The last couple months have been a wonderful blur. We went on maternity + paternity leave and have spent some much deserved time at home with out little one. It's an amazing adventure and it's bittersweet to return to the real world after a long hibernation. But it feels good to be back. One of the few trips that have led me out of the studio recently was a trip to meet Paula Shubatis, a senior at The University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. She was having trouble figuring out how to price her works. When I arrived at her studio, I was in awe of the caliber and scale of her handstretched oil paintings. Not only were they superbly executed, the content of decaying architecture and complementing organic forms required real investigation.
The following are thoughts from Paula about how she found her way as an artist and painter, what her process is and how she sees her career in the future.
I’ve always been a maker. Whether it was drawing on the walls, or making my own iteration of the Sistine chapel on the underside my mother’s mahogany coffee table, I’ve felt the constant need to make and do throughout my whole life. But, it was not until high school that I was able to get a better technical knowledge of making through art classes. After taking AP art in high school, I knew that I wanted to go to art school. I came to art school under the false pretenses that I would go into something practical like graphic design, but secretly always knew that I wanted to be a painter. Experiences with design only affirmed that I was awful at it, and it gave me great anxiety. Through this rejection of design, I found my love of physicality of craft, in the realms of painting and fiber arts. Once I found my genuine love and passion for making, I not only knew that I wanted to be a studio artist, but I had to be one, because I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t.
"Foraging a Vernacular Identity" is inspired by my curiosity of the mysteries which lie in the ordinary places which surround me. I have a strong fascination with how systems of math and science are at play to create the poetry of a space, but could never hope to understand them. I find myself drawn to painting nature and architecture because of their inherent relationships to math and science. My paintings are a series of experiments through which I break down shapes, colors and forms of spaces into modular units, and reassemble them to try to figure out how they work. I like to manipulate different variables like scale, directionality of marks and orientation to play with how the viewer might perceive a space. I often combine different variables of multiple spaces to create one hybridized space. This process of experimentation and analysis becomes deeply introspective, and I find that I project myself onto spaces which I paint. I convey my own sense of a fractured reality and disjuncture with the world though a dialogue between degenerate architecture and nature.
Painting requires one to operate within a very peculiar state of being. It asks one to be conscious, alert, and responsive at all times, and maintain a dichotomy between an idea, and how that idea actually translates into paint. Painting asks one to suspend disbelief, and allow one’s self to become immersed in the surface. Immersing one’s self in a surface demands a full commitment to the surface, and coping with the inevitable possibility of failure. The surfaces which I grapple with aren’t just fictitious worlds, but they are also my own selfish spaces where I discover and share my most intimate secrets. It can be very difficult to reveal the truths which I find within my paintings to both the viewer and myself. It takes just the right mix of self-doubt and brazen confidence to have both the courage and motivation to make new discoveries.
Painting will always be something, which I always do, even if I had to dig up cadmium from the earth. I see painting as a mode of visual communication. I hope to share this mode of visual communication with others through making and outreach as a teaching artist, and also as a gallery artist. As long as I have the means to do these things, I will be happy. While the life and career of a studio artist might be more turbulent than those of other professions, the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment which it gives me are well worth it.
It's evident that Paula has a clear understanding of her work and how to talk about it, which is a great portion of an artist's ability to sell their work. Her concern of striking a balance between asking too much and too little (since she is after all, a "student artist") is a common one among the art school set. But here I was, staring at eight foot tall works that in any retail setting would go for tens of thousands of dollars or more and yet, I had to tell her something that would appeal to a collector, perhaps visiting the senior show with or without an intent to buy. There are two areas to consider when you're selling your work: practical and sentimental.
How much time did you spend on the piece?
How much did your materials cost?
Is this a special medium/something rarely seen?
What's the market like in your area? (this may be a non-issue if you're selling your work nationwide or on the internet)
How much are you willing to let it go for?
Are you just trying to make a first sale?
If money was not an issue, what would you pay for it?
Once you've considered these factors, you should have a clearer picture in your mind of what you're willing to let a work go for. One issue that Paula brought up was her status as a student and how that may affect a buyer. There are plenty of talented graduates that go on to show and sell work immediately out of college and I don't believe they should be shortchanged just because of their newness in the industry. That said, I encourage young artists to coin themselves "emerging" or "contemporary" to get away from the stigma of a "student artist." Because yes, starving art students should make a dollar but it should be a fair amount that they feel is respectable.
On a side note, I want to address those that don't want to sell. At some point, you'll create a work and think, I'll never produce something this good ever again. This is the best work I've ever done and I can't sell it. But consider this - if you don't sell it, then what's the point? I see "NFS" (not for sale) on pieces at shows and that negates every reason to create work in the first place. If you document it with great photos and remember the process, believe me, you'll create something even better in the future. Better to have a collector enjoy than to hold onto something so precious because you think you won't obtain a higher standard of craft than where you are now. That's silly, isn't it?
You may be wondering if I gave Paula a concrete set of numbers to work with. And yes, ultimately, I did. For the large ones that stood about 8 feet by 6 feet, I recommended a range of $8,000-10,000. For the smaller ones $4,000-6000. I took into account the number of hours, the polished nature of her work, the content and the overall feeling of her paintings. They're truly monoliths, worthy of a large space such as a corporate lobby or a collector's living room, somewhere with high ceilings. A few of Paula's pieces will be for sale at the Senior Show coming up on April 19th and I'll be anxious to hear the feedback she receives and give any pointers I can to facilitate selling her works.
The next post will be about how to sell the works and get publicity in the local market. Feel free to add to the conversation or post questions. We're all in this together.