Help…..Technology is overwhelming me!

•September 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This is an email I sent out to my mail list just the other day, just thought I would share it and one of the replies I received.

Help…..Technology is overwhelming me!

Like it or not, computers, technology and social media are all part of our everyday lives now. I have tried to resist for a long time taking this path but have relented!
I read an interesting article sent to me the other day, an interview between Michael short and artist Hazel Dooney.
In the article, Hazel quotes:
” The gallery system is ending. The gallery system is dying now. The gallery system has been dying for the last few years. You can see that in the number of closures of traditional galleries within Australia and internationally. You can see that in the huge success that I have had since going independent.”

I have to agree with this sentiment, it has been my own feeling for some time now.

Social media has unfurled it’s tendrils into all aspects of western society and like it or loathe it, it’s here to stay.
Thus, I am now the proud owner of: 2 websites, a blog, a you tube page, an ipone application and a facebook site!

Whilst I feel that an online presence can never truly show an artwork to anywhere near it’s true beauty, it is by far becoming the better medium to show art than the traditional gallery system.
Sure there is nothing like seeing the artwork in the flesh, feeling the texture of the canvas and taking in the colours and mood of the work, but it is problematic in getting the artwork in front of a broad range of people. The traditional galleries have fallen down on the past by ‘excluding’ many people by social attitudes. Conversely, people have felt intimidated by the traditional gallery system. Many people I’ve met and talked with have never felt inclined to visit a gallery because of this real or perceived ‘snobbery’ that exists.

Having said that, I still feel that traditional (privately run selling) galleries are important to the artist and the public. I still have many galleries that represent my work, run by wonderful hard working people. But as the social norm evolves, so to must business practices and those that don’t adapt tend to get left behind.

I had this great email sent in reply to this and with permission, thought I would share it:

Hi Shane, Thank you for sending prints to (my son) and I – He was really ecstatic to receive his own piece of your artwork and has been drumming up plenty of interest in your work as he is showing anyone that has a spare 10 seconds (If they have 10 minutes to spare, he takes them on a tour of your website! Not bad marketing for an 11 year old!) I am impressed at the way you have embraced social media – This is also a part of my job and has endless possibilities; Good on you for realising that this is a necessary step for longevity and success of your business. I am sure that this will pay off in the long term. I am one of those people who refused to embrace digital camera technology and was still paying to have rolls of film developed (and the irony is that I was working in a digital processing lab at the time and just did not find the images as aesthetically pleasing, although I could see that this was far more cost effective) but have since taken the plunge, invested in the technology and can honestly say that my digital snobbery was all in vain… I am just a creature of habit and was too stubborn to move forward! The moral of the story is that embracing change is necessary on many levels as holding onto dated ideologies can cost us a lot more in the long term! Have a great day. Kind regards, N.


The economic effect on art

•September 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As I sit here, trading a few stocks and contemplating the future of the western market driven economies, I wonder what is the future of art in our society.
Will we value the creative process in years to come? Will traditional forms of art go extinct? Will people see art as a valuable medium or just another part of a technical app like a phone, computer or movie scene?
I truly don’t know and I tend to shake my head in disbelief at the complete apathy of people towards the path I believe we are now taking.
Our society is filled with quick fixes” fast food, tweeting, instant internet transactions, high-speed super fast broadband etc. A friend who trades the market was telling me of a service he just subscribed to at $200 a month just to hear the market news 5 seconds before his competitors, so he can effect an early trade! Amazing!

There is talk of ‘slow food’ : a movement towards supporting good quality, equitable low cost food, sourced from local farmers and chefs. Perhaps we need to take a ‘slow art’ approach to the artistic side of things too!

The artistic process is definitely a slow one, whether it be painting, sculpture, photography(the setup up not the instant result) and so on. Taking the time to appreciate the skills involved, the work and time involved and the effort and sometimes considerable hardship encountered by the artisan is something we should all do more often.

I’m not that old (in my mind anyway!) that I can’t remember when furniture came from a workshop, not Ikea. When jewellery was made by a jeweller, not a factory in Guangzhou. When having a record released meant you had made it in the music industry, not some kid in his room recording onto a PC and uploading it to cd baby or iTunes!

You know what I’m getting at here? I know it’s easy to pass over the expensive high quality well made item and get the one made in the PRC for half the cost, I do it myself. But we need to consider our fellow creative people and support their efforts, before they go the way of the typewriter mechanic!

