how important it is to the artist.  Was it dashed off, or was it lovingly prepared with great meaning to the artist? Likewise, he figures it is always reassuring for the artist to know that the art they love is being appreciated just as much by its buyer. This was an interesting concept that Robin brought to light.  It could be compared to an adoption. From the buyer’s standpoint, Robin wanted to know: what kind of beginning did the artwork have? From the artist’s standpoint, an artist would wonder: what kind of role will the artwork have in its future? Will it be barely looked at, tying into some décor, or will it be treasured everyday and racked with meaning for the new owner, as was the experience in making it in the first place?  The two parties are making a transaction that really has nothing to do with money. It has to do with care, emotional investment and reverence for something that goes beyond commodity and strongly into the realm of relationship – much like an adoption of a person. This artwork is no mere “thing” to either one of them.

 

Knowing artmaking or artmakers well also seemed to be a factor in becoming an art buyer here.  Robin and Alex have an artmaking sister. And Joe himself is a part-time artist.  These buyers have witnessed the investment of effort, care and talent needed in creation of art. They said this gave them profound appreciation of the gift that art is to them and society.  Both Robin and Joe noted that this factor didn’t necessarily come into play with everyone exposed to artmaking.  Non-buyers were sometimes just as exposed as they were, but did not seem to get the bug. They might appreciate art – a bit – in a much more limited context. They cited other members in each of their respective families that liked art enough to have a bit on the walls, but it was exclusively for decorative purposes. It did not hold a primary function in their daily lives. For Alex, Joe and Robin, the artwork they had purchased was key to their day, in a similar way to how an artist’s own work is to theirs.

 

Several years ago, I had a studio in the Williams Mill, in Glen Williams. One day at my studio, I was chatting with Jim Ball, who was the United Church minister in Glen Williams at the time.  We were talking about the dramatic decline of churchgoing in Canada. I was expressing apprehension about the future survival of churches and prospects of faith in Canada. He volleyed a wisdom that changed my entire paradigm. He cited the major effect of social norm that used to bring the majority of Canadians to churches before the 1960’s and then said that the current churchgoers of the time were under no social pressure whatsoever to go to church. If anything, it would be the opposite. Churchgoers – all of them – were driven by their own, genuine, internal faith. There was no other agenda left. The upside to this was that a dynamic, exciting group was left. It was small, but mighty. It was completely dedicated – genuinely passionate.  It had all that was needed for effectively moving forward.

 

When I mulled through all that Alex, Joe and Robin told me about their art-buying passion, I came to have hope for the same kind upside in the context of the art world, and for the survival of professional artists. I also came to have a profound respect for those individuals that step out and buy art. They are the few who are left of the art buyers. They have no other agendas other than passion and absolute need of the experience of living with art.  Just like us. They get it.

 

selling artwork
Credit: Glen Jones

Not that they can help it anyway. They can’t help it anymore than I can help being an artist obsessed with water and morphing shapes; I need to paint these as much as I need to eat and breath. These people need to buy art as much as they need to eat and breath. They are driven to perpetually connect to the genuine spirit that lives and manifests from an artists heart, into the conduit of the art.

 

I asked each of these three buyers the following question and got three different, profound answers.  The question was, “ Why, other than personal satisfaction, should artists make art? What do you see as the most valuable role for art in today’s world?”

 

Alex Kucharski replied, “ Artists speak to something that is in us and express things that we can’t”.

Joe Henriques responded, “Art is a legacy that stays behind – a representation of emotions – the fabric of society”.

 

Robin Cooke answered, “Art brings a level of humanity into our increasingly sterile world.” We as a society seem to only reward better technology.”

 

They get it. The group is small, but completely dedicated and genuinely passionate about our art. I have a feeling that the small number of art buyers today has all that is needed for somehow providing for our sustenance – for the survival of our artmaking in Canada.

 

If you are looking for them, I wouldn’t recommend that you search in any ordinary “target markets”. Don’t look for a necessarily moneyed or necessarily cultured lot. It seems the agendas and social norms in the art world are gone too. Apparently, the art buyers of today reach fully into the fabric of society. Robin says everyone he knows buys art! He is an IT guy. He talks to a broad cross section of people in the bump and grind of his day. Art buyers he knows can be truck drivers, social workers, plumbers, government strategists and other IT people.  The only common thread is: they get it.

