I talk to Freeman White about price setting, managing time, traditional vs new marketing channels, building customer loyalty, diversification, plus finding a mentor. Phew. This is a long interview, and I let Freeman run with it as he delivers huge insight into the art of marketing art that is applicable to any business establishing market price points.
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Ryan Jennings: This is the Ryan marketing show and today we’re talking to Freeman White – the artist.
Freeman White: It’s been a little while.
Ryan Jennings: Has it? You’ve been off the radar.
Freeman White: Head down.
Ryan Jennings: Working?
Freeman White: Working.
Ryan Jennings: Hustling?
Freeman White: There’s never a dull moment I mean self-employed, 9 – 5, 7 days per week.
Ryan Jennings: Is that what you’re doing?
Freeman White: Pretty much, yeah.
Ryan Jennings: So not the 40 hour a week, more like 50, 60?
Freeman White: Sometimes even more it just depends on the work load.
Ryan Jennings: I thought that with art that the inspiration had to come down forth and then you had this divine moment where work happens.
Freeman White: That’s a really popular misconception I think for artists that make a career out of it you have to work constantly. There’s always preparation to be done if you’re not inspired you can always do the groundwork you can start researching. Something for me that I enjoy doing is priming all the canvases getting everything ready and there’s a lot of not necessarily going through the motions but there’s a lot of process involved in creating paintings. So it’s not all about that moment of inspiration I think if you wait around for inspiration to hit you probably not get that far. In fact there’s a famous portrait, painter from the state called Chuck Close who had this great quote about that and he said inspiration is for amateurs I just get down and work that’s kind of something I thought was quite apt.
Ryan Jennings: So is that you think typical of artists in general in 2016?
Freeman White: It’s quite hard for many people to believe but I’ve got quite a little of bit on my work and a lot people they like the idea of calling themselves an artist and they like going to exhibition openings and stuff but when it comes down to the hard graft there may be shy away from it. There’s a lot of scene’sters and there are definitely artist out there who are making but I think usually you’ll find them working pretty hard at it.
Ryan Jennings: Do you remember the moment where you thought I’ve actually made it or was it more like you were going this part and whatever happen will happen? Was it conscious?
Freeman White: It’s actually quite ironic that when I discovered what it was to be a professional artist it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So when I was young and idealistic and still being supported by my parents having this dream of being an artist and it’s going to be great and I’m going to live that dream. I’m not saying I’m not but when I realise that you’ve got to go to these shows and paint a series of paintings for these shows. It’s not just all about creating what you want there is some compromise and it’s about being professional as well you can’t just have a show that doesn’t sort of whole together that doesn’t have a continuity to it. So I spent a lot of time painting lifestyle landscape commissions because I make a living out of doing that and for my artistic kind of satisfaction maybe I could paint two or three of those per year and it would be enough but if you’ve got a show you end up painting like 5 or 6 larger works for that show maybe 5 or 6 smaller works as well which is where the real hours come in and those late nights come in sometimes early mornings and sometimes you don’t feel like. You think artistically I’d love to paint a portrait or a I’d like to paint still life or some flowers but dammit I have this show coming up and I’ve only got three months to paint all these paintings so I have to paint and you have to be realistic about putting something together that people are going to be able to follow as well.
Ryan Jennings: Do you feel that there becomes a balance between getting the work done versus mixing it up enough to keep the interest in the painting as much as I’ve got to get this work done?
Freeman White: Yeah it’s a balancing act and I always try to have a few studies on the go that aren’t going to be in the show. It’s kind of something that I’ve been working on more. I sort of had this realization some years ago when I was really flat out that time is the most valuable commodity it doesn’t matter money is great and it helps you in a lot ways it makes life a little bit easier but no one can rally give you time. So your time translates into money and there’s that old adage time is money and I think that there’s a certain amount of truth in that for me time is the most valuable and rare commodity if you can that in my life. So I sort of been trying to work on the idea that yes I am working hard, producing shows but also having time to do other projects which aren’t even art related in some cases like renovating this whole villa that were sitting in now which is a real project that I’ve been working on for a good 6 years. Some people say that you should just paint another painting or pay someone else to do it but it kind of wouldn’t feel the same. It comes back to managing your own time and it comes back to being successful as someone who is self- employed you have to be able to manage your own time because you don’t have anyone else really breathing down your neck telling you, you have to go to work now you have to go home now. Sure you have people expecting that you’re going to produce something in a given time period but you’re actually the one going who has to get down to the work and that’s the great thing about being self-employed as well because you can say ok I’m going to work 3 Sundays in a month and take a week off and go do something else that I really enjoy as well. I mean you do have that flexibility but you obviously have to make the time up somewhere else.
