The art of online collecting
A great pleasure of building an art collection is the thrill of being one of the first people to discover an outstanding new artist. Online galleries such as New Blood Art enable you to do just that, but with the benefit of the quality control exerted by the website’s creator and curator, Sarah Ryan.
Over the past 10 years New Blood Art has built a reputation for spotting, and giving a platform to, a number of significant rising stars. Sought-after artists who ‘graduated’ through Ryan’s online space include Iain Andrews, David Wightman, Super Future Kid and Bartosz Beda. If you were lucky enough to spot them when they were first available through Ryan’s site, you might have picked up one of their works for a couple of hundred pounds.
While New Blood Art has become an attractive hunting ground for keen-eyed investors, Ryan did not set it up with that express aim. Instead, she was driven by the urge to create a platform for young artists to sell affordable original artworks, so that they could make a living from their work rather than having to support themselves with other jobs.
“There was a seemingly unbridgeable gap between art college and art galleries,” she says. “Very few artists managed to navigate that and the artists that did ended up exhibiting in galleries at relatively high prices because of the galleries’ overheads. Meanwhile there were plenty of other artists producing amazing work while the general public who couldn’t afford original art were buying reproduced images.”
At the time, Ryan was a trailblazer of the online gallery format. While the lack of overheads and infinite web space gave her the potential to represent many more artists than a conventional gallery, she still made it a priority to exert tight quality control – an attitude that remains at the forefront of New Blood’s approach to selling art.
This task is made easier by the fact that Ryan has been immersed in the art world for 20 years, first as a student of fine art, then as an art tutor and finally, since 2004, as the owner of New Blood Art.
“It takes time to reach a point where you’ve honed your ability to identify examples of good quality art,” she says. “These days I think good art just does tend to jump out at me. I go to as many degree shows as is humanly possible and when you’re immersed in that amount of artwork you quickly notice the work that stands out. I also have studio tours and have contact with art tutors – they will sometimes lead me to the incredible artists.”
When selecting artists, there are certain key qualities that Ryan looks for. One is an identifiable style: while many of her exhibitors are young, she aims to pick the ones that have reached a point where they have their own unique visual language.
She also pays close attention to the quality of the materials each artist uses.
“This gives an indication about their level of integrity,” she says. “The way the canvas has been made, the quality of the paints and the pigments – all of that is important, because you need to know it’s still going to exist in 50 years’ time.”
She also aims to meet potential exhibitors in order to get a sense of how committed they are to their work.
“It’s not an easy life trying to launch a career as an artist and so I try to discern whether that artist is going to last the distance or whether they are likely to suffer a few failures and then look for other lines of work. You know from spending time with some artists that come what may, they will still be painting in 20 years’ time.
“There are lots of great artists but they don’t all have a strong work ethic and it’s only the ones with real rigour and professionalism that do that go on to do very well.”
Ryan also looks out for true originality.
“It’s often quite uncomfortable when you see truly original work because it’s not directly referencing anything that you’ve seen before,” she says. “True innovation and originality are very rare and they are definitely something to look for. A truly brilliant artist is sometimes earmarked by a new form of language.”
Ryan’s strong connection with art colleges, coupled with her awareness of buying trends, gives her a privileged insight into the way in which the art world is developing. She has observed a recent shift away from installation work and a growing emphasis on technical skill, as well as increased use of digital elements and new techniques. From the buyers’ perspective, there is increased interest in art from China and South Korea, and despite there being an appetite for new techniques, painting remains popular.
“People have a desire for something completely unique and handmade, and I think that the market reflects that,” she says. “There are a lot of new companies that are working with individual craftspeople and artists. I think there’s definitely a bit of a hunger for authenticity and I think generally that’s why the market is strong.”
With the market now flooded with online retailers of original art, Ryan says it is advisable to veer towards the galleries that put their exhibitors through a selection process and are willing to enter into a dialogue with the buyer.
“There are a lot of major players now in the online art world and some have direct links with the artist while others are commercial platforms. Do your research and make sure three’s someone behind the machine. Make sure you can return the work if it’s not right, and find out as much about the artist as possible.
“I develop relationships with my customers, many of whom have been buying from me for the last 10 years, and I send out emails and newsletters and call them if I’ve come across an artist I think they will like,” she says.
At its best, buying art online can be a thrill, bringing you artwork that would have cost far more had it been exhibited in a high street gallery. However, there is a flip-side.
“If you buy from the right agent then it’s a great opportunity to secure high quality work at undervalued prices; if you buy from the wrong online agent it’s potentially a way to buy really poor quality art by artists who don’t stand a chance of doing anything. Remember, anyone can start an online platform and put art on it,” warns Ryan.
She believes that New Blood Art’s continued success is underpinned by the fact that she places an emphasis on talent rather than volume.
“Rather than it being a commercial business venture simply to sell affordable art, it’s more about the quality of the artwork and finding a platform for the best artists to launch their careers,” she says. “We’ve probably come at it from a different angle, which has served us well and created a brand that I believe has some integrity.”