Art on tap

The democratising nature of the Web has generated a demand for graphic art that traditional galleries cannot meet. Liz Farrelly picks some of the enterprising on-line dealers who are rising to this challenge

It’s undeniable that Internet shopping has taken its toll on a number of traditional retail sectors. Bookshops, video stores and travel agents all bemoan the fact that it’s too easy to order on-line and ‘sign for’ on your doorstep, while cheap broadband and innovative interfaces are opening up new must-have, impulse-buy sectors. Meanwhile, in the real world, fine art galleries remain intimidating places where collecting art is for the privileged few, yet there’s a boom in on-line galleries selling art of all sorts.

After the groundbreaking success, failure and resurrection of Eyestorm and BritArt – which set out a non-elitist stall of ‘contemporary art you can buy’, mixing one-off pieces, fine art photography and print editions by big names – along came Pictures on Walls with a more irreverent tone, offering graffiti-inspired limited editions by the likes of Banksy, Faile and Invader, which sell out in hours.

Three more additions to the scene have refined the concept further. Selling limited edition silk-screen prints and giclée digital prints, as well as books, objects and T-shirts by illustrators, designers and graphic artists, these on-line galleries have neatly dovetailed their products to their well-defined customer base, by marketing innovative work by designers for designers. What’s really neat is that this work is ‘screen friendly’ – that is, the medium suits the messenger. And, as these artworks are verifiable multiples rather than one-offs, what you see equates very closely to what you get.


Switched on: 2005, by Mark Blamire
Sells: Original, vintage and limited edition posters and prints, as well as design, photography, music and film posters
Star turns: Build, Experimental Jetset, Josef Müller-Brockmann
Latest news: In June, ’50’ celebrates the anniversary of the launch of Helvetica, with specially commissioned work by 50 designers

With a background in graphic design, and running his own indie record label, Mark Blamire decided on a change of pace when his son was born, and set out to learn some new entrepreneurial skills. ‘Blanka was an extension of where my passions lay as a designer and a collector of print. I wanted to involve designers on great projects in the same way we had with the record label, giving them a creative blank canvas, and paying them on an equal profit-share basis’, explains Blamire.

Having already worked on a number of websites, Blamire strove to ‘strip away the distracting tricks and flash elements’. Blanka is an ever-expanding archive, and the design had to accommodate the versatility required to build in more elements. ‘By talking and planning at great length about how it would function, we saved a lot of time later on,’ he claims.

For Blamire, though, this is more than just a design project. ‘Blanka is a different concept, with the interests of designers and creatives at its heart,’ he asserts. ‘It’s an alternative revenue source for studios, so they aren’t solely dependent on clients paying their wages.’ ‹

Product of God

Switched on: 2007, by Greg Burne
Sells: Limited editions by leading contemporary illustrators and graphic artists
Star turns: Jasper Goodall, Klaus Haapaniemi, Kam Tang
Latest news: To promote The Information, Beck’s latest album, launched last week, it is selling a limited edition poster featuring ‘sticker icons’ by various graphic artists, each signed by Beck

Coming from the Big Active hub, it was a natural progression for the art direction/creative management team to launch a selling website. ‘We set up Product of God to provide a service for the artists we represent, as they were being bombarded with requests to sell their work or to license it for clothing and homewares,’ Greg Burne explains. Worried about the logistics of copyright deals, Burne realised that ‘The most efficient way to provide this service and manage it, in terms of quality and customer service, was to set it up ourselves.’

Looking to the future, Burne says, ‘Now the artists have their own gallery, we can broaden the range of goods available in collaboration with specialists in different fields. We want graphic artists to make the most of this creative outlet and additional income stream without the burden of having to manage it themselves.’

Product of God’s unique selling point is its artists, who have considerable fan bases, which means that much of the marketing work has already been done. ‘I’m not interested in a purely design, niche market, and also think that the street-art area is well catered for,’ says Burne. ‘I’m looking for works with a broad appeal, without sacrificing quality.’

Aiming at buyers looking for an investment, Burne has hit on a clever device for raising the stakes: as a print-run sells out, the asking price rises. Best be quick and snap up a limited edition Beck poster before you’re priced out of the market.

Scrawl Collective

Switched on: 2006, by Ric Blackshaw
Sells: Signed, limited edition, silk-screen prints
Star turns: Phlash, Danny Sangra, SheOne
Latest news: Print Roadshow at Lounge, Manchester until 9 May, then The Kitchen, Middlesborough from 17 May until 21 June

Ric Blackshaw has been a mover and shaker on the street-art scene since co-writing the series of Scrawl titles back in the 1990s. Building on his contacts and ability to talent-spot, he represents a number of artists, known as the Scrawl Collective.

‘Our paintings cost a lot of money, so people kept asking if we did print editions. As soon as we were in a position to do that, I made it happen,’ explains Blackshaw. With help from Start Creative, which has designed the website and houses the archive, he has commissioned limited edition, silk-screen prints from his roster of artists, which are signed, embossed and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

Learning his sales technique from his father – ‘a small businessman who has survived because he’s developed great relationships with his clients’ – Blackshaw strives to avoid the ‘faceless administrator’ role by maintaining personal contact with all his buyers. He also stages frequent exhibitions that draw massive crowds, and takes them on tour. ‘The shows are part of our commitment to taking our art out to places that most London-centric art groups ignore’, he explains.

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