Ryan Jennings: Interesting so there’s balance between getting the work done and giving you other things to do that kind of balance the work part with renovating or some of the passion or side project?
Freeman White: I find that it helps sometimes I used to have a drum kit setup in my studio. So we’re talking about even 10 – 15 minutes playing the drums was something that was really cathartic for me if I knew that I had 3-4 hours before me just painting blades of grass like literally and you look at something and you go man I know there’s nowhere around this to fake it. I’ve just go to put in the time in this so sometimes that can feel a little bit daunting. So it’s great you just take a little break do something else. I find that music especially the drum for me was something that was also quite creative so it’s almost like refuelling the batteries in a way. So you don’t really lose your creative flow when you doing something completely different it then allows you to go back to what you’re doing. Sometimes in painting if we go back to the idea of inspiration there’s just a lot of groundwork that you have to do. You might be inspired by an idea or thing but you have a vision in your mind of how you want the end result to be. But if you’re a painter like me it’s actually a series of physical marks that layer up to produce the illusion of something real. So that’s the big difference between I think traditional painting in a sense and conceptual art which is something that’s been especially in the 90s and early 2000s was quite popular and I’ve always found that slightly imbalanced if you can have an idea and then get someone else to make it. Often times I don’t know that’s a whole different subject really but for me a successful art work would be something that can stand on its own really without having to have an essay or an explanation for it. So that’s something that conceptual art I think in some cases can miss the point that you’ve got to have a viewer who’s also got their own set of opinions to take it in and if they draw something different from your concept then that’s still equally as valid.
MINUTE 10 AND 14 SECONDS
Freeman White: That’s the great thing about painting for me; five different people will look at a painting and each one will take something different from it or five artists will paint the same subject matter and each one of those creates something that is quite different. So it’s all about like a hand-made, man-made personalized expression really, the art work.
Ryan Jennings: With your art work you said with blades of grass you just have to paint them to get to that end result and now having done it for some amount of time do you have a good handle on how many hours goes into a painting? Or how much labour and effort goes in versus that price in the market place?
Freeman White: Yeah that’s something I’ve quite left up to the galleries or I do entertain conversations about what you feel this kind of in a price bracket context and actually it’s not solely based on scale but it is one way that we’ve been able to establish price brackets and I think the interesting thing about pricing art is that art is one of the few things that doesn’t have a real relation to us physical make up in terms of pricing or physical cost of production. There’s kind of a story behind that it’s called provenance. So in art it’s about who painted it and where that art work sits overall withthe artist so it might be If you’re looking at a post impressionist artist work there may be certain pieces that are much more expensive than others but pretty much if the artists is recognized as being someone of note then will have a certain price bracket and then it comes down to who sold it as well and who has bought it. So often times you find that a painting from a certain collection; a famous collection will be worth more even though it’s by the same artist as a painting that wasn’t necessarily as recognized a painting that has been documented and written about in art history will often times be more valuable than the painting that hasn’t by the same artist. So pricing art is a kind of tenuous thing because as an artist I’m sort of recognizing some sense but I still feel like I suppose I am early career. So there’s a lot of room for me to develop as an artist as well shows to have and different collections to get internal that’s sort of stuff is quite exciting. But I’ve sort of tried to keep work consistently priced without getting too ahead of myself so that I can build up a clientele. You start to establish a market then you start introducing, each show maybe you have one work that is a bit bigger, a little bit more complex and you set a new price bracket with that and luckily enough every show that I’ve had we’ve managed to establish its price brackets so yeah it’s taken quite a few shows in order to do that but I’ve got something that just fell into mind which is kind of relevant to this and it’s the most painting in the world arguably the Mona Lisa like everyone knows. The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci for the king of France so it was actu7ally painted like commission I don’t know if it was actually commissioned but it was in France and it was then stolen from the (inaudible@14:58) by an Italian carpenter who believed he was repatriating it to Italy because of Napoleonic wars.
MINUTE 15 AND 6 SECONDS
Freeman White: So after Napoleonic wars a lot of art works were looted by the French from Italy as well and also successfully in the first and second world wars has been looted and resold going on to a certain collection. So the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1910 by an Italian carpenter who was working at the (inaudible@15:30) then at the time that it was stolen it was an admired painting. Leonardo da Vinci of course was incredibly well known, however the Mona Lisa wasn’t by a long stretch his most famous painting at all by any stretch of the imagination his largest and most complex work either. So at the time that it was hanging in the Louvre it was a special painting but you couldn’t say that it was nearly as well-known it is today. As soon as it was stolen they had to come up with an insurance value for the painting so basically the insurance companies in conjunction with the louvre came up with this figure which I think from memory would be around a $US100, 000,000 by todays which had made the painting at that time the most expensive artwork within a tribune price in the world. So then it became this fascinating thing and there was media frenzy about it and lots of conspiracy theories about the painting being destroyed and became basically priceless and from that day the Mona Lisa has been a household sort of name in art. So I found that absolutely fascinating how due the theft of it and then the insurance value and then the tribune and the monetary value that was placed on it. It became something that people were fascinated by all of a sudden.
