One of the limitations in terms of salability of the work that I make is the physical size of it. I’ve talked about this a bit on Deep Natter, but I’ve gone a little deeper into the why around it as well as some potential solutions, which I wanted to share in the hopes that it may apply and even help how you produce your own work. Many of my paintings are small — 12×12 or even 8×8 — and that size limits not only the drama and impact of seeing them on a wall, but also how much I can charge for each piece. As one of my artist friends said recently, “Nobody’s gonna spend 7 grand on a 12×12…not yet at least.” He’s absolutely right of course, but beyond that, some work just needs to be seen big. Two fantastic examples are Edward Burtynsky and Gregory Crewdson. I have books by each of them, and while they are gorgeous to look through, the images in the books are nowhere nearly as dramatic as standing in front of a 60-inch print. When the work is that big, it takes up a good portion of your field of view and allows you to feel more like you’re in the picture and immersed in details that often can’t be seen at a smaller scale.
The main reason that I work at the sizes that I do has to do with the dimensions of my source material. I use a lot of vintage ephemera — pages from Look and LIFE magazines, vintage wallpaper, newspapers, etc. — which means that if I want an element to cover an entire piece, I’ve got to stay close to the size of that element. After some noodling, I think I have figured out a way to use my smaller pieces as “negatives” if you will — shooting them at high resolution and making emulsion transfers of them, which would get applied to a larger substrate that I have collaged and textured. The problem, however, is that the printer I’ve had for the past few years limits me to a width of 13 inches, so I would have to piece together the transfers to go any larger — not an ideal solution.
When I still lived in California, I had a large format printer — an Epson 7600 — that I loved, but sadly was just too big to take when I moved to the East Coast. I’ve always missed it and the potential that it offered. A couple weeks ago, a photographer friend who happens to print large work — I’m talking 40×60 inches and sometimes bigger — helped me find a new large format printer to replace the one I left behind. As fate would have it, he knows the seller (who is also a photographer) and felt comfortable recommending the purchase. He even offered to pick up the printer for me from the seller and give it a basic CLA to make sure it was in good working order. It was simply too good to pass up, and as an added bonus, it would give my friend and me a chance to get together in person, which was long overdue.
Spending the afternoon in my friend’s studio looking at his work — as well as some recent conversations about process and making — has really gotten me thinking about the presentation side of my work. By and large, I have been focused on the process [content?] of making, such as color, materials, and what, if anything, I’m trying to say with the work. But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that what we are trying to communicate with visual work is inexorably linked to how that work is presented. Going back to Burtynsky and Crewdson, the work is the same regardless of the size or format, but how we experience or (more importantly) are able to relate to the work is dramatically affected by its presentation. One of the things I love the most about being in DC is the proximity to the museums. Over the past six years, I’ve been lucky enough to see some really spectacular shows — Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, Gordon Parks: The New Tide, and Outliers and American Vanguard Art, to name a few. In each of these shows, I resonated with the presentation just as much as the content of the work itself. In the Sally Mann show, for example, standing in front her massive gelatin silver prints affected me in a much deeper and more profound way that simply flipping through the catalog, which is a terrific book.
I’m not trying to make the case that bigger is better in the case of visual art — far from it. In fact, I remember seeing some pretty large Cindy Sherman prints at the Portrait Gallery and my first thought was, “These pictures are way too big.” The point of all of this is to get you thinking about how your work is seen and experienced by an audience. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.” I’ve come around to seeing my own current work as two distinctly different “lines,” and not only do I approach the making of them differently, I also have different expectations around how each of them is received. For example, I see my narrative work such as The New Propaganda available as large original paintings or as curated limited edition sets of prints presented in a double-album gatefold jacket. Works such as my Grid Variations will be available as curated 6-up and 9-up prints, plus a variety of home decor and apparel products, such as linen pillow covers and silk scarves.
Spend some time looking sites like Etsy, Shopify, or Society 6. Artists and makers are offering more work in more different formats than ever before. There simply isn’t one way to do it anymore and by trying different types of deliverables and testing the waters of different markets, you open yourself up to opportunities you may not have considered before, and you have a better chance of meeting your audience where they are.
How do you think about the end product of your work? Do you separate what you do into art and product, or is it all the same thing?
Hit the comments and let’s talk about it.
I’m not typically a fan of colorizing old photos or films, but this restored clip of 1945 New York is really terrific. According to the description, “colorization was made only for the ambiance and do not represent real historical data.” They also increased the frame rate, the resolution, and added ambient audio. I think my favorite part of this is seeing all of the fantastic signage and typography.
Oxia Palus, a company that uses technology to resurrect lost art, has discovered a nude portrait of a woman hidden under Picasso painting. According to a recent CNN article, Picasso painted over the nude to make “The Blind Man’s Meal” in 1903. The company used artificial intelligence, advanced imaging technology, and 3D printing to recreate the painting. The AI was even able to add brushstrokes to the portrait in the style of Picasso.
As we’re getting closer to finishing the build out of my podcasting studio we’re starting to look at decor, and one of the artists I keep coming back to for some swanky vintage-inspired cool is Patrick Conception of Conception Studios. I love everything about the work he’s doing, from the subject matter to the composition and the color palette. Check out his Etsy shop to pick up something for yourself. It’s hard to for me pick a favorite, but it might be the poster for Contact. I also love his Wes Anderson triptych.