Wednesday, 20 August 2014

McRangi - is "Maori Art" selling out or promoting Maori culture?

McRangi by Shane Hansen - Edition of 40 prints
Shane Hansen is one of NZ's most widely known contemporary Maori artists. He has accepted commissions from high profile clients such as Maori Television, Air New Zealand and his artwork adorns the New Zealand Tourism head office in Auckland.  He has even followed in the footsteps of Andy Warhol with an art car project for BMW!

But he is uneasy about the popularity of a genre known as "Maori Art" in a way that is in some ways similar to our misgivings about the re-branding of non-Maori New Zealand art as "kiwiana".

Hansen's new print of a Maori Ronald McDonald figure is his expression of this questioning of the balance between commercialisation and celebration of Maori art by artists like himself.

Shane Hansen at work in his Auckland studio
McRangi (pictured above) is a much looser artwork than his usual crisp style based on what Hansen describes as an "old school image of Ronald waving that had a creepy nostalgic feeling about it". In this print McRangi asks in Te Reo "Ko tenei taku titiro kite ao whanui? - "is this how I see the world?".  Hansen is wondering if his artworks are cheapening Maori culture or exposing it and communicating it to others in a good way.

We don't think that Hansen has anything to worry about as his thoughtful and original series of prints push the boundaries of New Zealand art forward, refreshing and re-interpreting as well as adding a completely new style that is completely his own.  But even if there is a less vivid expression of "Maori art" being produced in the gift/souvenir market to meet the current demand that could be seen, as Hansen puts it, to be "cheapening" Maori culture is this anything new?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The amazing prints of Michael Smither

If an interior designer gave us the brief to decorate an entire building to showcase the best of what we stock BUT we were only allowed to use the prints of a single NZ artist - right now we'd recommend the superb range of prints by NZ painter, printmaker and composer Michael Smither.
Michael Smither with print

Printmaking is central to his artistic practice, we are sure that it is in his blood because we have been told that Smither's father was also able to screenprint!

Stones in Blue Bottle print by Michael Smither
Stones in Blue Bottle | Screenprint | Ed. 71
Shown here are a couple of our favourite Michael Smither prints.  In particular we love the "Stones in a Blue Bottle" print because it brings the iconic Smither rockpool study indoors, a “still life with rock pools” and the "Coral Head with Fish" print because the depth of the image is astonishing and this print looks truly amazing with the right kind of lighting at night.  These are the kinds of prints that stop people in their tracks to check them out even if they have no idea who the printmaker is because they are just magnificent in both ideas and execution.

Coral Head with Fish | Limited Edition Screenprint 
We have just about completed the task of cataloguing all the prints that are currently still available from editions created by Smither from an entire lifetime of printmaking.  Alongside Dick Frizzell this is one of the most significant and large bodies of work currently available to collectors of NZ prints and yes - in answer to another common question - it's Michael Smither prints that we have on the walls at home, he's definitely very well represented in our own personal collections.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Future of Printmaking in NZ

On July 26th there was a panel discussion in Auckland at the Gus Fisher Gallery timed to co-incide with the opening of “Printmaking: Beyond the Frame”.  Billed as “The Future of Printmaking in NZ” the discussion was led by the former Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland (and practising printmaker since 1975) Dr Carole Shepheard and Steve Lovett of the Manakau Institute of Technology Diploma of Visual Arts programme.

I was intrigued to read the useful summary of the discussion by Delwyn Archer, I was unable to hear the discussion first hand so I am grateful for her comprehensive notes.

What caught my attention was what seemed to be missing from the discussion - one obvious way to continue to strengthen printmaking in NZ is simply to grow the number of collectors.   

Professional development and support are important issues, collaboration and comparison spur progress, but these are internally focussed within the printmaking community.  I could only find one reference that wasn’t inwardly focused, when Dr Shepheard says printmakers should be making “amazing work that cannot be ignored”.

I think the printmaking community in NZ should have a much greater focus on the print collector and propose the modest goal of increasing the number of serious print buyers in NZ by 100 each year  - a relatively small number which is surely achievable. After a decade that is an extra 1000 people purchasing say 10 prints a year, at $200 per print that's an extra $2m going to support printmakers.

The place to start on the path to achieving this goal is working through the media to educate the NZ public about the delights of collecting original prints.

NZ Fine Prints would be happy to financially support a campaign for greater awareness of original printmaking as a collectable artform to help achieve this goal of 100 new serious collectors in NZ each year.  In return we need original printmakers to support our goal to offer a wider range of original prints to our customers (the first step is get in touch with me, I manage our catalogue of prints).

Encouraging more collectors of original prints will be a key factor in the future of printmaking in NZ looking back from 2024 and we are here to help.

NZ Fine Prints have a proven sales channel in place to support artists financially so they can get on with their practice.  The internet has changed the way art is sold and NZ Fine Prints uniquely has nearly 50 years of print selling expertise in addition to 15 years experience of online selling. We are not shy about the commercial opportunities we can see for prints and printmaking and think it is ok to mention the financial benefits of print collecting  - and we are print collectors ourselves.  

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

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.