Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Cataloguing Prints - an update

After the earthquakes in Christchurch one of the jobs that got less attention while NZ Fine Prints re-organised behind the scenes was the cataloguing of new prints.  Since then it has been a huge relief to get our waiting list for artists who had submitted work down to just a few weeks after stretching out to several months during late 2011 and 2012.

We receive artist submissions most days and the guys answering the phone often get the call to find out what's involved in having reproduction prints made of an artwork after an artist is told they "should be having prints made of that painting".  (As an aside - sometimes this comment to the creator is perhaps meant as a compliment rather than commercial advice, we wonder too if it's sometimes a nice way of saying "no thanks" to buying the painting!).  It should be pretty straightforward to list new prints for sale but for most of the past three years we have had a backlog of at least 150 new prints waiting to be properly catalogued for sale both in our catalogues and at Prints.co.nz

The reason that listing prints is not quick and easy is because we put a great deal of effort into writing interesting listings for our new artists. In addition for each individual print listing we try and anticipate many of the questions print buyers may have in their minds as they are not in front of the print in a gallery but looking at a representation of the artwork on screen.

One blessing is that we no longer have to re-photograph 90% of the prints submitted to us because the ubiquity of digital cameras means artists usually supply us with .jpgs that are ready to use online.  Fifteen years ago we had a $1600 1.2 megapixel camera and a studio rigged with expensive lights and still couldn't take a decent picture of anything with lines in it!  Maps were my particular bete noire, all those decorative borders that had to be photographed straight on and completely level or the image would look distorted.  I don't recall a "straighten" tool in Photoshop back then. [We also didn't have the benefit of articles like "how to photograph a painting"!]

Glenn Jones "Gumboot Graffiti"
Kiwiana AND street art, or maybe Pop?
Apart from writing a good artist biography that combines the best of a background on their life with the drivers behind their work (like an artist's statement, but written by someone else) each print should also have a blurb, or what we call the "curator's comment".   This tells a person looking at the print a bit more about it, what the artist was thinking, how this print fits in to the artist's catalogue of work - for instance have a look at listings for recently added new NZ artists such as Glenn JonesHolly Roach and Sean Chen. We also spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to describe how the print was made - as we mix both reproduction and original prints, open and limited editions. In the next part of the cataloguing process we have to figure out the galleries or collections that the prints should be placed in.

You can still see glimpses of how we built up the online galleries originally, a very dry and academic classification of prints into movement (eg surrealism, or pop art), nationality and period. Since then whole new categories have emerged (step forward Kiwiana, Street Art) and we have added the ability to search by price and size.  Although we don't want to have our catalogue too finely divided up (because it would be tedious to browse the website if lots of the same prints were appearing in multiple collections) the number of galleries have somehow multiplied to  a list of nearly 80, the latest being portraits and still life.

We thought we were getting to the crossroad where we could either add more and more finely grained collections or try and reduce the number of galleries so customers can find the prints they are looking for more quickly.  However we think we have solved the problem (some small changes coming soon), it's an interesting intersection between indexation and usability that's exactly the kind of thing that keeps me interested in the job of cataloguing prints for sale after twenty years!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Vintage NZ Letterpress

Letterpress Poster for "Maori Race Meeting"
Vintage Cobb & Co Advertisement
Early NZ letterpress prints & posters have always caught my eye. They show a skill in execution and composition using a very hands on printing process so at odds with the computer driven designs of today. As decoration they are whimsical, sometimes serious, and even toe curlingly cringemaking - but always fascinating historical content to start a conversation. What's not to like!

We have several "new" letterpress prints in stock, although they are re-prints of the original vintage designs they are authentic letterpress posters, cold type assembled by hand, which makes them a pretty sincere reproduction of the rare original posters which can now only be found in NZ museums or collections like those at the Turnbull and Hocken Libraries.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The two kinds of limited edition prints

In this article we’ll discuss where the real value long term actually lies in buying new prints that are sold as “limited edition”.

It's exciting that the monetary value of vintage posters, antique prints and editions by twentieth century NZ printmakers is being increasingly recognised by the wider art market.  When rare NZ prints are being sold for tens of thousands of dollars those of us who bristle at hearing the phrase “it’s just a print” allow ourselves a tingle of satisfaction at collecting an artistic medium that had managed to remain wonderfully under-rated (ie cheap) for so long… 

Essentially the fact a print is advertised as being a "limited edition" is not necessarily an indication of its long term value because limited edition prints come in two sorts.

1. The first kind of limited edition print is a reproduction of another artwork.

2. The second kind of limited edition print is a multiple original where the print is the end result of an artistic process, there is no other “original” artwork.