Ryan Jennings: Interesting, so from the pricing of art perspective there’s these pricing signals that come into how you price your art external from how many hours it takes and how much paint you use and how much prick there is. So these external things around where the painting is presented, who you’re selling your painting to, the dealers that represent you and in having third parties acknowledge that price through purchase or through insurance gives a lot of signals to the market that you’ve established a price point. Then from what you’re saying is you then take that a step further by providing even more value to that existing customer base either through complexity or size of painting to then re-establish a new price point without leaving behind the customers that were happy at the existing price.
Freeman White: Exactly and what you’ll find and talking about art in this way is quite interesting area because you’ll find that once you’ve established a new price bracket or any given artist establishes a new price bracket with major works more often lifts the value of existing work. So this is how art investment can work very well if you’ve got for example an art buyer who is clever I could say you could definitely by a Bill Hammond painting right now for $NZD 200,000 and in 5 years it’s going to be worth at least $NZD250,000 . I mean I could pretty much definitively say that and as soon as Bill Hammond passes away or he is certainly a well-established New Zealand painter his career is not going to diminish at all. So there at a high end level there are definitely paintings that will hold their value and once an artist is obviously not able to produce more work than, those works also go out an value exponentially. There are all these fascinating cases and I was quite interested in (inaudible@19:29-19:30) because they’ve achieved some of the highest prices for art works in the entire world actually currently the most valued painting in the entire world is the When Will You Marry? by Gauguin which was recently bought for over $US3, 000,000 I mean that blew everything else out of the water before that it was Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt which was purchased only a couple years before the Gauguin and I think that was over $US100, 000,000 and before that you had Boy with a Pipe from Picasso’s (inaudible@20:11) period and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers as well.
MINUTE 20 AND 14 SECONDS
Freeman White: You have all these paintings that have established the interesting thing about this is the impression and post impressions of the paintings are the paintings that have really established these amazing price brackets and what was actually happening was you had people who were buying works who had existing collections of … I’m not saying this is the case in case of the Gauguin this is an interesting case I think they got over three times the value but say you had somebody that owns 5 Picasso paintings and then they found that there was a major Picasso coming to Christie’s to auction they would go an pay an exponentially higher price for this Picasso at Christie’s to establish a provenance for the Picasso’s. so they would pay like a $100,000,000 for the Picasso so anyone who doesn’t understand the workings would look at it and say why would you pay exponentially so much more for this art work than the market value is but little do we know and this is documented that certain individuals are paying far and beyond the market value of these paintings which was actually lifting the value of their collections as well exponentially. So it’s very interesting it’s like trading in a way but there were some legal loop holes that were being exploited as well and some interesting price fixing scandals. So that’s a completely different subject matter as well that deserves a bit of research. I’m certain not a person who is in that kind of realm yet. I think my work is now gaining provenance because showing at black barn having (inaudible@22:26) solo shows at (inaudible@26:28) now that gallery has unfortunately closed but some of the clients that purchased works from those shows are returning and buying larger and more expensive paintings. I’ve got some exciting clients that are into collecting my work and it’s great. It’s exciting for me but it’s also interesting to know that are people out there that (A) they like the work but (B) they can see and investment potential in it so I think hopefully that works for everyone.
Ryan Jennings: How does that work before the actual exhibition or before the collection is released to the public? I know you’re very savvy with social media, posting out some of the in progress shots of your work. What’s your strategy behind getting people and getting the right people behind where or what you’re doing or to get them to the show? What are the things that you make a concerted effort to make sure that you’re doing?
Freeman White: I think you touching on the social media aspect because it’s comparatively new. I mean formerly an artist really depended on an art dealer and the provenance of an art dealer with their patrons to promote a certain artist work. So you might have an art dealer in New Zealand at any rate five major patrons who buy a lot of work from the one art dealer so if the art dealer was to take on a certain artist they would say I believe in this artist’s work and they’d market it to their patrons like major collectors and then the collectors would but that work and it goes into their collections and then it starts to grow in value and then it gets documented more. That was the old school way you might get somebody like Jim and Mary Barr writing a book about it publishing it in their catalogue or whatever. Nowadays with social media it is actually changed just like anything there’s a lot of stuff out there. so if you’re discerning art buyer you’re going to have your filters. You’re going to look at stuff you’re not going to go and buy a painting for $25000 off Trademe of someone you’ve never heard, maybe someone would do that but not a lot of people would do that.