I did a search on Google today and came up with the following graphs. they are from the Google Insights page.  They give a representation of web search interest from 2004 to the present.

The figures say it all!   All images courtesy of Google insight.


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The ‘GFC’ and art

•March 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, apologies all round.

There’s barely anyone in the developed world who has not been affected in some way by the so called ‘GFC’ or global financial crisis.

Australia seems to have weathered the storm better than most countries, particularly the US and Europe. Many industries and sectors of commerce are particularly hard hit in recessionary times, one of those is almost always the art market. This is to be expected, as art is not only an intrinsic item, it is also a commodity which has value both in terms of investment and of social importance.

As with all commodities, prices of art and the social standing of works rise and fall. Not unlike equity markets, certain artists and artworks have ‘runs’ on their prices. Alternately some also fall out of favour and demand. But almost all the art world is affected by recessionary forces. I guess this all boils down to the fact that art is ultimately a ‘luxury’ item, ie something which is superfluous to ones everyday needs. You can’t eat a painting, it won’t put your kids through college, it won’t pay the electricity bill!

The last year has seen some long standing Australian galleries fold up and close. A couple of these were galleries I dealt with and will be sadly missed. Almost all the gallery directors I have spoken with are doing it tough, but there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. Inquiries have picked up and sales once again coming through. Tough times create tough people and I believe the galleries that survive and thrive will be all the better for it. Perhaps the ones that  were ‘weeded’ out along the way is a good thing of sorts, the wheat and the chaff thing!

I firmly believe that the days of the warehouse sized gallery spaces, with 6 feet between each hanging work and a dour looking managers sitting behind a computer intently ignoring all that walk through the door, are numbered.  These will go the way of the Dinosaurs, making way for a new generation of private galleries. The future in my opinion, is of greater importance placed on information technology, web based promotions and social networking between galleries and clients and clients and artists. Those who actively seek new mediums of promotion and exhibition will prosper in my opinion, so viva the revolution!

The value of art?

•March 6, 2009 • 6 Comments

In these times of economic turmoil and massive revaluation of asset values around the world, it has got me thinking, what is anything worth?

How do we value things, how due we place a value on an intrinsic object, natural objects, on a life?

How do you place a value on art:???  This is a big question I often ask myself and occasionally others ask of me.

At the end of the day, a painting is a bit of coloured pigment, suspended in oil or acrylic binder, pushed around on a piece of canvas. When we look at things subjectively, they seem to take on  new meanings, questions are raised and conundrums reached!

I have personally wrestled with this on many occasions. I have seen artists devalue their work by selling it for far less than the market would reward. Also by poor marketing and presentation or by past mistakes in pricing or display, have inadvertently pushed the perceived values of their works lower.

I heard a quote the other day “the more rare and beautiful an object, the greater is it’s value and desire-ability”  Does this hold true for all things, or only for some things?  Rare and beautiful objects sometimes turn up in op-shops, remaining there until someone sees their ‘true worth’ or rarity and snaps them up to make a monetary killing!  These stories abound, but bugger me, I haven’t found one yet!   Some objects of art, sculpture, fashion or the like, are truly ghastly! Yet they command huge prices and consumer demand. Is this some quirk of human perception or merely marketing genius’ at work?

I have tried to remain objective over the years in the pricing of my own artworks. Often it is a balancing act of consumer demand, the amount of work I can produce and the limits of the market. But that is only the cold hard economic side of things. Then there is also the moral and ethical side of things to consider.My approach over many years, has been to balance a fair price with the amount of demand and to price my work evenly across the board. That’s to say, the prices I charge are the same at any outlet the work is sold through, regardless of commission taken (within a few dollars). Personally, if I bought an item through gallery X, then found the same item on eBay for 30% less, I’d be cheesed off!!

I have had discussions with artists in the past regarding the commercialization of art. Some have said “but all I want to do is paint”  or “you’re just a business man, not an artist!”  I think both are true to a degree.

Consider this:    If all you want to do is paint, you need to feed yourself and buy canvas, paint and brushes.  Therefore you need to sell art to buy food and consumables.  Mmm.. need a studio to paint in, rent is expensive. Need somewhere to sell my work…How much commission?!! Gee, not making enough to feed the kids, better put the prices up, get a web site, do some advertising. Now my neck is too sore to paint 10 hours a day, better do some prints and cards to help bring in income. Bugger, need a good accountant now tax dept keeps taking too much and a marketing manger to distribute the cards and prints… and so it goes.  Heh, you’re too commercial, are you an artist or a business man!

