Jo O'Brien

Jo O'Brien

Melbourne, Australia

Jo in The Chair - Yay

Interview by James Pierce for Wrapped Up Issue #2

The Chair – A little more serious than the ‘The Couch’

James: Give us a bit of background about the gallery you manage, what’s it like ? What kind of work do you show ? What sells ?

Jo: We have three galleries around Melbourne and specialise in affordable original art. It’s really challenging and creative work and I get to meet some very talented people. Most of my day is spent promoting emerging artists to our lovely customers and sourcing artwork to sell. We exhibit most forms of visual art including paintings, illustrations, sculpture and prints. I find many customers are looking for artwork to fit a particular space in their home. Often they buy something because of its size or colour. Other customers come in for a browse and fall in love with something on display. Often these customers are drawn to quirky and unique images or artwork that is presented in an interesting way.
James: How important is it for an artist to have a body of work ? Do most artists come to you with a few pieces, or a series with a theme ? or something else ?
Jo: It is important to show that you are creating art regularly and that you are improving with experience. Reputable galleries will want to know that you are more than a ‘one hit wonder.’ I like to see a minimum of 5-8 examples when considering an artist. If they are presenting me with a series, I also ask to see work from outside the series. A website or online portfolio is perfect for this because they often include information about the artist and images of older works that have sold. Our best selling artists have their own distinct style which makes their work recognizable outside of a gallery environment, but they are also careful to keep each piece unique.

James: What difference do you see between what’s popular online and offline ? Is the physical gallery crowd more conservative ?

Jo: There’s a much greater appreciation of photography online. In a gallery it is the hardest medium to sell and artists have to create well presented, interesting and unique images to be noticed. Animation, stencil art and street art are enjoying popularity offline as well as on. Textured artworks, paintings, objects and multimedia pieces sell well in galleries. Online it is mostly about the image however the gallery crowd are also looking for presentation, texture, quality and information about the artist. I am often surprised by how unconservative gallery customers are. I have found that an original, creative and well executed idea is the strongest selling point to any artwork.

James: As artists, what are some of the little things we can do to stand out to buyers, attract a little attention ?

Jo: I could write a book answering this question! My best advice is to connect with your customers. Be accessible and tell your story. That could mean attending gallery special events, or it could mean having a biography, email address and phone number on your website. Online you can participate in forums, competitions and instant messaging. Update your website or profile regularly so that there is an incentive for people to visit it often. Offline, be a self-promoter. Exhibit when you can, join collectives, write to various media publications, and start introducing yourself as an artist rather than a check-out-chick. If you have trouble self-promoting, pair up with a friend and promote each other. On a practical level, think about what your art will look like on display in a gallery or home and be creative. Consider the quality and type of materials, the packaging or framing, any extras that you can throw in, what information will be on display with your artwork and how it will be presented. Do something different to make your work stand out.

James: How important is price to buyers ?

Jo: Last week I had a women who fell in love with a stunning and very expensive piece. She handed me a credit card and said “don’t tell me how much – just put it through and deliver it.” Alas, this is the minority. Most people are decorating a particular space and have a predetermined budget. Others fall in love with an artwork and will save up especially or ask for a layby if it’s more than they had anticipated. Inexperienced art buyers often associate size with price. If it’s too cheap I am asked “What’s wrong with it?” If it’s too expensive I am asked “What’s so special about it?” It comes down to ‘value for money’ which is very subjective and unique to the individual. Having artwork with a range of prices means that you have something for everyone.

James: What’s the future ? How does digital artwork fit into the ‘real world’ of art ?

Jo: Websites and online folios have replaced business cards for artists and galleries are going online to service interstate and international customers. More and more I meet people who want to find art online rather than drag their spouse around galleries all weekend. In store we use online catalogues to show customers prints and to place orders in real time. The practice of having a physical gallery or showroom with an online store is starting to emerge. Customers like to see an example of the finished product before buying but once they have, are more receptive to buying online. Internet shopping may never completely replace seeing and touching the real thing in store but the two methods work well in combination. I’d like to see more galleries embrace the technology to bring their customers an almost limitless selection of art.

If you’d like to know more, please don’t hesitate to email me at jo.obrien@hotmail.com or comment here.

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