MINUTE 25 AND 6 SECONDS
Freeman White: I am certainly experiencing this, I have people who’ve start watching my Instagram, watching my Facebook Artist page feed and they’re just looking and they’ll maybe contact me. I get a lot of commissions now through word of mouth from patrons that already own major works. Sir Bob Jones has bought a couple of paintings in the last few years.
Ryan Jennings: So he’s bought your works?
Freeman White: Yeah so for example we’ve got a major New Zealand art collector and business man who has purchased a couple of paintings for his collection through that he’s obviously got other friends and that is in itself was very major for me having a major businessman invest.
Ryan Jennings: I think I’ve seen one of your works in his building in Auckland, the SAP building.
Freeman White: Yeah on Queen Street there.
Ryan Jennings: I’ve been in there, there’s a coffee shop Melba café that was nearby there.
Freeman White: Yeah and that’s cool because he bought in a placed in the fore of the building which is a café. I’ve actually been contacted by a number of people that have seen that specific painting.
Ryan Jennings: It’s a great place man.
Freeman White: So stuff like that happens which is really neat so there’s word of mouth in that sense of people that are associated with likes of Sir Bob they’ll look at the painting and think oh that’s great who did it? So I’ve received a number of commissions as a direct result of that. So there is word of mouth and then social media and people they start looking at what you’re doing so it’s no longer solely about having your work sold from the provenance of a respected art dealer and this is like the exposure that artist are now able to get through technology; through social media is rationalizing the buying and selling of artwork. In a lot of cases I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this but a lot of art dealers don’t like it at all.
Ryan Jennings: Well it’s cutting them out almost like their record labels not having a place when musical artists can release directly to their audience.
Freeman White: Yeah and because of having a show with a reputable art gallery is still important to establishing a name and establishing price brackets and establishing provenance for your work. So I still see it as something that is still very important.
Ryan Jennings: Do you think that artist that are early on in their career or needs experience there’s benefit from being smart about those digital tools like social media not just to establish a direct channel to sell but to establish a way for art buyers to learn more about you as an artist?
Freeman White: Absolutely for example let’s use Instagram which is something that I’m actually comparatively new to but I love it.
Ryan Jennings: It’s usually visual.
Freeman White: It’s so visual and what I can do is find other artists that are working in a similar genre to me. I am a realist painter; I paint landscapes and portraits stuff I am very influenced I suppose by although the works are contemporary I am definitely influenced by 16th century European painting which is pretty uncool in the New Zealand art scene for a long time. Certainly with a lot of the high end art dealers but what I’m discovering is that it’s totally at the moment and in the states especially in New York the neoclassical star so what I’ve found just from my own inspiration more than anything else is a whole bunch of artists all around the world loading their stuff on Instagram some of them incredibly well-known and successful others less so that I follow and look at their work and think wow, great there’s other people out there working in the similar area to me.
MINUTE 30 AND 19 SECONDS
Freeman: So it kind of solidifies what you’re doing if you kind of feel like you’re just all alone as well as sometimes that can always be hard to move forward. It’s really exciting.
Ryan Jennings: Do you get in there when you’re posting do you look at their post and some of the hash tags and think wow I might just include that , I’d like to see my work next to theirs? Are you thinking about the content that goes with the photo?
Freeman White: There’s a little bit like the hashtaging thing is kind of interesting. There’s quite a few art sites on Instagram so somebody who has got an interest in art and then they’ll re-share a lot of artist work around the world that they like.
Ryan Jennings: Are they curating?
Freeman White: Yeah basically they’re curating an online gallery so I’ve been lucky enough to be included in a few online galleries where other people have then included other artists work that have come on to my site and liked my work. Yeah and I’ve actually had some painters that I think like Americans that are quite into the (inaudible@31:44) it’s just like an inspirational thing. The other thing about that is that artist will post up like I do images of works in progress which from a technical point of view being a painter myself is fascinating and you certainly don’t see that in a physical gallery you just see the finished art work that’s hung a certain way that’s left a certain way. So sometimes you know just through technology you can see a lot more of the process that other artists are going through. So it’s less of a sale thing but more of a global community which is really interesting. I had a major New Zealand sale last year through (inaudible@32:36 – 32:38) I did an artist residency in Florida keys a number of years ago and I met a few artists down there. So someone must’ve mentioned my name this guy Freeman he was here a few years ago you should check out his work. Well this guy contacted me via Facebook he said “do you have any works available?” At this stage I had this large scale painting available which he ended up purchasing for his collection Florida. So it turns out that this guy is quite a major art collector and the follow through, through this is that he sent me an email after the work had arrived saying that I just want to let you know that I love the painting and it’s hanging in my collection in Florida next to (inaudible@33:29).
