Monday, 9 April 2018

Gallery Prints Closure

Last week saw the unexpected demise of Gallery Prints' in gallery kiosks and their online store.  They closed for the Xmas/New Year holiday at the end of 2017 but the update "Sorry, orders are now closed for the Christmas period" remained in place well into the new year.

Co-owner Reuben Price recently told me that the business will not  in fact be re-opening at all and the ordering functionality had been removed from their website.  The official closure date was 31 March 2018.

Gallery Prints promised to stock "Fine Art Prints from New Zealand's finest Museums and Art Galleries" and they had partnerships in place with Te Papa, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland War Memorial Museum  and the National Library of New Zealand where prints could be ordered in store via a kiosk or online via a shopping link from the gallery/museum website.

They had a good selection of prints from some great NZ artists such as Robin White and Rita Angus, together with Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon and Gordon Walters images that were available due to the gallery having purchased the copyright to reproduce images along with the original paintings. Gallery Prints also had a rather eclectic range of botanical and historical material from their partners which might not have been hot sellers but it was good to see a distribution channel for less mainstream images.

It was an impressive effort to co-ordinate a business model like this and here at NZ Fine Prints we were excited to see an example of our nationally or locally owned galleries working with the private sector to promote the artistic heritage of Aoteaora to people interested in buying prints. 

Shame to see it didn't work out, hopefully some lessons can be learned as it seems to make sense to marry the possibilities of short run digital printing with the wealth of our shared cultural resources held in NZ's museums and galleries in some form of public/private partnership.


Saturday, 31 March 2018

Island series a breath of fresh air

A decade ago artist Barry Ross Smith created a series of artworks that were hailed by critics as "hymns to rural New Zealand",  there followed a collection of top selling prints that sold to city and country folk alike.  His finely realised portraits of NZ farming life were informed by his deep personal roots in the country, at the time he lived and had his studio on a farm - this was authentic rural NZ art that stood up to the scrutiny of those with an expert eye for farming matters.

It is always hard for an artist to move on to a new phase of work.  Not just the difficulty of finding a new theme to explore at a professional level, but also the buyers of their work want them to keep ploughing the same field long after the artist themselves may have moved on in their work (Bill Hammond and his bird paintings for instance, he's over birds but these are the ones that collectors demand).

Barry has successfully and cleverly moved to a new and innovative series of paintings that we really like.  The New Zealand landscape imagined as a series of islands.
Waterfront Villas -"Islands" series print by Barry Ross Smith

The story of Aotearoa/NZ is the story of island isolation, of huddling together on rocky outcrops in the Pacific Ocean.  There is an element of the slightly surreal about Barry Ross Smith's island series which lifts them out of being just another photo realistic painting that is essentially just a reproduction of the NZ countryside, an honest and competent depiction of a scene but lacking the mystery of the very best kiwi landscape artists such as Grahame Sydney (who as an aside recently gave us the glorious phrase in response to the work of another artist, "Well, x is a good amateur, but a poor professional"! ).

These prints are refreshingly different and look great on the wall hung as a series (coherent but not to matchy matchy).  They are also well-priced, at just under $60 per print.  These new prints are saying something more than just what you see, raising interesting questions about the evolving kiwi identity as the 21st century advances.  And although this series is a significant advance on what has become very tired nostalgic white bread kiwiana, it's similar in spirit to that which energised the popularity of kiwiana art for NZ homes over the last 20 years,  a low key but deeply felt appreciation of our unique NZness, with a light touch, almost but not quite an in-joke (perhaps the wry smile) that only Aotearovians fully appreciate.

And as the person who catalogues for sale every new NZ art print I would like to add that our unique identity does not have to just revolve around endemic birds!   Of the last 20 new prints that have come out from NZ publishers and artists 16 of them featured birds, there are fast becoming as cliche as the nikau palm and cabbage tree of the mid 90s.   We have predicted the next trend will be fish. And then insects.  Even if we are wrong it must be time to move on from things avian...

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Inventory management system at NZ Fine Prints

We've had our share of business misfortune over the years.

Our office in the late 1960s was abandoned after a fire in the National Party offices below it, there was another fire which destroyed our picture moulding factory, Avon Picture Mouldings in 1979 and then there was the earthquakes of 2010/2011 - after which we had the most dramatic gallery opening ever!

