The Painter Subverting Art-World Economics, $100 at a Time


I’ve at all times collected artwork, however I’ve by no means been an artwork collector — which I outline broadly to imply somebody who can purchase unique items with out profound monetary discomfort. The stuff on my partitions has what a severe collector would contemplate doubtful provenance. For example: a glazed ceramic tile that I purchased off the ground of a Moroccan carpet emporium; a wood tiger masks from an antiques supplier; a postcard I discovered on the flea market. The occasions I’ve tried to accumulate quote-​unquote actual artwork have nearly universally resulted in humiliation. The opposite day, I discovered about an interesting Azerbaijani textile maker and wrote to his gallerist to request a worth for a selected ornamental carpet. She messaged again to say that this piece was a “small traditional,” on the low finish of his vary: simply $22,000.

I can respect that magnificence has financial worth, significantly for the one and solely instance of a selected exquisiteness. Somebody hung out making it, and that particular person must be compensated. However even modest artworks may be out of attain for nearly anybody who’s not an actual property mogul, delivery magnate, stockbroker or oil baron. Below the sanctimonious cowl of “arts patronage,” these plutocrats use artwork to launder their cash, buying and selling up the worth of younger artists and enriching each other within the course of. The artists, in the meantime, receives a commission solely as soon as, on the preliminary sale. The top result’s a carpet that prices as a lot as a Honda Civic.

It doesn’t need to be this fashion. Out in Vancouver, the painter Jean Smith is quietly subverting art-world economics, $100 at a time.

Smith spent the Nineties scraping by within the Pacific Northwest’s riot-grrrl scene, sharing payments with Bikini Kill as a part of a nervy duo referred to as Mecca Regular. When the music business collapsed on the flip of the century, Smith was compelled to take a sequence of day jobs. For some time she made her dwelling watering crops within the backyard middle of her native Dwelling Depot. Evidently, this was not the artist’s lifetime of her desires. So one impulsive day in 2016, at age 56, she solid off her orange apron and determined to change into a painter.

Yearly for many of her life, Smith had painted an annual self-portrait. Now she turned her consideration outward and set about making an arresting sequence of 11-by-14-inch acrylic portraits primarily based on pictures of strangers that she noticed on the web. Nearly all have been girls. A majority have been one way or the other transgressive — they regarded unhappy or excessive or embalmed or deranged, or appeared to have been caught in a thunderstorm. They’d raccoon eyes and buck enamel, or trapezoidal faces, or, in the event that they have been conventionally lovely (and a few have been), they gazed off the canvas with the ache of a younger Marianne Faithfull. They hardly ever laughed. They hardly ever smiled.

Not like most portraits, particularly those males have a tendency to color of girls, these weren’t made to be regarded upon. The topics have been equal companions within the wanting. You stared at them and so they stared again. Smith’s girls appeared to have wealthy inside lives and typically wore uniforms to point what they have been doing earlier than you, the viewer, so rudely interrupted. They may be aviators within the Amelia Earhart mode, full with flight goggles. Or maybe scuba divers, suited up for a plunge. Or cruel nurses, wearing starched whites, presumably pocketing your morphine.

Opting to not use a gallery, Smith listed every of her works on Fb for the ludicrously low worth of $100. She may definitely cost extra, however the egalitarian worth is the purpose. It’s her model of the $5 tickets Fugazi used to promote to its all-ages exhibits — and anyway, she has by no means wanted a lot to outlive. For the previous quarter-century, she has lived alone and monastically in an residence with no couch or kitchen desk (she eats off a submitting cupboard), and her month-to-month bills, together with hire and utilities, whole about $1,000. She solely must promote 10 items per thirty days to interrupt even — although that has by no means been her downside.

The issue is portray quick sufficient to satiate her followers, as a result of the portraits she makes day by day sometimes promote inside 5 minutes of her posting them on-line. Some collectors have purchased dozens of items, displaying them collectively in a sisterhood of melancholy. One girl in Oregon amassed 250 earlier than Smith needed to politely ask her to cease hoarding. In 4 years doing it the arduous method, Smith has put aside $200,000 to place towards beginning a progressively minded artists’ residency. All creative disciplines are welcome. The one rule is that everybody’s challenge should intend to alter the world.

I contemplate myself fortunate to personal two of Smith’s work. I like them each, however what I like much more is what they characterize: the utopian notion that anybody on Earth with an web connection could make a dwelling as an artist; that anybody with 100 bucks can personal an exciting piece of unique artwork — and that these two issues don’t need to be in battle. For as soon as, social media helps a inventive financial system be extra equitable. The artist earns what she needs to earn, with lots left over to present away. And for lower than it could price to border a dorm-room poster, you possibly can have a each day encounter with the elegant.



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