Ryan Jennings: No way…
Freeman White: Yeah man and this is a guy that has never been to New Zealand.
Ryan Jennings: Has he met you?
Freeman White: I’ve never actually met him even though we’ve done some online correspondence quite a few emails back and forth. He seems a really nice guy he is a serious art collector in the states and there is no way he would’ve bought that painting or even being able to see it if it wasn’t for having a website or social media. It was actually through my Facebook artist page so it’s things like that, that happen.
Ryan Jennings: So you’re really balancing the traditional way of getting your name out there and getting your works through tradition exhibitions and making sure art buyers are aware of what you’re doing and getting your art into the collections where it will be seen with some provenance and create some historic set of value. While alongside that your using these very new tools to create these direct to market ways of educating your audience about who you are and what you like not just about the work but you as a person and then using that to enter into new markets. With Instagram and Facebook do you use any of the paid side of things?
Freeman White: I never actually have it’s something that I was very fascinated by this concept on Instagram there’s one these online galleries called Art for breakfast which has over 80,000 subscribers and they also contacted me because I’d been shared onto another site and they said we’d like to boost you.
MINUTE 35 AND 16 SECONDS
Ryan Jennings: So they’re paying on your behalf?
Freeman White: So it actually turned out it would cost me $US35 per image that they would put on the Art for breakfast to get to 80,000 people which I thought was actually really cheap but I couldn’t pay with my credit card I had to pay with a PayPal account which I don’t have. So I’m still a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to those stuff but I was really interested in that. But even totally unknown artist that are using this are getting over 1000 likes that means over a 1000 people that like that image just through the exposure. They’re probably being seen by up to 20,000 or more people. So that concept really appealed to me and I thought this great. The whole idea of the Instagram account for me is about being an artist that is painting, it’s not so much about being a New Zealand painter anymore whereas all the shows that I’ve had in New Zealand and my career in New Zealand and the way that I’ve been building it up is as a New Zealand artist which is something that I’m definitely proud of and do see myself as a New Zealand painter but it’s really interesting when you think these guys over in New York or even in Russia, heaps of Russian artist liking my stuff because they love realism.
Ryan Jennings: They’re looking for niche who just happens to be a Kiwi.
Freeman White: Yeah and there’s a whole movement of painters who love let’s say 16th century European painting and I’m producing work inspired by that, which is something that I’ve been actively discouraged in New Zealand by the art dealers and when I was art school in favour of being more conceptual kind of abstraction or these sort of things which didn’t sit very naturally with me. So it’s something that I just chose to ignore pretty much so now I’m kind of fascinated other artist out there who are dealing really well having sold art at shows in New York. They just had the LA art work which I’ve been following on Instagram like portraits and genre paintings and landscapes which are absolutely…There’s massive interest on this stuff at the moment and it’s just fascinating that we’ve got a window on the world now and it’s both ways and it’s like a two –way mirror. So I can look into their world and they can look back into mine. So I think it’s interesting it’s going to be very interesting to see how this actually fits what’s accepted as being modern art.
Ryan Jennings: Well this is the interesting thing with a number of business owners I talk to is you can have lots of likes but does that translate into real value? And a lot of the time the answer is yes and other times it’s well not yet because we haven’t asked for the (inaudible@38:57). We hadn’t even considered that being something that we could get from these platforms.
Freeman White: Well for me I think what I would imagine if there was a positive outcome of another artist seeing my work would be potentially being picked up by a dealer gallery in somewhere like Paris or New York or London. There’s a couple of New York galleries that are following my Instagram and like I haven’t actually marketed myself to them but it just feels good it’s like ok these guys…
Ryan Jennings: You’ve got a slice of their time, their eye ball.
Freeman White: I don’t know if it’s how much they look or whatever but its encouragement they probably just put out a hashtag painting or hashtag portrait or something and then they’ve come across one of mine and say we like this guy we’ll just keep on watching him. So this global market concierge is something that fascinates me now.
MINUTE 40 AND 3 SECONDS
Freeman White: And especially America because I think Americans for the type of painting that I’m doing I’m just starting to get the American clients. I’ve got a couple now that are really enthusiastic about the work. I’d love to go back to the states as well and explore a little bit more. It’s just kind of like you just don’t feel as isolated anymore and I’ve always talked about this in New Zealand art McCahon one of the reason why McCahon was such a bad painter by European standards was because he was forging his own identity in the 40s and 50s in New Zealand when all they had was the odd black and white photograph of Picasso or even predating that like classical art like a Caravaggio let’s say a 16th century Italian painting. The isolation in New Zealand and trying to find this voice within the context of post-colonial New Zealand which was pretty bleak in a lot of cases I think and that’s been really translated into the work. But nowadays you don’t feel nearly as isolated to be honest myself as a New Zealand painter yes I have travelled quite a bit but now with technology it’s going to bring about a proper change and progression of art on a global context.
