Posts Tagged ‘limited edition prints’

Paintings have never been a large part of modern Northwest Coast Art. Since the 1960s, artists have preferred to release limited edition prints instead. Recently, though, this trend has shown signs of changing.

Ever since the 1960s, limited prints have been far more common than paintings. The reason is simple economics: A limited print costs the buyer anywhere from half to one-tenth the price of a painting, which pleases buyers not interested in an investment. If a run of a hundred can be sold, the artist makes much more than they would from a painting – enough, with luck, to allow them to earn a living from their art.

As a result, limited prints have long been the norm in Northwest Coast Art, despite the forgeries that have been periodically discovered. By contrast, artists interested in painting have often found selling their work to galleries difficult. A few exceptions exist, such as Robert Davidson in the last decade, but they are exceptions because of their fame.

A better indication of the status of paintings in Northwest Coast art is the fact that even an artist as accomplished as Lyle Wilson could only manage a show consisting entirely of paintings this year – and at least two-thirds of the pieces were completed decades ago and had never sold. Meanwhile, an artist’s first limited print is still seen as an important step in their career.

However, the days when prints could be counted on to fund an artist’s career are rapidly coming to an end. Hundreds are entering a market that once sustained dozens, thanks in part to the relative cheapness of producing a print from a computer compared to traditional silk screening.

Perhaps as a result, the average price of a print has declined or remained static, with many prints available for well under a hundred dollars unless the artist is well-known. Moreover, where, thirty-five years ago, so-called limited prints could have a release of five or six hundred copies, now releases of a hundred, or fifty, or even twenty have become common, partly to reduce forgery and partly to ensure that artists are not left with a large inventory of unsellable prints.

At the same time, Northwest Coast artists are more closely connected to other schools of art than they have been at any time in the last sixty years. Artists like Dean and Shawn Hunt have succeeded to some extent in selling canvases outside the usual Northwest Coast markets, and new artists – an increasing number of whom have attended art school – are becoming more interested in painting as well. In fact, I know several young artists who began working on canvas and only learned carving and metalwork later.

Whether on wood, paper, or canvas, painting has suddenly become semi-respectable. The Douglas Reynolds Gallery has been showing an increasing number of high-end paintings over the last couple years. Similarly, Lyle Wilson may have had to go to the suburb of Maple Ridge rather than downtown Vancouver to mount his recent Paint show, but the point is he managed to have the exhibit. And, as I write, I have just returned from the Lattimer Gallery’s opening reception for “medium: Painting on Canvas,” an exhibit of over fifteen canvases by both new and leading artists.

Slowly, painting is becoming acceptable in Northwest Coast art. It still has a ways to go – according to Peter Lattimer, for many of the artists in his exhibit, working on canvas was a new and not wholly comfortable experience. But the change is coming, all the same.

Most likely, painting will not replace limited prints. A handful of top artists are still doing well with limited prints, and will probably continue to do so for years. However, a day might come within the next decade when most limited prints are viewed as tourist wares and no longer as fine art.

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Limited edition prints are a standard medium for art, but no school of art has made them its own as much as Northwest Coast art. One reason, I think, is that they were popularized in the 1960s by such leading artists as Robert Davidson. Another reason is that limited prints bridge the gap in price between fine art and tourist curios, with the majority selling for under $400 and many for under $200, and therefore can provide a steady income to printmakers. For buyers, they are a step up from buying a reproduction – although you need to know a bit about prints if you are going to buy sensibly.

The first thing you should know before buying a print is how it was made. The highest quality prints are lithographs or serigraphs (silk screens), but increasingly you find giclee prints, or prints run off a computer via a high-end ink jet printer. Some artists and galleries refuse to handle giclee prints, citing poor quality examples, but their cheapness and the fact that artists can print them on demand mean that giclee prints are increasingly popular. Still, if you do buy one, look closely at how the ink sticks to the paper. If the ink seems loose, or riding above the paper, then your giclee print may have a very short lifespan compared to one made by other methods.

Many people buy a print for the art. However, if you think that you might sell the print someday, notice the print run, which is usually penciled in beside the artist’s name and the title of the print. Forty years ago, print runs of 500 or even 600 were common in Northwest Coast art, but now, a counterfeiting scandal or two later, the norm is now under 200. Private editions, such as those released for an artist’s wedding, may number 25 or less. As a general rule, the lower the number of prints in the edition, the more valuable each print will be in theory.

In practice, however, the number of prints in the run is not always a reliable guide to value. Especially with giclee prints, an artist may not produce the full number of prints in the edition if they are not selling. And, even with traditional prints, some may be spoiled or destroyed, especially as the years go by. Conversely, an artist may deliberately withhold prints from the market in hopes of artificially creating a demand. Unless you know something about a limited edition, it is almost impossible to know how many are actually in circulation. Understandably, artists and galleries are sometimes reluctant to talk about such matters.

For the same reason, buying a print with a low number, such as 1/200 does not always result in a more valuable print. If you later resell a lower numbered print – or a collection of prints with the same number on each print – you may actually get a price that is higher than usual, but the increased value is entirely in the eyes of the buyer.

Similarly, Artist Proofs (AP)are often sold for more than a standard print – often for up to twice the price of an ordinary print. Artist Proofs are supposed to be copies run during printing to check the quality of reproduction. However, today, Artist Proofs are just as likely to be five prints – possibly the first five – run off and labeled as Artist Proofs. Except for their designation, Artist Proofs are unlikely to differ in any way from other prints in the run.

Another way that a print can increase in value is if it is a Remarque (RM). A Remarque is an addition to the print, often hand-drawn, by the artist themselves. A Remarque is usually a small doodle, but it can almost be a substantial edition to the print. Either way, a remarque print often goes for twice the price of other prints.

Still another way to give a print added value is a personal message from the artist. However, such prints rarely come on the market.

However, unless you are a serious collector, worrying about Artist Proofs, Remarques, or personal messages is rarely worth your while unless the artist is well-known, and the print is already about $400. Most prints will only rise slightly in value in two or three decades, regardless of their embellishments.Only a few artists, such as Susan Point or Robert Davidson, release prints that quickly rise in value, and the value of their works rests mostly on the consensus that their work is collectible.

With most prints, therefore, you should probably not think of added value at all. Instead, buy what pleases you. That should be your first criterion anyway — not the return on your investment.

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