May 24, 2013
Recently, Steve Koch of Gresham, Oregon wrote, "A friend experienced a situation where a painting of his was sold and then another client came forward and asked to have an identical one. I'm concerned about the artist's reputation and any problems the first client might have with the deal. What's your take on this?"
Here in China they may have a one-child policy, but they'll make 3000 identical "originals" if they think it'll ring the register. As most of us know, making paintings identical to one another is difficult. I doubt if there are many Western painters who would have the discipline to properly repaint a second work stroke-by-stroke.
In Western cultures we start with attitudes about our individuality, integrity, personal pride and morality. In poorer countries such as China, where 90% of the population still struggle just to live, other attitudes prevail.
As a self-indulgent Western individualist, my preference is to make smallish "sketches" that are nevertheless finished pieces and sold through galleries. If I happen to like one of these sketches, I may make a larger and then a larger version. In my studio, a good sketch may last for perhaps five reincarnations.
Requests for repeats are infrequent. If someone insists on a copy, I tell them that no two paintings can be exactly alike and I suggest that I do one "of the same subject, in the similar spirit, and in a different size."
The secret to this system is to not refer to the replicated work as you go along. Many (Western) painters agree with me that the act of trying to copy, particularly one's own work, jinxes creativity and stultifies the piece. In my experience the "blind copy" can bring new life and energy to the subject. Curiously, the painting is often fresher and better resolved. Even though the very idea of a copy offends some artists, it can actually be a creative ploy and a challenging opportunity.
When delivering a blind copy to a client or a dealer, I've never had a complaint that I know of. If anybody ever did complain, I'd take the painting back, give a refund, and recommend they go to China.
PS: "There is no harm in repeating a good thing." (Plato)
Esoterica: "It just doesn't seem right," says Steve Koch, "to make a copy just for money." We've been through this conundrum before. Remember a few years ago when photo-litho and giclee reproductions were proliferating like crazed rabbits? How did that phenomenon turn out? Let's go back to money: With a few exceptions, the wholesale manufacture of reproductions seldom enhanced the value of the original work. Further, millions of "investors" were left with an unsalable pile of paper. Repros have had a negative effect on the art market that will not soon be forgiven. Except for some hotels and economy-minded interior decorators, the private collector and the prestigious museum need rarity.