Ryan Jennings: That pays to our advantage.
Freeman White: Yeah I think it’s exciting there’s a lot of information out there so still have to sort of glean what you want from it.
Ryan Jennings: So the question I want to ask you is when that market des start to change does that then will influence what then you will paint? I’ve noticed recently you’ve got a different stream of work going on. How do you decide or what influences to creating a new product line basically or a new style?
Freeman White: I think what you’re talking about is the latest seascapes that I’ve been painting and all of them are really local scenes around Hawke’s bay. So that is just kind of me looking around and going wow I’m living in this beautiful place. I’ve been painting for years now the Hawke’s bay hills and obviously I’ll continue to do that but I think just for my own feeling of artistic development I want to explore something a little bit different and low and behold it was right in front of my eyes.
Ryan Jennings: It’s a great view you’ve got here.
Freeman White: You can always see the sunrise here first thing in the money and walk down the steps there and you’re at the beach in two minutes. It kind of made sense really just a complete no brainer. On another level it was also because I’ve established a clientele and certain price brackets for certain types painting which was kind of the (inaudible@43:45) hills that I was painting. There’s a lot of interest in those works and therefore there were more commissions and I spent a lot more time producing work like that which I think it’s certainly not only me but if you look at a lot of artist who relatively early on in their career have made a living out of it. It often can have the adverse effect of restricting their artistic development. So an artist who probably early on in their career might have established some really good price brackets for a certain type of work through a dealer gallery they’ll get a lot of interest and can’t you just paint me another one of those believe me I’ve had that as well and I’d say well I could probably paint you something along those lines but each painting is different. So on one level you want to establish a style of work that in a sense your name will be attributed to. So somebody sees a painting and go that’s a Freeman White you definitely want to establish that.
Ryan Jennings: So this trade mark look?
Freeman White: Yeah you have to establish a body of work that people are going to then associate with your name as an artist.
MINUTE 45 AND 18 SECONDS
Freeman White: But then I’ve always thought very passionately about I want to develop as an artist as well and so if you look at someone like Dick Frizzell for example who has also been quite inspirational to me and I’ve been lucky enough to befriend him when he was living down in Hawke’s bay. He’s a really nice, generous man with his time but he’s a really interesting case because most artist of his era had one style of work that they established through a couple of high end art dealers and they’ve never really like diversified from that path until they’ve got to a point where they’re basically reproducing themselves over and over again. What Dick has done which I think is genius is he has established 4,5, 6 different styles of work that now in his latter career he can go and reference oh I’ll do a phantom painting or oh I’ll do a realist landscape painting or I might do an abstract and in conversations with him I was like what made you do it? He was like oh I felt that every exhibition while I was young had to be different so that I was growing as an artist and it just so happens that certain works from every one of those shows that he had early on in his career have become definitive paintings in his career. So in a way he’s able to play the system by branding everything as a Frizzell but producing a diversity of work which kept me artistically satisfied as a creator. I look at the way that he has done it, it’s really clever and he is a very successful artist and I admire that he hasn’t been pigeon-holed and oh let’s paint us another mouldy cheese painting in enamels which is something that he did in the 80s, paint us another black guy shoes which was is this famous painting of his that is in the Open city art gallery collection. So there are people that I’ve looked at and in a way say if I’m going to play this art game I kind of want to take some cues from this guy as opposed to Don Benny for example who was very well respected New Zealand painter and in my opinion actually a very talented painter as well but his entire career he just painted birds flying over (inaudible@48:12) New Zealand’s landscape and these paintings were worth a lot of money before his death they were selling paintings for over $100,000. So you’ve got an artist and he has got builds to pay too and he’s got clients breathing down his neck and he’s got high end art dealers and they are saying oh darn can’t you just paint us another bird flying over landscaping. He’s like oh what the hell, oh shit how much is it worth now? Well after our cut you’ll get about $60,000 – $80,000 for that one.
Ryan Jennings: An internal dilemma.
Freeman White: Yeah I can’t speak for me because I didn’t meet him but I can just see from an artist perspective he hasn’t really developed. He’s been producing the same body of work for 30 years or more and I think that’s where you have to look at it you want to be a professional artist if you play the dealer gallery game you’re going to get a lot of pressure to produce works that establish you as a certain type of painter, feedback that I’ve had from art dealers in the past is we really want to establish a client for this type of work for this we don’t really want to show your portraits. I’ve been painting portraits, landscapes, still lives, graphite influenced stuff for years but I’ve deliberately kind of also just done the landscape thing and had a parallel career as a portrait painter through wining the Adam portrait awards in 2006 which is another angle that I’ve maintained.