Having said all that, artists are still the most underpaid and undervalued members of western society today. The average artist in Australia earns under $40k a year, well below the average minimum wage of approx. $1000 per week!  The costs involved in producing the work have increased exponentially. Materials have gone up, freight prices have increased, GST has to be included (more to the point absorbed into the price, not added like when selling a fridge or TV) and most of all, gallery commissions have increased incredibly. About 16 years ago, when I first started painting , the standard gallery commission was about 20-25 percent. Then it went to 30, then 33 and a 3rd. Then sales tax was abolished and the GST introduced. Even though the gallery and the artist both collect and remit GST, the commissions overnight went to 37 per cent. Within a few years, this shot to 40% which is now becoming a rarity and rapidly being replaced by 50% commissions. I believe the going rate in New York galleries is 60 per cent!   Having run a gallery myself for several years, I can understand it in parts, due to the high costs of rent etc, but really, what else has changed?  It’s little wonder, artists are turning in droves to the Internet and direct marketing to sell their work.

This is in itself a two edged sword. The artist is saving commission in dealing direct, thus increasing the gross profit of their labours, but in depriving the gallery of their artworks, they are not being marketed and dare I say ‘value added’ in the way that a good gallery can do.  A clever gallery will see talent, nurture that artist and create demand and therefore value for an artist. Thus increasing the prices and perception of  value in their work.

This is a quandry many working artists now deal with and one to which I don’t have an answer.

What has been your experience and what are your thoughts?


Thoughts on a burning issue

•February 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

At this time, I guess all Australian people are reflecting on the tragic events that unfolded in the state of Victoria the past few weeks.

The devastating bush fires that scorched their way through towns and communities, razing many of them to the ground. 189 dead and rising, approx. 1800 houses destroyed, the devastation must be surreal and unbelievable to those affected. Only someone who has experienced such a traumatic event can truly appreciate what those people went through.

Which brings me to that burning issue.  To burn or not to burn?

When the earliest explorers arrived in Australia, they remarked that the country was a land of burning.   Abel Tasman, Leichart and Gilbert all commented on the burning practices of the Aboriginal people. Joesph banks was quoted in 1770 ” ..fires which we saw so frequently as we passed along the shore extending over a large tract of country and by which we could constantly trace the passage of the Aborigines…”

Professor Tim Flannery offers his account and personal theories of Terra Australis, pre white settlement, in his book  ‘The future eaters’

Here Flannery espouses his theory on the 40,000 years of Aboriginal settlement. How the first people arrived to Australia from the northern Islands, Indonesia, PNG and so on. They bought their agriculture and domestic livestock with them, but those practices soon failed with the poor soil, the arid dry deserts and the humid wet tropics.

Now at this time, Australia was populated by the megafauna. Giant marsupials and huge monitor lizards roamed the lands. Animals like the Diprotodon, a 2 ton giant the size of a Rhino, but more like a wombat in physiology and nature. These beast would have been sitting ducks for the Aboriginal people. Veritable feasts on 4 legs and with no hard wired natural fear of humans (Australia had no large predators other than the giant Varanids (Goannas) the hunters could literally walk up to them and poke them in the eye!

Now where am I going with this?  Well see, the megafauna were the equivalent of Africa’s large savannah grazers. Giant lawn mowers that kept the country devoid of thick vegetation and undergrowth.  After a few hundred years, the Aboriginal folk may have punched a large hole in the megafauna population and eventually driven them to extinction. Gradually the larger animals were hunted out, down to the smaller harder to catch game, wallabies, wombats and the like.

Of course you know what happens when your trusty Victa mower breaks down? The grass goes ballistic!  There would have been a huge rapid  change in the amount of vegetation regrowth thus an exponential increase in the fuel load come the dry season. Bush fires of an unseen scale would have raged across  the land.  The indigenous people would have quickly learnt that this had to be controlled. Not only from a point of self preservation, but also to make it easier to hunt the smaller more agile game.

See there are two types of burn, a ‘cool burn and a ‘hot’ burn. A cool burn is where the fire is effected in a cooler weather period or perhaps when there is not much fuel load around. A ‘hot’ burn is when fire rages in elevated climatic temperatures with a high fuel load, burning with such intensity that all but the hardiest of vegetation is destroyed.