Limited edition reproduction of a painting by Brian Dahlberg
A limited edition reproduction can be a copy of an antique print (for instance the series of early prints of NZ published by Avon Fine Prints in the 1960s and 1970s) or a copy of a painting (for example this image from a collection of prints by contemporary Auckland painter Brian Dahlberg).   A reproduction print can be printed offset (photolithography) or digitally (inkjet or giclee) but all are copies of another artwork.

[This writer is well aware that calling the first sort of limited editions “prints” at all is controversial (some in the industry say they should only every be called “reproductions” rather than "prints") - you can read about this debate in a previous article "Artists prints or reproduction prints, spotting the difference in the age of digital printing"].

Reproduction prints can be of astonishingly fine quality today, often printed on canvas and even in three dimensions including the frame - see the video demonstrating Canon's version of this latest technology that has not yet arrived in New Zealand...

 The price a print buyer pays is often higher for a  digital print which unless outrageously excessive  can usually be justified by the higher costs  involved compared to printing offset and the fact  the buyer is receiving a superior quality print in  return. Although the capital costs of owning  digital printers have fallen dramatically  especially given the recent strength of the NZ  dollar there will never be the same economies of  scale that you had with photolithography when  you are printing in very short runs.

 However in our view the high prices that were asked for reproduction prints printed using digital technology when the giclee revolution arrived in NZ a decade ago has led to confusion about the value of giclee reproduction prints today.

This period saw giclee reproduction prints of scenic NZ oil paintings being marketed at over a thousand dollars each, this pushed them up to the same pricepoint as editions from printmakers but in most cases without making the artists a lot of money because the cost structure to get them to market was so high.  But critically this higher cost structure created an lingering expectation that because a higher price was paid for the print it would have to have some kind of long term value, an expectation that a print buyer must be purchasing something with a value that would endure beyond the decorative appeal of the print.

This initial high pricing was the result of the following combination of factors.  The small size of the NZ market, the high cost of materials (inks and substrates), the fact there is no reduction in unit cost for multiple prints being printed at once (not economies of scale unlike photolithography), small numbers of prints being printed at once meant artists were effectively paying retail prices for their printing requirements and the fact that giclee prints were marked up galleries and other retailers by the same amount as offset reproduction prints rather than the smaller margin on what had been the previously more expensive prints, the original editions.

However the price you pay for a print is not always a good indication of its long term value.

We think that a limited edition reproduction print offers extra value for the print buyer if it is signed and numbered by the artist because there is value in knowing that your new artwork is not going to be seen everywhere (scarcity as well as decorative value).  There is also a value in the actual signature of the artist - after all people buy autographs by themselves. The most valuable reproduction print in New Zealand are the signed versions of the 1920s era print of C.F. Goldie's "A Good Joke", valuing his signature at around $1000.  For a contemporary NZ artist like Dick Frizzell his signature being added to an artwork is probably worth around $100, for example on the exhibition poster for the Blockbusters show we have for sale at the moment.

However for serious collectors a reproduction of another artwork is not going to hold its value as well as an original work of art - or in the case of prints, a multiple original.

"Scarcity and decorative value are weak factors in the secondary market when compared to an artwork with intrinsic skill and creativity that also has that magical resonance with art buyers that endures across more than one generation."

We try and make sure that in our marketing of a reproduction print that we stress the value to the buyer in the amazing quality, colour fidelity, large size and longevity of the inks offered in a modern print rather than a mysterious "collectable value".  Print buyers of previous decades would have happily paid more for a print that won't fade for decades and looks just like the original painting, but even at a higher price these are still reproduction prints, not original editions, even if both categories of prints can truthfully be called "limited editions".

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Early Prints of Maori Life : John Gilfillan's remarkable "Interior of a Native Village"

Part of an occasional series of articles on prints from our collection.  This week we look at the tragic life of the artist John Gilfillan whose depiction of a pa on the Wanganui River "Interior of a Native Village" is both a remarkable portrait of Maori life in the early days of colonisation and one of NZ's rarest prints.

About the artist

John Alexander Gilfillan, the son of a Captain of the 78th Highland Regiment, was born in 1793. He ran away to sea at an early age, but later retired from the navy to study art.  Gilfillan's qualifications gained him the position of Drawing and Painting Master at the Andersonian University, a position which he held for fifteen years. In 1826 he married Miss Sarah Murray, by whom he had four children. She died in 1837, and shortly afterwards he married his cousin, Mary Bridges, and moved with his family to London, where he spent three months studying carpentry and engineering in preparation for emigrating to New Zealand.