I would challenge you, as artists, to get yourselves. Don’t make art that conforms to a social norm because unless you genuinely fit that norm yourself, it won’t be real.  Don’t fake it or try to fit in or hurry it or make art that you think curators will like or other artists will like, or customers will like and therefore buy. Instead, make art that fits – to a tee – your own personal heart. That is something that is real and can be trusted.  Always. Even in these tough times. It is what buyers, these buyers, are looking for. It is the art that connects. The elusive buyer, it seems, just wants to connect.

Kathy Marlene Bailey is member of Burlington Fine Arts Association. She is a glaze oil painter, a sculptor, writer and an art instructor at Art Gallery of Burlington, Canadore College and English Harbour Art Centre (in Newfoundland). She is represented by Christina Parker Gallery in St. John’s, NL. You can visit her website at: www.kathymarlenebailey.com.

 

(Editor’s Note: Members of the guilds of Arts Burlington are always welcome to submit articles relevant to the arts. Members of the public are likewise welcome to submit articles of non-commercial interest to our membership and the arts loving public.)

Kaleidoscope 2016 – 23-24 April

Kaleidoscope – April 23 – 24, 2016

Saturday, April 23rd   10am – 5pm

Sunday, April 24th  12 noon – 5 pm

 

Creative Art Show and Sale

 

Kaleidoscope is a Art Show with many of the artisans offering their work for sale.  Many items are one of a kind.  The following artist guilds will be participating Pottery, Wood Carving, Sculpting, Weaving, Spinning, Photography, Painting and Rug Hooking.

 

There will also be hands on activities for the children, such as

  • developing a photograph in the dark room
  • rug hooking
  • small wood carvings for the children to sand and paint
  • create a painting with the painters
  • pick out a teabowl, decorate and glaze it, and then watch your bowl being fired (Saturday only, until 3pm). Pickup is about an hour after each firing, or on Sunday between 12 pm – 5 pm
  • make a small piece with the weavers and spinners

 

Location:  Art Gallery of Burlington, 1333 Lakeshore Rd, Burlington, ON 905-632-7796

 

See  Arts Burlington website  – http://www.artsburlington.ca

Or Art Gallery of Burlington – http://artgalleryofburlington.com

A Spooky Encounter!

A SPOOKY ENCOUNTER!

 

By Kathy Marlene Bailey

 

“It was so thought provoking”… I asked several people what they thought of the exhibit, “In Spirit”, as I milled around on opening night, Sept 18.  That was the response. Artists Heather Murray, Timothy Laurin and John Latour have put together a very interesting exhibit indeed for both our Lee Chin Gallery at the AGB and for the Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound where it will travel next. It has been co-curated by our own Chief Curator, Dr. Denis Longchamps, and the Chief Curator of the Tom Thomson Gallery, Virginia Eichhorn.

7 - Tim Laurin _Beach Party, 2014
Image Courtesy of Art Gallery of Burlington

And aren’t “spirits” thought provoking? How exciting were those séances at our family cottage when I was a kid. Exciting and terrifying! And fun. And uneasy. They were like guilty pleasure. You knew it wasn’t real, but it was so much fun thinking that there might really be ghosts! And then…. when that glass flew like greased lightning to all kinds of the paper letters, and NO ONE (they swore) moved it, did it ever feel like the spirits were there. Fact is, we never ended up being sure, one way or another. Were there spirits who could communicate, or were there not? Who would know? I still don’t know.

The three artists in this exhibit study our connections to the past in unique ways. Exhibiting the work of these three specific artists make for a cohesive, aesthetically pleasing exhibit.

During the opening, Heather Murray’s work seemed to draw a lot of attention from viewers. The “haunting” beauty of the work could not help but draw you in. Heather lives in Owen Sound, and has always held an interest in history, old buildings and in the spirit world. These fascinations have led to quite a remarkable body of work in this exhibit. She juxiposes cutouts of people from antique photos (collected at junk stores) into fabricated multi-media “settings” around historical Owen Sound. There is often reference to historical buildings. With the components, she knits vague, open-ended stories that leave us wondering what has happened. Heather Murray has used a keen sensitivity to the feelings of her story “characters” that she has pulled from real, but unknown people who actually long ago probably lived in Owen Sound. She surmises when and why and where the feelings might have occurred.  It is intriguing and really quite beautiful. She alludes to relationships of spirits, not in a spooky way, but in the context of love and longing. With me, she hits home evoking feelings that strike a cord with how I feel about people in my own past. Her work moved me with an authenticity.

