Friday, 7 November 2014

Reproducing Gordon Walters artworks as prints (continued...)

Publishing prints of Gordon Walters artworks - a recap
The print of Gordon Walters' painting
"Kahukura"
(published by the Capper Press)

Back many years ago now our family's publishing company "The Capper Press" published a good quality photo-lithographic (off-set) colour reproduction print of a Gordon Walters koru series painting "Kahukura" - pictured here.  Prints of other Gordon Walters' artworks had also been made by other publishers and posters from exhibitions featuring good sized reproductions of his paintings and original prints were also on sale from time to time.

The print of Kahukura was about to sell out in 2007. In accordance with the publishing agreement we had with the artist - quote "In the event of an edition becoming out of print, the Publisher may reprint at his [sic] discretion" we went to re-print this popular print.  However an unexpected problem arose in what is usually a very straightforward process when we wanted to make sure we could do the best quality print possible.  This meant rather than re-using an old transparency we would use a fresh crisp digital image from Victoria University of Wellington in whose collection the original painting of "Kahukura" hangs. When they asked us to confirm clearance with the copyright holder (no longer Gordon Walters himself as he had died in 1995) we were stopped in our tracks by the Gordon Walters Foundation which now controlled his estate.

The reason the Gordon Walters Foundation gave for refusing permission for Victoria University to give us a new image to re-print was based on a legal opinion they had obtained regarding the original memorandum of understanding between our family's publishing company and Gordon Walters that we had forwarded to them - a narrow legalistic response that ignored the clear intent of the artist freely given while he was alive to allow reproduction prints to made of this painting.

Although this opinion was not persuasive we chose not to take it further for two reasons. Firstly out of respect for the wishes of the trustees of the Estate (they had presumably resorted to legal nitpicking because they didn't want prints being published, their reasons for this were never made clear but obviously this was the effect they wanted).   Secondly over the longer term we knew to try and win a narrow legal argument over the miniature of a yellowing agreement concerning just "Kahukura" meant we'd lose the goodwill of the Foundation's trustees when it came to us (or any other publisher) requesting copyright clearance to publish prints of other artworks by Gordon Walters in the future.

Previous more detailed discussion on this issue goes back to 2008

New Print Available - First Gordon Walters Print for a decade!
Print of "Makaro" - Painting by Gordon Walters
from Te Papa Collection Ref: 1970-0021-1
However the reason for re-visiting this issue is because, somewhat surprisingly given what is described above, we can announce that for the first time in a decade there is a new Gordon Walters print available for sale!

It is relatively expensive for an open edition reproduction print at $109.95 for a 510 x 670mm sized image. This is because they are being printed using the "one print at a time" giclee method rather than off-set and we are paying TWO separate commission amounts (neither amount goes to the Gordon Walters Foundation because the copyright for this painting was sold to the national museum along with the actual painting, it's Te Papa and their partner giclee printing company in Auckland who are getting the publishing royalties from Makaro). The irony is that the Foundation have effectively given a monopoly to the only publisher that ensures they will receive no financial benefit from any sales!

If this print does (as we certainly expect it will) become one of NZ's top selling prints I hope that the trustees of the Gordon Walters Foundation will revisit the issue of refusing to allow prints to be sold of the work of Gordon Walters. Making the artwork of significant New Zealand artists accessible to the thousands of people who appreciate their work but can't afford an original whilst raising ongoing revenue to promote the aims of the artists' Foundation via publishing royalties is recognised as making sense in the case of estates of similar artists Colin McCahon and Rita Angus - it's pretty conventional practice that shouldn't raise any concerns for the Gordon Walters Foundation trustees.

Lets hope this new print will not be the only one for print buyers to choose from until Gordon Walters' artwork leaves copyright in 2045!

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