Gilfillan's Farm at Mataraua
The family arrived in New Zealand on Christmas Day 1841 (Gilfillan's 47th birthday) and went immediately to Petre (Wanganui). They took up land at Matarawa (Mataraua), and built a house on their town section, living there till 1845 when they moved finally to the farm. This house was illustrated from a sketch by Gilfillan in W. Tyrone Power's Sketches in New Zealand.

The murder of Gilfillan's wife and three of his children on 18th April 1847 caused him to abandon his farm, and at the end of the year he moved with his remaining children to Sydney. During the fifteen months he lived there he painted the Interior of a Native Village. The Pa is reputed to be Putiki-whara-nui on the Wanganui River.

Gilfillan moved to Adelaide in 1849, but in 1852 was tempted to the goldfields, and afterwards went to Melbourne. He exhibited paintings at the 1854 Exhibition, and died in Melbourne in 1863.

Printing of the Lithograph

Interior of a Native Village (Lithograph)
The authors of Early Prints of New Zealand were indebted to L.A.L. Moore, Esq., of Wellington for the following account of the circumstances surrounding the printing of the lithograph of Interior of a Native Village.

Mr Moore's grandfather, Captain Frederick George Moore, was in the merchant marine, and arrived in Wellington in February 1840 aboard the Bengal Merchant. He purchased the brigantine Jewess and began trading round the New Zealand coast. He acted as pilot for Wakefield's ships the Will Watch, Whitby, and Arrow when they sailed into Nelson Haven to establish the second New Zealand Company settlement, and himself settled on property at Motueka and in Nelson.

Moore probably first met Gilfillan in Wanganui during a trading visit, but met him again in Sydney in 1848 when he (Moore) was on a return trip to England. Gilfillan gave the painting of Interior of a Native Village to Moore, who took it to London, and on arrival arranged an interview with Prince Albert to see if the painting could be displayed at the Royal art gallery. The picture was inspected by both Prince Albert and the Duke of Wellington, and it was decided that it should be shown at the 1851 Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.

Captain Moore was in charge of the New Zealand Court at the Exhibition, and the picture was among the items included. Moore had 50 copies lithographed, sending 25 to Sir George Grey for distribution, and selling and presenting the remainder to friends and associates in London. After the Exhibition, Moore gave the original painting to his sister in Paris: all trace has been lost since the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and it is possible the picture was destroyed at that time."

It is interesting to note that all known copies of the lithograph bear the word "Proof”.  Moore may have perhaps intended to issue the lithograph in larger numbers once the initial fifty were distributed. A census of copies would be interesting today: if in fact only 50 copies were printed, natural wear and loss would reduce the quantity to a handful, making the Interior of a Native Village one of the more rare New Zealand prints.

Full Catalogue Description of the print from Early Prints of New Zealand

Interior of a native village or "Pa", in New Zealand,/situated near the town of Petre, at Wanganui, one of the New Zealand Company's settlements in Cook's Straits, Northern Island,/the figures in the foreground are all portraits, and the original picture (now in London) was painted on the spot./ . . . F.G. Moore, Late of New Zealand, now of 30 Arundel Street Strand. J.A. Gilfillan, M.A. pinxt. — E. Walker, lithr. Day & Son, lithrs. to the Queen. The original picture in the possession of F.G. Moore, 30 Arundel St. Strand. "Proof [1852?] 48.1 x 63.8cm
lithograph in colour, handfinished.

[The print was reproduced by Avon Fine Prints Ltd, Christchurch, 1969 in an edition limited to 1000 copies, NZ Fine Prints have a handful of prints from this later edition available for purchase].

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Sam Hunt's poem “Beware The Man” Painted by Dick Frizzell

One of many new prints in the latest series of reproductions of paintings and editions by Dick Frizzell “Beware the Man” is an unusual collaboration with the popular NZ poet Sam Hunt. Hunt’s poem was written over 40 years ago (you can listen to Hunt recite the poem in a concert with NZ rock band "Mammal" here on YouTube), the words have changed a little over time if you listen carefully and compare it to the text in Frizzell's 2011 painting.

In appearance the painting is similar to the work of Colin McCahon but with a secular rather than religious theme.  Dick says the idea behind the painting came about when three years ago "an advertising agency had the bright idea of getting me to paint a Sam Hunt poem for a campaign they were working on. The advertisement never happened but by then Sam and I were away on our own trajectory. "Beware the Man" is one of Sam's most popular poems. I modelled the lettering and the colours on a 'Trespassers Beware' sign I photographed up in Northland. The bits of red reflector tape around the edges seemed to add an appropriate drama to the poem's message!".

Sam Hunt’s “Beware the Man” by Dick Frizzell
Beware the Man. Poem by Sam Hunt, painted by Dick Frizzell.
Released as a print today (available for sale here), printed using the giclee process for dense blacks and extremely long life colour.