The Indiginous Australian’s became masters of the controlled burn and over time, the vegetation would have adapted to the point that only fire resistant species flourished. Thus I come back to my point.When the first explorers cast their eyes across our wide brown land, it was covered in a haze of smoke.  And the arrival of the first fleet, heralded the beginning of the end of the fire stick custodians of Terra Australis.

Since that time, our ever dwindling patches of uncleared bushland and national parks, have gone from sparsely treed grassy savannah land, to thick scrub laden bushland with an enormous fuel load build up.

This is Flannery’s theory, one that I much agree with and have some relatively small experience ourselves.  On our Small patch of acreage bushland, we have many tall euclaypts, bloodwoods, ash, tallowoods and so on. These are surrounded by masses of understory regrowth in the undisturbed areas and masses of Lantana (don;t get me started on Lantana!) and other noxious weeds in the disturbed areas. We try our best to preserve and regenerate the bushland and it’s vast myriad of critters that live there.  But there is always that concern of fire. Thus this burning issue!

As more and more  people make a ‘tree change’ this problem is exacerbated. How to do controlled burns with residential property build up?  This is a dilemma that must be addressed to help prevent another repeat of the tragic fires that recently affected southern Victoria occurring there or in other parts of the country.

What’s been you experience or do you have a different point of view?


What makes a good painting?

•February 15, 2009 • 2 Comments

So what exactly is it that constitutes a good painting? What is it that makes us view a painting and say, mmm, I like that!

I have theorized over this many times and have my own theories, but the other day I heard one that really caught my attention.

In an interview on ABC radio, professor of philosophy of art, Denis Dutton, theorized that our love of art, particularly  the tradition of landscape painting, is hard wired into our brain and Psyche. Professor Dutton offers his theory of the ‘Savannah hypothesis’ as follows:

” In the early 1990s a couple of Russian expatriate artists named Komar and Melamid in New York got some money from the Nation Foundation in order to find out what people’s tastes were around the world. So they did some actually serious scientific polling in ten countries (they ended up actually doing more than ten but the original publication list was ten countries) to find out what their favourite subject matter for painting was, what their favourite colour was, if a painting told a story what kind of story they would like it to tell, if they liked abstract art or if they liked representative art and so on. And they did this in the Ukraine, Denmark, France, Holland I think, the US, Kenya, China, Iceland, Turkey…”

What they discovered was :

” the overwhelming favourite of all the other countries which was that they liked landscapes. They like landscapes not only that you would expect from, let’s say, Americans, but they liked landscapes where you had people…let’s say, in Kenya, for example, where they didn’t have the kind of landscapes in question, those were the kind of landscapes they kept choosing. In other words, what everybody in the world seems to like is a kind of standard calendar landscape. And we call it a ‘calendar landscape’ because in fact it exists in calendars across the world.

It includes open spaces with lower mown grasses, thickets of bushes, maybe groupings of trees, copses of trees, the presence of water or water indirectly shown, maybe in the distance, an unimpeded view of the horizon somewhere, the presence of animals, and especially what people seemed to like is some kind of a path. It could be a river bank but often it’s a path or a way which you could take to walk into the distance to go over those last hills to see what’s on the other side. “

Professor Dutton went on to say:

“But there’s another way to look at it and that’s the Savannah Hypothesis. That is to say that the reason that people all over the world gravitate toward this same kind of landscape is that this is the landscape where we evolved, this was the most advantageous landscape for human beings in the Pleistocene, in the savannahs where we came into being as modern human beings, and that’s why you continue to find it. You’d find all sorts of different interests in different kinds of landscapes around the world. But some interesting experiments have been done with children showing that when you take the standard 8-year-old in Europe or Australia or South America or Africa they will tend to choose a landscape which has the savannah features. That is to say it has trees that fork near the ground (that’s interesting; trees that fork near the ground are popular), undulating spaces, open areas where you can hide and where game might hide. It seems to be some kind of an atavism. “

This theory tends to sit well with me. It has been my experience that most people gravitate towards a nice landscape, be it  a photograph, painting or drawing.

Think wall calendars, not the one with nude models (that’s a different story again) but the ones with the serene landscape. The open vista of rolling hills and trees, the lake surrounded by trees and backed with snow capped mountains, that all seem to evoke in us some primordial longing for something that we have lost touch with.