nor can i go home again
Image Courtesy of Art Gallery of Burlington

In Tim Laurin’s family, a “secret” was kept for generations. Because of this, when he was growing up, he was completely unaware of a major component of his actual heritage. His hidden heritage involved a man who fathered children from two women – an Ojibwa mistress and a French wife. The Ojibwa line of ancestry from which Tim Laurin descended was always covered up and hidden. In his art Tim, artistically approaches the past with a direct exploration of what he can find in his own ancestral photographs. Like Heather Murray, he too pieces together new stories to compensate for lack of knowledge of the actual story. In his sculpture, “Treaty 2”, Timothy gingerly pieces together a sculpture with a strange cultural dichotomy, making things up to fill in the holes of experiences never had. He makes things work by carefully blending reference to his new-found heritage, but focusing on the actual reality of his lived heritage.  The result is confusing – as it is expressly intended to be.

I found Timothy Laurin’s “Unknown Uncle” to be a powerful image that riveted me emotionally and aesthetically. This work does everything really good art should. I could not keep my eyes off of it, and felt a sense of panic and empathy, wanting to somehow reach out and help this the man in the painting. Through impacting me so effectively, did that mean that the artist made me part of the story? It certainly felt like it.

I would have to say that John Latour’s work was definitely the most fun (insert a reference to that cottage séance story I already mentioned!). John Latour had viewers working an Ouija board, sitting in a Victorian “spirit closet” to see if we could “hear the spirits”, and had us drawing self portraits and telepathically trying to tell what the next viewer to the installation would look like. In this exhibit, John has taken thinking about the spirits of the past one step further and looked at the efforts that people – specifically Victorian people – have taken to communicate with them. It was the effort – the un-passive and active current relationship that we humans attempt to forge with spirits of the past that John Latour explored in his intriguing conceptual fabrications.

John Latour_Psychic_Cabinet 2010
Image Courtesy of Art Gallery of Burlington

This was an exhibit that was engaging, interesting, fun and worth going to see. It will be on at the gallery until November 15th.

Fine Arts Speaker Series – Featured Artist – Laurie Wonfor Nolan

SPELLBOUND: THE WORKINGS OF LAURIE WONFOR-NOLAN

 

By Kathy Marlene Bailey

 

The May meeting of the Burlington Fine Arts Association this year was a buzz with artists catching up since the last meeting, talking about their art, about their gardens, summer plans and drinking coffee.  After the meeting was pulled into order and Dominique let everyone know about the upcoming potluck and all other orders of business were hurried through, the group settled into some quality transportation time for their minds.  They meandered down the path into the fascinating workings of the mind of a kindred artist, Laurie Wonfor Nolan, of Cambridge Ontario.

me_withemerging pines

From her Hespeler Studio, she had trucked an arsenal of inspiration – a show of seven or eight paintings, fresh canvases, her acrylic paints, a whole still life set-up and all of her gear.

 

Laurie started. She said that she had had thirteen years in the studio, with lots of fun plus lots of sharp sticks in her eyes.  The group laughed at her overly graphic image of an artist’s life.

 

After graduating from Sheridan College’s illustration program, and a long professional run with illustration and graphic design, Laurie’s life changed when she took a plein air painting class at the Dundas Valley School of Art, with artist Cathy Gibbon. After years of doing illustration, Laurie became enthralled in this class with the novel concept of having no expectation for an end product! She fell head over heals in love with plein air painting. After watching from the sidelines of this pivotal event, and seeing the enthusiastic artistic catharsis from Laurie, Cathy insightfully pointed out that Laurie’s ideas needed more space. Laurie needed a bigger format for her ideas. Laurie saw her point. Big pieces of plywood were then purchased that allowed her the gangbusters freedom and space she needed.

 

This was all great… however, how – oh how – was a painter to make a living? She apprehensively forged forth, not quite knowing the answer to this. Laurie landed herself a show in Toronto and sold 6 paintings.  This modest success contained enough encouragement for her to further venture forth. With perseverance, she continued…fearlessly.

 

As so many artists do, Laurie found employment and satisfaction in teaching. At the Cambridge Centre for the Arts, she taught what she actually dubbed “fearless painting” to students whose fear of their own lack of “knowledge” interrupted their creative output. Largely due to the success of the Fearless Painting Workshops she won the Woman of Distinction award for Arts and Culture in 2011

sonjas books

Preferring the joy and excitement of painting directly from observation in the landscape as opposed to photographic reference, she was inspired by Matisse who, when speaking of his painting experience, said that photography set the artist free. With the influence of Matisse and Cezanne she came to deeply love the setting up and painting of the still life, where she could be “God of her world”, as she put it.

