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Going global: high stakes pain for international gain

24 Jul 2018
How a Wellington artist Tim Christie tapped into an offshore opportunity with big potential. By Tim Christie.

What’s the fastest way to expand an audience? How do we leverage the much-vaunted opportunities of a globally connected world? These are the questions I confronted as I played my graphic design chops into the fickle business of visual art.

It was a simple enough idea. I was struck by the dynamic effect that might emerge from combining the geometric abstraction with biological symmetry.

I’ve been running various graphic design projects for several years, for a range of commercial, government and NGO clients, such as the now-ubiquitous RNZ thumb-print. Taking advantage of some time out, I felt that the strong visual sense required of my design has something to offer the visual art world.

The question is: can I make a living at it?

Audience testing

This marketing term can have dubious connotations in the context of art. But I really just wanted to know one simple thing: are there buyers for this, or not? My pieces looked very graphic and very digital. I really like them, but how could I be sure that others would too?

Wellington’s NZ Art Show provided the perfect test. I was all geared up to enter when I clocked a squash racquet right in the eye, all but blinding me. Despite the setback, I applied and was accepted into the exhibition as a late entry: that was encouraging (at least the decision panel liked it).

I couldn’t make the opening, and went with my family the next day, only to find there was no work of mine to be seen at all. It had all sold out. Well, I could hardly complain about that.

It’s a huge step and a big investment: flying myself and a dozen chunky artworks across the globe doesn’t come cheap. If it doesn’t fire, I’ll be going backwards.

Networks are the new dealers

So the first true audience test was very encouraging. My art was clearly accessible. I was also getting loads of great feedback. But I figured it could take a long time to build solid artistic credibility in New Zealand, so I thought why not bypass all that and have a crack overseas. Who did I know?

Immediately I thought of my father-in-law in Scotland. I hesitated at first. I didn’t thrill to the idea of leaning on a family connection too much. We all have to stand on our own two feet, right? Well, sure. But then I asked myself, well, who else do you know? It came down to the fact that my discomfort at asking for a favour was outweighed by the potential downside of not doing so. What’s the worst that could happen? Actually, I preferred not to think of that. Call it a leap of faith.

He likes art enough to know the UK Art Scene. Scotland is not exactly the Art Capital Of The World but it represented a completely new audience, perhaps a gateway into the UK or Europe, and that’s what mattered.

He showed my work to a gallery in Edinburgh, who were connected to a wider network of galleries and publishers across the UK: Washington Green Fine Arts. They liked what the saw enough to ask me to send some pieces across, and eventually invited me to participate in their Summer exhibition in Manchester for emerging artists. Yes please! Again, so far so good.

That’s about to happen: it opens July 28. But it’s a huge step and a big investment: flying myself and a dozen chunky artworks across the globe doesn’t come cheap. If it doesn’t fire, I’ll be going backwards.

And, ironically, now I’m also finding that some art fairs will only take me if I have a dealer, so that’s becoming important now in a way that never occured to me a year ago.

First we take Edinburgh, then we take Manchester

The exhibition features 20 artists. Most are British. One is from Moscow and another from California. I am the only Kiwi. I will be a long way out of my comfort zone, but I guess that’s a good thing. I know the art world can be cruel but in true kiwi style I’ll want to keep it real and have some fun at the same time.

A potential outcome of the exhibition is that one or two lucky artists will secure a publishing contract and join the likes of Ronnie Wood, Bob Dylan, Raphael Mazzucco, Billy Connolly and a bunch of other artists, also represented by Washington Green.

There’s also a ‘People’s choice’ award, and yes, that’s where you come in. I’m going up against artists from big centres with big followings. To help me simply visit the voting page and select my name from the pulldown list at the bottom of the page.

I don't know how this is going to go. Well, I hope. I guess I'm going to find out.