MINUTE 50 AND 5 SECONDS
Ryan Jennings: Will you add to that? Is there another foundation pillar of art could you move into sculpture?
Freeman White: I am not sure I’m going to diverge away from painting. Painting is sort of see unlimited scope with but I think this next show that I have coming up at the (inaudible@50:27) gallery here of seascapes. So there are two things that separate these two paintings, basically a lot of the work that I’ve been showing and that is (1) scale; these works are small. So from my perspective I could paint them a lot quicker so therefore the satisfaction of creating a resolved work of art in a couple days as opposed to a couple of months that’s artistically really fulfilling. The price bracketing is interesting because I’m playing on the stereo of well if it takes me 4 months to paint one large scale painting that might sell for $15,000 – $20,000 what can I do in that time period that might reach new buyers as well? A younger market possibly generating a similar amount of capital. So it’s a multifaceted kind of approach I want to paint something that I find really exciting. So that’s fine which introduces a new scale, a new subject matter and a new kind of pricing bracket into what I’m already doing that doesn’t detract or diverge too much from the landscape work which is already there which is going to be a constant. I would predict for most of my career and it’s kind of like going back to that idea of what Dick Frizzell’s done. He’s got this phantom stuff which he was painting back in the 80s and every now and then he’ll paint a phantom. He established that style and then he moved onto another style. I think when I was at Elam school of Fine arts in the late 90s I saw his first show of realistic landscape painting that he did and that for me was really exciting because I was saying I’ve seen the still lives and these kind of naïve styles, and his phantom paintings. But man this guy can paint and I told (inaudible@52:54) about it and he was like I just wanted to test myself and do something new and now he is a sought after and well-respected New Zealand landscape painter as well as being a pop artist. I’m not saying I’m copying Dick’s thing that’s definitely inspirational and you can see how art can work if you do with properly and basically what you do is that you create a body of work. You have one or two or three shows with that body of work and then you introduce something else whilst continuing to produce works of that style.
Ryan Jennings: Where are your main galleries; where do you show?
Freeman White: Well there’s only really so much work that one can produce. A lot of the work that I’m doing especially the large scale stuff is commissioned-based nowadays. So I’ll be dealing directly with clients and creating art works for their specific needs. So it might be a certain scale so can you paint my farm that I own or my property? Which I am getting quite a lot of work like that which I really enjoy because you get to see other people’s views that inspire them and create something specifically working with clients like that. I really enjoy that and I’ve got two dealers in Auckland one of them is JV galleries; Joey Vaessen. He does popup shows but he basically deals directly with high end clients. So he’s the one who sold a couple of paintings to Bob Jones for example. He also works in films so he’s got some interesting international clients that he gets through and there’s a gallery in Mount Eden called NKB that I have done some work with.
MINUTE 55 AND 17 SECONDS
Freeman White: I was with Black Barn for a number of years which was a really great gallery to show with and they’ve unfortunately closed the gallery. So now I’m lucky to have the Space gallery which in some ways it’s a different gallery to Black barn but its definitely got the idea about exclusivity. It’s hard for me to say I’m pretty happy with the other artists that are showing there that’s always something that I’ve always been pretty careful about as well.
Ryan Jennings: Who you’re seen alongside and who you’re helping with your provenance versus who you can be helped by being provenance?
Freeman White: Yeah early on I had a few opportunities in my career that I sort of felt kind of backfired. The New Zealand art show for example that is quite a big art exhibition that they’ll have hundreds of New Zealand artists and they do a big exhibition showcase in Wellington. So it used to be called the affordable art show, a lot of people have heard of it. In fact they do sell a lot of art work but when I was invited to show there and you actually do have to pay as well. It’s kind of an art fare kind of environment. Anyway I just felt like one of a number, you end up having works hung really low. It was just something I thought no I’ll never do this again because for me I was kind of just not get swamped in with all these amateur painters. That was kind of the pivotal moments for me where I just thought no I don’t want to show at all or I want to show where I want to show. That can sometimes backfire on you as well but luckily enough I’ve always had commissions for clients because I paint portraits and landscapes that is something that has always been able to tie me over. The other thing about art dealers is obviously they’re running a business. They have overheads so they take quite a high commission on the sales of works as well as putting together and exhibition it’s quite an expensive the exhibition cost as well is factored into it. So you might have a show with a dealer gallery and let’s say a high end dealer gallery in Auckland and I’ll be expected to pay above 45% in commission and to be expected to pay 60% of the exhibition cost. You get 55% they get 45% but then you’re expected to pay for usually up to 60% of the exhibition cost including wide postage advertising . Then you have on top of that tax that you obviously have to pay. So the on the wall price of a painting might be $10,000 after they’ve taken the 45% you get $5,500 then you take out exhibition costs then you take out your taxes that you have to pay as well. So the artist at the end of the day if you’re showing at dealer galleries in the old school format which does has a lot of benefits to it but it’s pretty hard to make it a living. So if you’re getting commissions from high-end clients and you’re dealing directly with them and you’re still maintain the price bracket that’s the really important thing. You can undercut the dealers when you’re dealing directly with clients.