 

The artists at this meeting were excited to follow the forthcoming still life demonstration that Laurie did. What a fascinating process. After doing a brief sketch, Laurie confidently launched into a brief under-painting, all the while explaining her artistic and thinking processes and her material choices. There was much to watch, much to relate to, and much to learn from.

 

Laurie plans a painting with willow charcoal sketches in a sketchbook and draws a rectangle for the edges of her compositions. They work better for her than the edges of the page.  She imagines how the painting will look as she sketches.  Laurie explained that perspective is just one of many tools to bring power to her painting. She very carefully uses lines and angles to direct the viewer’s eye. She states that she uses a “cubist” approach to composition with no particular marriage to photographic realism.

 

Laurie paints with acrylics and likes Golden Acrylics the best. She always starts with a coloured ground. This eliminates the fear of an untouched white ground and it makes her more aggressive with the paint. She usually uses Galleria Burnt Sienna for her ground, which has the same hue as red oxide. She likes a high degree of transparency in her palette because you can do more with it.  Some of the old pigments lack this transparency. Her colour palette consists of:

 

  • Dioxazine Purple (very transparent)
  • Anthocrinone Blue (Prussian)
  • Quinacridone Burnt Orange
  • Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold
  • Cadmium Red Light
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Manganese Blue
  • Green Gold
  • Hansa Yellow light
  • Hansa Yellow medium

 

Laurie uses Titanium White in the mix because she finds that the opacity of other whites is not as intense. The opaque quality of white alone is something that she utilizes and needs in her painting process.

Red_teapot

She uses a dry palette because she finds that a wet palette infuses too much water and therefore makes her colours chalky as the water breaks down the binder.

 

She uses Gac100 Acrylic Medium. It extends drying time but maintains a consistent colour (it doesn’t make the painting more pastel when it is wet than when it is dry as so many mediums do). It has a more liquid viscosity than other mediums, with just a bit of sheen.

 

The demo was fascinating. While gazing at her still life set up and dashing down the lines and forms, Laurie provocatively stated that photography can be a lie –capturing only a millisecond of a moment.  She prefers painting from observation because you can select and use things outside of your frame of reference in the painting.  She demonstrated the point as she cherry-picked appealing components in the room and included them in her set up (a vase of lilacs).  She said that she articulates the big shapes first “like a pizza, you put the sauce all over first”.  She then develops smaller areas of the painting, changing and adapting the colours of paint as she goes.  She suggests just “throwing a colour in there” – your best guess –-just get something down. Then you can alter it later.  She emphatically does not match colours – she heightens them with intuition and emotion. With her composition and with her finish level, she stays as “loose” as possible, for as long as possible, so that things remain changeable.  Laurie likes to address negative shapes first, because she thinks that they are actually more important than the positive shapes. She encourages standing to paint because it can be more engaging and encourages an artist to gravitate to the right viewing distance often during the process.  She also encourages long brushes that can be held at the farthest point from the paint filled end for maximum dexterity.

 

Laurie always puts out a full palette for the whole painting process to facilitate her colour honing process.  Her colour composing is quite interesting. In the world of nature, and therefore the “world of greens”, red-greens, blue-greens and yellow greens “all have their own biases” she says and “you can keep it sharp” by differentiating them clearly.  Laurie blocks area of various biases to create non-value based contrast.  She also noted that she loves stealing an old idea used so well by Thom Thomson and the old masters: she juxtaposes oranges with their complements that occur in nature.

 

Laurie worked and talked, worked and talked, keeping her eclectic audience of artists spell-bound throughout the evening. The final product of her demo was an impressive work – the result delighting both her and her amazed audience.

 

Some more things that we learned about Laurie were that she loves music and always paints with some playing. A current fascination in her artmaking involves performance painting along side live musicians in collaborative art/music events. She has continued to be passionate about teaching. She runs workshops and classes at her studio in Hespeler and at Cambridge Centre for the Arts.

 

We went home inspired by Laurie Wonfor Nolan that night, with much to remember and muse about for quite some time  – not the least of which was her beautiful, very expressive and very impressive artwork.

plasticmoose

Laurie Wonfor Nolan’s art is represented by Arts on Queen in Toronto, Koyman Galleries in Ottawa, and at Art Etc. at the Art Gallery of Burlington.  If you are interested in contacting her about workshops, purchasing her artwork or about hosting an art and live music event, you can contact her through her website at: www.lauriewonfornolan.com