Even in my own work I have experienced this. Many times I have ventured into different territory with my paintings, sometimes omitting the landscape element altogether. Each time the result has been the same, less people like those works than the ones that contain elements of the landscape.

Salvador Dali, the famous Spanish surrealist also knew this.  His paintings almost always contain the vistas of the Catalan region where he lived. Red earthy desert-like landscapes, empty mystic beaches and rugged coastlines, the type of environment our neolithic hunter gatherer ancestors knew well.

Perhaps it’s our gradual separation from this environment that evokes a deep subconscious longing for the landscape. As many of us now live in cities or the urban environs, we tend to look fondly to our romantic notions of  ‘the bush’ or going camping down by the river, or hiking in the mountains. Perhaps there is an opportunity there for an adventure tourist company: “come on holiday with us in the savannah, hunting, fishing, spearing live animals and eating their raw livers!  We’ll bring out the Cro Magnon in you!”

Of course as humans, we have evolved intellectually and tend to crave challenge and creativity. Thus we have moulded, kneaded and manipulated that ‘savannah longing’ through abstraction, modernism, pointillism,surrealism, dada-ism and so on and so forth, to where we are today, with art in its many shapes, forms and ideals.

Which brings me back to the original statement!  What makes a good painting?

Well beyond the Savannah theory, here are my theories:

Balance: There is nothing worse than a lop sided painting!  By that, I mean a work that has too much ‘stuff’ painted over one side or top or bottom. The basic rule of art/ photography, is the rule of two thirds. One third sky and two thirds land and vice versa. Many a good painting has been ruined by bad balance!

Composition: When you look at a good painting, your eye is drawn to the most important part of the piece. Usually just off centre, what you don’t realize, is that a good painting, will lead your eye over the whole canvas, then draw you to this point. Many of the famous old masters, were experts of composition. Most compositions are based around a triangular structure, which leads your eye around the painting. One of Leonardo’s famous paintings, Madonna of the rocks, is a circular composition, just brilliant. Have you ever see a painting that appears to be rendered beautifully,  you like the subject and the colour, but something just does not seem quite right?  Look a little closer, with a basic comprehension of structure, you will probably find that the composition has been botched!

Colour: Colour is an important facet of our lives, it can affect our mood and emotions, it represents so much symbolism in our culture and mythology .  Bright vibrant paintings, make for a lively atmosphere. Dark coloured paintings make for a sombre, reflective mood. Blue, is melancholy, red is angry, green is sublime and so on.

Colours that we can perceive from the visble electromagnetic spectrum are basically red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and voilet (ROY G BIV!)  In painting, these colours are broken down into groups. Primary, secondary, triadic and complimentary. These combinations of primary, secondary and complimentary colours work together to form patterns and forms that are aesthetically pleasing to the human eye.  If this basic law of colours is broken when producing a work of art, then our perception is that of ‘unpleasantness’ or something being fundamentally wrong  with the work.

Subject Matter: Here we come full circle again, back to the Savannah theory. I believe the subject matter also determines the success of a work. Someone once said to me “You know why the famous Australian artist Pro Hart is so successful? Because he paints people doing things”  This stuck in my brain for many years and I still believe it to this day.

Pro’s works were all based around the landscape. Particularly the ‘bush’ and desert environs of Broken Hill.   This is the romantic landscape of the ‘outback’, the harsh Australian environment that has been expounded in many books, movies, poetry and folk lore in Australia.  Pro then added the elements of people and every day social activities. Cricket games, footy, church services, outback station life and so on. Together with his colourful lively technique, this was a recipe for success and one that endeared Pro Hart’s work into the hearts of many Australians, myself included.

What’s your thoughts on this?

Shane Gehlert

Welcome to the new OutbackArt blog

•February 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Hi and welcome to my new blogsite.

I thought I’d better join the information technology super highway and contribute some of my rambling dribble to add to the billions and billions of words, pictures, videos, blogs, twitters and voluminous crap already floating in cyber space!

I have my ‘Learner plates’ firmly attached, so please bear with me whilst I sort out this whole new blog animal.

I’ve set up some pages now, with a cv, some info on me and a section on some of my techiques. I will endeavor to add some info soon about new paintings and some info about the process and ideas behind them.

Please feel free to comment and add feedback and also visit my main websites OutbackArt and AridzoneArt Here you will find a huge selection of past and recent paintings and you can purchase a selection of ltd edition prints online.