MINUTE 60 AND 1 SECOND
Freeman White: That’s something that I’ve always stayed true to. If I’m selling a painting for $15,000 in this Auckland gallery and someone contacts me here and says I want a painting that scale. I say well its $15000 but I can paint you what you want. That’s just something that I think that a lot of artists kind of struggle with. It’s been kind of an on-going thing between artist and art dealers and clients as well feeling that oh I like that painting and saw it in the gallery and feeling that they can come directly to you and get a big discount.
Ryan Jennings: Which they probably could with some artists?
Freeman White: Yeah.
Ryan Jennings: And that then is a self-defeating thing because all of that work and effort that you’ve put in establishing provenance through a buyer who has a database then starts to be commoditized and you’re less likely able to use that channel in the future. So then you really have to put all that effort into selling your work direct rather than selling through trusted third parties.
Freeman White: It is actually a complicated system; I like to dance it up by having dealer shows. But realistically when you’re working in the style that I do which is effectively a representational style people definitely do want their own properties painted and do want specific commissions. So that works for me.
Ryan Jennings: But I think that’s a really insight there not only into what you’re painting but how you go about placing your works on the market place and then from there how you place your work to people directly. What’s often missed with the art as a commercial business is the there are lots of different parts to it and it’s not just something that you can say hey I am an artist and just go out there. There are certain traditional ways or non-traditional ways to get your product to the market.
Freeman White: Definitely it’s all about establishing a niche in the market that you feel comfortable working in. So for some people that might be selling their paintings on Trade Me for 50 box each and they get enough out of that to pay the (inaudible@62:48) bill. For me I’ve always been driven to produce work of a high quality and trying to market myself to high-end clients.
Ryan Jennings: I think you have to because with the quality of your work you can scale that to produce more work in 7 days per week, 50 – 60 hours.
Freeman White: There’s only so much work that I can produce. But I have actually had some interesting experience with pricing especially when I was a lot younger that definitely influenced this and one of them was I was living in Haumoana and I was about 18. I was overseas and coming back I’ve always been a serious painter and had reasonably well-paid commissions and gallery sales at that stage as well but I thought the Haumoana fare was on and I thought cool I’ll produce some small works. I did ironically the first small seascapes and beach scenes.
Ryan Jennings: So that would be out on someone’s wall somewhere?
Freeman White: No the thing is I priced them really low because it was the Haumoana fare this is years ago and I thought I’d sell them for $15, $20 each just enough money to get some groceries and stuff. I was pretty poor back then. I didn’t sell a single thing but at that stage I had already had gallery sales of several thousand dollars. What I kind of gleaned from that was is you price paintings too low people will undervalue your product and this goes for pretty much every product not just painting. So you have to be kind of realistic about your price point. I’m not saying in the Haumoana fare context if I had put say $250 on them I would’ve sold them but these things I tend to believe that if I price them a little bit more people would’ve seen them and I probably would’ve sold them.
MINUTE 65 AND 14 SECONDS
Freeman White: As it was I didn’t sell any of them so I still have those little paintings somewhere in storage. But it’s just like moments like that it’s an on-going ; problem exercise being self-employed and (A) you have to satisfy yourself, (B) you have to satisfy your markets and in my philosophy you still have to have a life as well. You kind of have to manage your time so it doesn’t always feel like work.
Ryan Jennings: I think this has been a fantastic interview. We’ve probably gone way over our time that we usually do on the Ryan Marketing show but the insight that you’ve managed to give here Freeman is strategic. You have been approaching the market and how you approach being an artist it is a full time business for you and I think someone who has listened through the entire interview will pick up a lot of titbits whether they’re an artist or whatever segment they’re in. I think there’s some really good information around price setting around entering the market and around partnerships and I think it’s going to be interesting to see where you take this, it’s early days.
Freeman White: Well, thanks a lot for coming over Ryan it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today.
Ryan Jennings: Any time, Freeman.
MINUTE 66 AND 33 SECONDS