But we have never had a computer disaster until last week.

This is me inspecting the Avon Picture Mouldings fire aged 6
Like most businesses NZ Fine Prints' have backups, and backups and then a backup in the cloud.  But when a key computer's hard drive slowly gave up over a few weeks without us realising it was happening we discovered that a disaster recovery plan did not mean instant recovery and business as usual.  The problem was that the backup that should just have been able to be loaded back on to another hard drive was also affected by failure of the hard drive to organise the data properly over several weeks.

This computer takes care of our inventory, tracking the thousands of product lines at prints.co.nz.  As soon as we couldn't process inward goods the parcels of prints from artists and publishers began piling up. I couldn't believe how many packages we got as they stacked up across the stockroom floor.  We stopped shipping orders for a couple of days, expecting to be back up and running.  But in the end it took a week to get all the files off the hard-drive and installed onto a brand new iMac.  We shipped out on a paper based system and then had to process a week's orders all at once.

It was a complete nightmare and we have changed our systems to make sure that this never happens again.

The moral really is not to become complacent, we have apparently been super lucky with our Apple computers over the years - we keep them for five years before upgrading and have never had a hard drive fail before.  Apparently most people have had this experience so we were lulled into a false sense of security...

We don't yet do all our processing in the cloud so are looking to move more of our processes off the desktop computers, but what if the internet connection goes down.  We haven't had that yet.  Sun flares anyone?

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Fine Art Print vs Fine Art Printing

Can a print of fine art not be a fine art print?

I've never really liked the fine print part of our businesses name because it's meaning can be lost in a different context, ie the agreement sounds promising but have you checked the fine print?  But the fact that prints is also a homonym (prints/prince) also bugs me a bit so I think it is my inner language pedant that is at fault here rather than a branding issue that we need to change.

So we stuck with the Fine Prints part of our company's moniker when we broadened the business name from Avon Fine Prints (which was actually a sub brand of ours that specialised in limited edition reproductions of antique NZ prints in the 1960s and 70s) as we felt that this was now limiting the scope of what we did as we began stocking many more prints by contemporary artists.

This week I was surprised to find that another meaning for fine art print was in use that seems obvious now but had not resonated with me previously.

Northland Panels by Colin McCahon (Fine Art Print?)
We are calling a reproduction of Colin McCahon's painting "Northland Panels" a fine art print, why asked Glenn of Artrite - when it was not fine art printing at all but a photolithograph?  Ah, we said, that is because Colin McCahon is a "fine art" New Zealand artist.  Meaning that he has studied fine art, produced fine art (rather than design or decorative art) and the artist's work appears in collections at prestigious NZ art galleries such as Te Papa or Auckland Art Gallery.

But Glenn had had a call from a gallery concerned that we were selling a "fine art print" of a well-known artist's work for $60, which a customer had pointed out to them looked like the same image they were selling that was printed by Artrite for $600 - in this case a limited edition screenprint (which we also stocked).  From a screenprinters' point of view fine art print meant a fine art production process, rather than a reproduction photo-lithograph like the $60 print.  This had not occurred to me, and it had not occurred to Glenn that a photo-lithograph could be a fine art print as it was a print of fine art!

We do not want to sow seeds of confusion, we are not trying to convey that the $60 print in question is of the same quality as a limited edition screenprint - but we also need to use the words that are in common usage for what we sell in order for customers to find what they wish to buy.  The case I remember from the early days of online marketing was the luxury car brand that insisted that second hand cars were "pre-owned" rather than "used", but had to change this when they realised that nobody ever looked for "pre-owned cars".

Occasionally we are taken to task over whether a print is actually a "reproduction", or if a reproduction print should actually be called a "poster".  I refer back to the car example above, to some extent we have to use the words that customers use even if there is a narrower meaning to an expert in their field, in this case a fine art printer like Glenn from Artrite.

We are making some big changes to prints.co.nz in the next few weeks, one job I will do during this process is to check every one of our thousands of product listings to make sure we are describing prints as accurately as we can - some listings are now just on 20 years old and in the light of this interesting discussion I will make sure that descriptions are as clear to as many of our visitors as possible as they are to us when we are writing them.